Between Russia and the US, a Fragile 'Targeted Cooperation'

The meeting of the heads of Russian and US diplomacy in Manila showed that both sides are inclined to jointly resolve international problems of mutual interest, despite the persistence of contradictions in bilateral relations, says Maxim Suchkov, Valdai Club expert, editor of Al-Monitor. At the same time, any joint initiatives could be broken off due to the obstructionist position of the US Congress, which is suspicious of any contacts between the White House and Moscow.

On the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Manila, Sergey Lavrov and Rex Tillerson discussed Russian-American relations after the introduction of new anti-Russian sanctions, as well as contacts on various international issues and strategic stability issues.

"A week before the meeting in Manila, Lavrov and Tillerson talked by phone twice," Maxim Suchkov said. "While the first time the conversation was reduced to the protest of the Russian side against the new sanctions and notifying about countermeasures, the second talk was mainly about North Korea and other regional conflicts, in which the US administration still wishes to cooperate in some way with Moscow."

As Lavrov himself noted after the meeting, Tillerson was primarily interested in "details of the decisions that we were forced to take in response to the adopted law with anti-Russian sanctions in the US Congress." These explanations, according to the minister, were given. Lavrov stressed that the response was taken after a long wait that the US will not take the path of confrontation, but, unfortunately, “the Russophobic attitude of the members of the Congress prevented this from happening”.

In turn, Tillerson stressed that the United States wants to continue working together with Russia in areas important to them in terms of national security. "We should find places we can work together... In places we have differences we're going to have to continue to find ways to address those”, Tillerson told reporters after the meeting with Russian foreign minister.

"The meeting in Manila has to some extent strengthened the value of the approach, when the parties put aside the contradictions in the bilateral sphere, realizing that in the foreseeable future they are unsolvable, and they are trying to concentrate on security problems of mutual, albeit not always symmetrical interest, such as Korea, Syria, in theory Ukraine," Suchkov said. In this sense, for both the American and Russian sides this meeting was important in terms of understanding how far each side is oriented to continue the escalation. According to Lavrov, the Americans are ready to 'continue dialogue', for which, according to the minister, 'there is no alternative'. This is a positive signal."

The problem is that the agreements reached by Lavrov and Tillerson can mean nothing due to the position of the Congress. “There are no 'Americans' as a single consolidated player now," Suchkov said. "Even if Tillerson and Trump will continue to be interested in targeted cooperation on a limited range of issues, the Congress will not only remain hostile to Russia, but will, with even greater aggressiveness, monitor every contact of the US Presidential Administration with Moscow and critically evaluate any potential joint initiative ".

In response to the new US sanctions, Russia decided to expel US diplomats and freeze US diplomatic property. Judging by Tillerson's statements, the White House has not yet decided how to react on the Russian countermeasures.

"On the one hand, the US administration is in a hurry, trying to figure out how to respond to Russia so as not to lose the face inside the country even more and not to arouse new suspicions of 'collusion with the Kremlin', and, on the other hand, to prevent Congress from preparing such an answer," Suchkov believes. "Therefore, the response of the Americans, I think, will be taken by the State Department and will be connected with some diplomatic and legal issues. Now it is difficult to talk about more specific things, because the Americans themselves do not have these specifics."

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.