The Obama administration is vulnerable to the criticism over the “reset.” The good news is that foreign policy is never at the center of American election campaigns. But whenever Russia is touched upon, the Republicans attacks usually focus on the undemocratic nature of the political regime in Russia and the dubious benefits of the New START treaty,
The “reset” in Russian-American relations has expanded the common ground between the two powers, yet their partnership remains uneasy. The present state of affairs resembles a Cold War era détente, but with notable exceptions to the customary historical motifs. Igor Zevelev, the Director of the Russian Office at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation shared his views with
Valdai Discussion Club website
on the future of Russian-American relationships in a second decade of the XXI century.
Dr. Zevelev, can Russia and the United States break their vicious cycle in their bilateral relationship and at least achieve stability without confrontation in their cooperation?
I think that the main difficulty in Russian-American relations is that the overall international goals of the two countries' foreign policies are not very compatible. This doesn't mean that they have to confront each other on every single issue in global politics. They can be partners in many areas, be it Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea. However, Russia will probably be a very difficult partner for the United States and other Western states, for that matter. And Moscow has repeatedly expressed its displeasure, not with concrete American or European policies, but with the whole system of international relations dominated by the West led by the United States.
At the beginning of the 21st century the United States is still a superpower, but it is a superpower facing competition from beyond its borders, as well as internal difficulties. And Russia actually is one of the leading forces in the opposition to U.S. global dominance. Russia does not recognize unconditional American leadership. It insists on its own status of great power, or as an influential center of a multipolar world, as Russian foreign policy documents say.
So, a true Russian-American partnership is possible, and they can cooperate in concrete areas. However, these overall goals that I just described make this partnership difficult.
But can we, in the long run, become allies of a kind, and base our cooperation on an alliance? Is this possible?
There were probably two periods in history when the United States and Russia were true allies. First, during World War II, and second, in 2001-2002, in concrete areas of combating international terrorism. To be a true ally, you probably need to have a common threat. And I do not see such a common threat at this moment. So I would not describe a desirable relationship between the United States and Russia as an alliance. I would call it a partnership.
How do the Republican candidates play «the Russia card» in the ongoing primaries?
The election period is always a difficult one for foreign policy. All the politicians during the election season are concerned mainly about their domestic audiences at the expense of the international one. The candidates absorb the concerns of their societies and build coalitions.They cannot afford committing to anything that may have harmful effects at home. And no politician can look “soft” on national security issues during the campaign.
So, the Obama administration is vulnerable to the criticism over the “reset.” The good news is that foreign policy is never at the center of American election campaigns. But whenever Russia is touched upon, the Republicans attacks usually focus on the undemocratic nature of the political regime in Russia and the dubious benefits of the New START treaty, which they argue may potentially limit the freedom of maneuver in developing a nuclear strategy and missile defense.
But all this is campaign rhetoric. And if a Republican candidate indeed becomes the president, Russia will probably judge him or her not by words, but by the actions of the new president.
What do you expect from a Republican candidate if he takes office, concerning Russian-U.S. policy?
On the one hand, we can expect a somewhat tougher line toward Russia. The Republicans never made any commitment to maintain the policy of the “reset” with Russia. But at the same time the necessity to build partnerships on the global arena would probably drive this hypothetical Republican president toward cooperation with Russia in concrete areas.
Switching topics, what is your point of view concerning NATO-Russian relations? Is it possible for the two countries to find a compromise on the European anti-ballistic missile issue?
Compromise is always possible. Experts keep working on the issue of missile defense, and there is a flow of ideas from the expert community on both the Russian and the American side, and at some point I hope that a compromise will be found.
Our authorities have agreed to build a NATO transit military base in Ulyanovsk. What is the possible future of this base after the complete withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan?
First of all, they are not talking about the base. They are talking about the transit center. At this point, they are only talking about the delivery of nonlethal cargo from Afghanistan. So it remains to be seen what the role will be of this transit center in the future. But at this point it seems unlikely that we will see some kind of permanent military presence on Russian soil. From my perspective, it is very unlikely.
How big of a threat is drug trafficking from Afghanistan into Russia through this channel?
There is some talk of that in Russia, but I do not see any evidence that this might be the case, and I seriously doubt it, I do not believe it.