The Return of Diplomacy?
There’s No Hurry: The Long Confrontation Between Russia and the USA

For the Americans, Russia is a key rival in determining the main question of the 21st century: will American hegemony continue, or will the world move to a more balanced, polycentric system? Few of us expected that in the course of resolving this major issue we would find ourselves in a military crisis so quickly; nevertheless, the crisis accelerates the development of events, Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov writes.

Relations between Russia and the United States have entered a long-term stage that can be called “long confrontation.” We might perceive it as a temporary phase if the interaction between Moscow and Washington continued to be the central process of international life, as during the Cold War. However, the Russian-American confrontation is now only one of many international processes. More importantly, it is taking place under conditions that develop only once every few centuries – a period characterised by the structural redistribution of global power and resource potential. This process only partly affects Russia and the United States. Over the horizon of several decades, the centre of world production and consumption will finally shift to Asia, and the centre of economic gravity of the world will be on the border of India and China. In this context, the long Russian-American confrontation will be only one of the key processes, but certainly not the only one.

Why do I believe that this confrontation will last a long time? Despite its significant resource advantage and strong positions in key areas, the United States is in a situation where its pursuers are quickly overtaking it. Washington faces an increasingly dense international environment that poses obstacles to previously unrestricted American activity. The four strengths of American power and its offensive strategy are: first, it remains an advanced military power; second, it sits at the centre of the global financial system, providing an infrastructure of international settlements and a convertible currency. Third, it has strong positions in a number of technological areas and, fourth, its ideological and value platform, which, together with three other dimensions of power, provides what can be conventionally called a “pyramid of trust” in the American world strategy.

Modern Diplomacy
Who Is Better Prepared for a Long Geopolitical Crisis?
Andrey Sushentsov
The world is changing irreparably and the West is experiencing difficulties in consolidating participants in the international system by rallying against Russia, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

This pyramid exists in the economic and financial domains, as well as in foreign policy. Trust explains the irrational behaviour of some European states, which, being unable to conduct a balanced analysis of the consequences of their decisions, for example, regarding the Ukrainian crisis, are now forced to ask questions, like one found in the German magazine Spiegel: “What if the United States has no permanent allies?” The Europeans trusted the logic proposed by the United States; they literally “bought” this proposal: that the West would inflict a quick defeat on Russia, while a large amount of economic resources would be freed up, and relations with Russia would be restored on a different platform, more beneficial for the EU. This would be an effective strategic victory.

The United States has one of the most advanced schools of strategic thinking – it was in the American universities as well as research community and expert circles that the classical European school received impetus for development in the first half of the 20th century. Hans Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger and some other thinkers of European origin had the opportunity to systematically present their ideas and then integrate them into foreign policy practice in the United States. This inoculation of European strategic thinking fit well into the classical naval strategy of the United States, and produced effective results that allowed the Americans to achieve their goals in the second half of the 20th century. However, now we see that this strategic school is stalling: sober, realistically thinking people have found themselves the minority in the establishment. Was this a result of the post-Cold War “sweetness of success,” a sense that this brief moment of military-political dominance might last forever?

In late 2021, when the world entered the acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis, the United States, in my opinion, made a major mistake: instead of using a positional strategy, they decided to apply a strategy of grinding and crushing Russia. What does it consist of? World history knows two classic military-political strategies – the strategy of destruction and the positional strategy. The strategy of destruction is always based on significant material, power and ideological superiority, as well as possession of the initiative and the rapid defeat of the opponent. This was the strategy of Alexander the Great when he began his campaign: a technologically prepared army, possession of advanced military equipment for that time, developed by the Thebans, then the phalanx principle inherited by the Macedonians, as well as strong cavalry squadrons. They possessed advanced military technology and did not suffer a single defeat during the entire campaign. The Macedonians experienced their main obstacle in the confrontation with Greek mercenaries from Athens, who used the classic positional strategy. What is the point of such a strategy? It gives up the initiative, allows the other side to act, and is based on the need to mobilize resources and concentrate them. It avoids fighting a decisive battle until it cannot lose. From this description, one can recognise the strategic behaviour typical of Russia in different eras during wars.

The United States tried to apply a strategy of destruction in relation to Russia, not possessing superior resources at that moment, incorrectly assessing both its own capabilities and those of its allies in order to achieve goals, which were to isolate Russia, stimulate internal protests and undermine government support, create major obstacles at the front and ultimately inflicting defeat on our country as quickly as possible. Now military confrontation has moved into a phase that is convenient for Russia – a gradual turning point at the front, and the Americans are now forced to look for a way out of this situation, also in a positional manner.

The US strategic culture is characterised by an instrumental approach to its allies, and in this sense, we can expect that the cost of owning the Ukrainian asset may at some point be too high for the United States to continue to benefit from it.

Very indicative in this regard is a January 2023 RAND Corporation publication, which is called “Avoiding a Long War,” where it was directly stated that the relative advantages of owning the Ukrainian asset as a whole have already been obtained, but the cost of maintaining this asset continues to increase. This does not mean that after the conditional completion of the Ukrainian crisis, the United States will abandon attempts to pursue an offensive strategy of destruction against Russia. For the Americans, Russia is a key rival in determining the main question of the 21st century: will American hegemony continue, or will the world move to a more balanced, polycentric system? Few of us expected that in the course of resolving this major issue we would find ourselves in a military crisis so quickly; nevertheless, the crisis accelerates the development of events.

The “hegemony versus polycentricity” drama will not be resolved in Ukraine, as other points of tension will emerge in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and eventually in the Western Hemisphere, with Russia and the United States on opposite sides of the barricade. Our confrontation with the United States will last a long time, although we will experience certain periods of pause in this confrontation, which the United States will use to propose issues of common interest for discussion. Based on the experience of the Cold War, we recognise the shared responsibility for the survival of humanity, and I assess the risks of nuclear escalation during the confrontation as relatively low. We will find ourselves in a long period in which Russia’s tasks are to create a fabric of network relations with like-minded countries among non-Western and Western states. Over time, this fabric should become so strong that it can do without active US participation. The Americans’ strategy is to forcefully extinguish points of strategic autonomy, which they managed to do in Europe during the first stage of the Ukrainian crisis, but this step is one of the last successes of this American strategy.

Modern Diplomacy
The World in Search of a New Balance of Power
Andrey Sushentsov
The impossibility of achieving a strategic victory over the enemy through military means, the continuing interconnectedness of the world, the constant military conflict as one of the tools of grand strategy introduces us to the era of constant indirect war, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.