Cautious expectations for relationship between Russia and the US

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The estrangement between Moscow and Washington has lately given way – with the election of Barack Obama – to a cautious sense of expectation. The apprehension is palpable in both Russia and the US. Given how much effort both countries have put into improving relations over the last 20 years, it would be a pity to lose the fruits of this difficult rapprochement.

Having said that, one cannot deal with a partner who does not value the partnership and who ignores your interests. No matter how important America is, friendship or enmity with her is not paramount in the life of the Russian people.

A new feature of American politics is the recent spate of moderately concerned pronouncements about Russia. Also the changes in personnel. Russia experts have been appointed to the National Security Council, to the State Department and to intelligence. Former ambassadors to Moscow were behind a recent report published by the Bipartisan Commission on US Policy Toward Russia.

in any case, for the first time in 20 years the American public has been told in no uncertain terms that US interests and those of Russian-border states are not one and the same thing. The commission’s report says that there is no reason to fear Russian investments outside the energy-sector in the US and the EU.

The report recommends extending the Start 1 treaty, suspending the Jackson-Vanick amendment, and making Russia a member of the World Trade Organisation. It also urges new negotiations on Russia’s participation in the planned American ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Most revolutionary of all is the report’s idea that America should not try to build spheres of influence along Russia’s borders while counting on a “constructive response” from Moscow.

The report’s key theme is that the US administration must stop ignoring Russia’s interests since co-operation with Russia will be important in achieving American goals such as the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and solving the “Iran problem”.

Right after the report was made public Moscow was visited by Henry Kissinger. Dr Kissinger was accompanied by a group of Russia experts, including the authors of the report. Now that they have gone, everyone is waiting anxiously for the results…

Though some of the recommendations made informally by the Americans are encouraging, their formal proposals leave much to be desired. The Americans are trying to sell as a constructive idea a plan that would enhance their superiority of forces while forfeiting the last remnants of our former strategic parity – Russia’s only guarantee, in essence, of military-strategic security.

The American proposal does not stipulate a parallel reduction of tactical weapons of mass destruction, conventional forces and so-called geographical offensive weapons, meaning America’s new Nato bases near and around Russia.

The leitmotif of these expert recommendations is that America stop ignoring Russia’s interests. Yet US actions suggest a determination to restore America’s total strategic invulnerability. What does that have to do with Russian interests? Where is the opportunity to consider and defend them? The iron fist in the velvet glove…

I do not think that Russian diplomacy can easily return to the romantic atmosphere of Soviet-American relations under Gorbachev. “Perestroika diplomacy” was never poisoned by the bitterness of deception. It remained the diplomacy of negotiated breakthroughs.

But post-Soviet diplomacy is another matter entirely. It has been saturated with the spirit of the disappointments of the 1990s: the Nato-isation of Eastern Europe, Kosovo, poi-soned relations with Ukraine and – worst of all – the military destabilisation of Russia’s borders in the Caucasus.

To restore honest and respectful relations with the US is one thing; to accept American proposals that do not benefit Russia in order to do so is quite another. If the US is as intent on improving relations with Russia as Russia is on improving relations with the US, it must be prepared for some very tough negotiations – tougher than any since the 1980s – on a broad range of issues, including regional security.

The US is primarily interested in co-operation with Moscow over non-prolif-eration and Iran. Moscow, by contrast, is more interested in reforming the security system in Europe. We need to learn again how to link such things. The first meeting between presidents Medvedev and Obama seemed to have a generally stimulating effect on diplomats and politicians in both countries.

At the same time one must be clear: while Russia wants stable and friendly relations with America, for Russian foreign policy this is not an end itself. Rather it is an important tool for building a safer and more prosperous world. Russia will advance along this path in any case – preferably with the US, but if necessary without.

  • Professor Anatoly V Torkunov, a former Washington diplomat, is rector of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk, 27 Apr 2009

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