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Prospects for Russia-U.S. Relations after Putin Reassumes Presidency

Popularity 1Viewed 6300 times 2013-5-6 09:33 |System category:News

Feng Yujun

The number of actors in international relations is increasing continuously and the agendas of international affairs have become more and more complex. The influence of traditional relationships between great powers is clearly declining in global affairs. The relationship between Russia and the U.S. today does not exert the same kind of comprehensive and decisive influence on the world situation as the Soviet Union-U.S. relations did in the Cold War era. Because of this, academic circles have paid less attention to the Russia-U.S. relationship. However, this relationship is still developing and is influenced by many factors. It is often surprisingly “dramatic”. Only two years after Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev and  Barack Obama announced the “reset” of relationship building between the two countries, and just after Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin, international academics are now saying that the relationship will cool down again.

Why have they changed their opinion on this relationship so quickly? How can we understand the internal logic and development prospects for this relationship? This author believes academics have changed their view so quickly because they lack a relatively stable analytical framework. Such changing evaluation standards and the absence of an historical perspective, mean that academics are being swayed by current events and mass media. If we look at Russia-U.S. ties based on academic research instead of political analysis, we must also look at those basic variables that can impact the relationship and assemble them into a clear coordinated system so that we can construct a comparatively stable analytical framework. This author believes that the main variables that can impact Russia-U.S. ties are military strategy, geopolitics, economy and trade, and domestic politics. In this paper, this author tries to use these four variables in a multi-perspective analysis to predict the relationship between Russia and the U.S. over the next five years.

Military Strategy: Bargaining and Seeking Compromises

Although it has been more than 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the form of the current Russia-U.S. relationship is the same as the one that was between the Soviet Union and the U.S.. “The relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States is the relationship between two different social systems with different ideologies, while it is also the relationship between two superpowers, and also the relationship between two opposing camps during the Cold War, with each country leading one camp.” Even if the confrontation between the two social systems and ideologies has greatly weakened, military competition remains at the core of ties between the two. “The United States still views Russia as one of the only countries in the world that can destroy it completely within minutes, so the key policy priorities of the U.S. are to ensure that Russia’s nuclear arsenal does not pose a threat to U.S. national security and also to stop the spread of Russia’s nuclear technology, nuclear materials and missile technology to other nations. Meanwhile Russia believes that by keeping the strategic balance with the U.S. it can sustain itself as a great power, so its U.S. policy is largely focused on how to maintain that balance. From this perspective, “the relationship between Russia and the U.S is in nature military-political... it can still rise high or fall low, just like a roller coaster, yet in essence it can be simplified to one in which both are trying to count the number of missiles the other party has.”

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the U.S have battled each other continuously on issues such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II, the signing of the Moscow treaty, the U.S.’ withdrawal from the ABM treaty and so on.But at the same time it is undeniable that along with the changing international strategic situation, Russia and the U.S have made considerable progress on cooperation in the fields of nuclear arms control and nuclear security. In nuclear arms control, Medvedev and Obama signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty III, establishing a new relationship in the nuclear strategy field. At the same time they jointly reduced their own nuclear arsenals, so that “strategic stability and predictability before 2020 can be guaranteed.” These are the most important achievements of the “reset” of their relationship. Certainly “no matter what problems occur in the relationship between Russia and the U.S, both Moscow and Washington will keep their promise to restrict strategic offensive weapons to the third stage. Russia and the U.S are not likely to start a new arms race because of budget deficits and other economic and security problems not directly related to strategic nuclear arsenals.” In  nuclear security, the two sides have not only finished the “Risk-Reducing Plan” together, strengthened cooperation on nuclear materials control and non-proliferation, but they have also formally launched a “civilian nuclear agreement”, allowing both sides to exchange technology, equipment and other materials, and making it possible for the two countries to gain new business opportunities in the nuclear technology field.

Currently, the biggest area of conflict between Russia and the U.S. in terms of military strategy lies in the “ABM” problem. At the November 2010 Lisbon summit, Russia and NATO agreed to cooperate with each other in establishing a European Missile Defense System. Russia argued that the idea and structure of the European Missile Defense System should be formulated based on an equal footing, and both sides should take measures to strengthen trust and transparency in this field. In other words, Russia wanted to jointly manage the system and also wanted the U.S. to make a legally-binding commitment never to use the system against Russia. But NATO rejected both demands. Russia is worried that the missile defense system will one day be able to intercept Russian missiles and thus weaken her nuclear deterrence. So on 23 November 2011, President Medvedev announced that if an agreement on ABM could not be reached, Russia would take various counter measures. These include an immediate deployment of an early-warning radar system in Kaliningrad and a strengthening of the defense capability of its strategic nuclear weapons as one part of a space defense program. Russia would also equip its ballistic missiles, both land-based and sea-based, with the most advanced nuclear warheads. He would also order the Russian army to destroy U.S.’ anti-ballistic missile data exchanges and its control centers and he would consider deploying more advanced offensive weapons along Russia’s southern and western borders.

What is notable is that although Russia acted tough when dealing with the “ABM” negotiations, its intention was not to start an arms race with the U.S., nor even to actively oppose Washington, but instead it wanted to force the U.S. to change its position, and thus maintain the strategic balance. While talking tough, Medvedev stressed that Russia would continue to pursue dialogue with the U.S and NATO and seek a compromise.”

Recently, Russian think tanks and decision makers have markedly changed how they view the anti-ballistic systems of the U.S. and Russia.

On February 17, 2012, Sergey Rogov, Director of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote: “At least until 2020, the anti-ballistic missile system of the United States can intercept no more than a few dozen Russian warheads. The 48 missiles of ‘standard-3’ of Block 2B type deployed in Poland and Romania won’t change the situation of “Mutually Assured Destruction”. In the foreseeable future, Russia will produce nearly 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-based ballistic missiles, equipped with 1,500 nuclear warheads. The United States has no chance to escape from a Russian counterattack. It will take the U.S. a few decades to complete building its space echelon of an anti-missile system and finish the deployment of thousands of land-based and sea-based strategic interceptor missiles.”

On February 20, 2012, Putin issued his national defense guidelines as part of his presidential campaign, and made it clear that “the possibility of a global war between nuclear powers is slim... as long as we can remain alert and use our powerful strategic nuclear weapons built by our forefathers, no one will dare to launch a large-scale invasion of us.”On February 24, during his meeting with military experts at the Sarov Nuclear Research Center in Nizhny Novgorod, Putin stressed that Russia led the U.S. in terms of nuclear deterrence and missile technology. The U.S. anti-ballistic missile system does not pose a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrence. On April 25, Army General Nikolai Yegorovich Makarov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia said: “We have been carefully tracking many countries’ nuclear weapons development. Analyses made by us and the U.S show that there really is a threat. It is necessary to establish an anti-ballistic missile system, and we agree on that.”What merits attention is that this is the first time that the Russian military has recognized the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.

Russia is sticking to its principle of “asymmetric balance” and accelerating the development of its nuclear weapons, especially in terms of increasing its defense penetration ability. On the other hand, it is bargaining more with the U.S over “ABM issues,” and seeking a compromise. On February 27, a part of his election campaigning, Putin said: “The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty signed in 2010 showed the connection between anti-ballistic missile systems and strategic offensive weapons. This is a great diplomatic accomplishment. We would like to study all possible solutions, so that in the future we can make a common agenda with the U.S over arms control.”He also recalled his meeting with Bush Jr. in 2007 in Kennebunkport and said “If at that time we could have made some breakthrough on the problem of anti-ballistic missile systems, we could have moved our relationship onto a positive track, paving the way for a new cooperative relationship, similar to a coalition, in many sensitive areas.”He also said: “In recent years, Russian leaders have put forward other suggestions for reaching an anti-ballistic missile agreement. These are still valid. Russia does not want to lose any chance of reaching a compromise. We do not wish the situation to develop to the degree that we must take countermeasures against the U.S..”

Currently, Russian and U.S. diplomatic and military officials are in close consultation on the “anti-ballistic missile” issue both in terms of military policy as well as on in-depth technical parameters. What merits attention is that, during the nuclear summit held in Seoul in March, Obama asked Medvedev to tell Putin that Obama would adopt more flexible policies in missile defense if Putin is re-elected as the president of Russia. It he is not, then the U.S. will deploy missiles.”

There are various signs that show the two sides are engaged in more frequent negotiations on the anti-ballistic missile issue. Looking at the current situation it is possible to see that Russia and the U.S. could reach a compromise and begin to cooperate.

Geopolitics: Conflict Is Temporarily Relieved

Long after the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. was still viewing Russia as its key geopolitical opponent and was on its guard in case Russia had “ambitions to become an empire.” Preventing the re-rise of Russia has been a key policy of the U.S.. On the one hand, the U.S. pushed NATO eastward, constantly compressing Russia’s geopolitical space. In two rounds of eastward expansion, NATO took in three Baltic countries and nations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, setting up a political order and security arrangement. Russia lost all influence in these areas. On the other hand, with the help of the “color revolution,” the “democratization process” and centrifugal tendency of the former Soviet countries, the U.S. was able to prevent Russia from regaining control of these countries. Even so, Russia’s traditional economic and cultural ties with these countries could not be eliminated in the short term. In the post-Soviet era, it is very hard to tell who has the upper hand, because both Russia and the U.S. have had the advantage over the other at different times.

The global financial crisis did not only have an impact on the existing international order and regional structure, but it also changed the Russia-U.S. geopolitical relationship. The crisis had a big impact on Russia, with its economic recession the biggest of all nations in the G8 or in the BRIC countries in 2009. The crisis fully exposed Russia’s unsustainable economic structure and the vulnerability of its national strength. But at the same time, the U.S.’ national comprehensive power declined and China became the second largest economy in the world.

Changes in comprehensive strengths triggered new changes in big power strategy and relations between great powers. The U.S. now believes that Russia’s geopolitical challenge has been significantly reduced, and so their ties should be based on a different framework. In May 2010, the Obama administration issued the new national security strategy and claimed that: “We seek to build a stable, substantive, multidimensional relationship with Russia, based on mutual interests. The United States has an interest in a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia that respects international norms. As the two nations possess the majority of the world’s nuclear weapons, we are working together to advance nonproliferation, both by reducing our nuclear arsenals and by cooperating to ensure that other countries meet their international commitments to reducing the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. We will seek greater partnership with Russia in confronting violent extremism, especially in Afghanistan.”

Subsequently, the U.S. stopped promoting NATO’s eastward expansion, and this move east which has long plagued Russia, came to a temporary stop. Russia then seized the opportunity to try to restore its influence in the “post-Soviet space.” On October 5, 2011, Putin published an article: “Eurasia: the future which is being born today,” to elaborate his idea of a “Eurasian union.” Putin believes that a Eurasian union would be an integration based on new values, and the new political and economic reality. The future Eurasian union would become a  pole in the multi-polar world, and a supranational organization serving as an effective bridge between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. According to Putin, four steps could be taken to establish a Eurasian union. The first was to build a customs union. In 2007, the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan was set up. In July 2011, they established a system where they had common external tariffs and duty-free trade with each other. Currently the three countries have established a customs union committee—a supranational organization.  The second step would be to unify the Eurasian economic space. Since 2012, the three countries have enjoyed a free circulation of goods, trade, investment, and labor services. From 2013 to 2014, it will set up a united economic space, build a supranational coordinating organization, establish a unified central bank and a common energy market, and absorb more countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The third step would be to build a Eurasian economic union. This is expected to be established in 2015. It will have a single currency and all the member states would share unified policies in the macro-economic, technical standards, agricultural subsidies, and transportation fields. There would be no frontier inspections and there would be a unified visa and immigration policy similar to the one implemented in “the Schengen zone.” The fourth step would be to set up a Eurasian union. It will be “a supranational organization” expanded from the economic field to the political, security, education, and cultural fields.

Although some in the U.S think that Putin wants a Eurasian union, to make “Russia return as a regional empire and a new confrontation with the United States will appear in 20 to 30 years,” the reality of its declining national strength and other priorities mean that the U.S. has neither the will nor the capability to confront Russia directly. Some scholars in the U.S think that “although initiatives to carry out regional integration in the former Soviet Union will bring political problems to Washington, the U.S is not ready for, or hasn’t even estimated the economic and political influence of such an integration. Washington now is not willing to predict the consequences of this development... the U.S does not advise those countries of the former Soviet Union that do not bring itself economic benefits, or occupy policy priority in U.S. foreign policy. And the United States has not tried its best to make them follow the political will of the Western countries.”

aWhen the U.S.-Russia conflict was enjoying a temporary relief, the two sides made significant progress in cooperating on some other important international political fields. The biggest of these was the “Northern Distribution Network”, a transportation route providing supplies to coalition troops in Afghanistan and which passes through Russia and some Central Asian countries. Because the southern transportation route, which runs through Pakistan and crosses the Khyber Pass, was often attacked by the Taliban, NATO needed a new route in the north. The idea to open this route was made after Obama assumed presidency. In July 2009, after Russia’s quick consent, Kyrgyzstan made the Manas Air Base into a material transfer centre for the U.S.. In the same month, Russia and the U.S made an agreement to allow military supplies to pass through Russian territory. After that, the U.S signed similar transit agreements with several Central Asian countries to transport military materials.

As the US began its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan became more complex, “the strategic significance of the Northern Distribution Network” became even more important. In September 2011, at a conference held in New York on Afghanistan affairs, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed a “new silk road,” defining it as “a web of economic and transit connections that will bind together a region too long torn apart by conflict and division,” and making Afghanistan into a center linking the resources and markets of Central and South Asia by building infrastructure, removing bureaucratic barriers and promoting regional economic integration.Despite some worries from Russia that this would weaken Russia’s traditional influence in Central Asia, Moscow maintain a cooperative stance. Russia and the U.S are now discussing making Ulyanovsk a transfer station for NATO to ship back material supplies from Afghanistan. Putin said: “NATO needs to set up a transfer station in Ulyanovsk, a stable Afghanistan is in the interests of our country.” Russia expects that after the U.S. withdrawal the route will play an extremely important role in exchanging logistics between Russia and Central and South Asian countries and in enhancing Russia’s geopolitical influence in the area.

This has shown that as the international strategic situation has changed, the geopolitical competition between Russia and the U.S. has eased temporarily. Cooperation over Afghanistan has provided an opportunity to further promote bilateral ties.

Economic and Trade Cooperation: Seeking Breakthroughs

Weak economic ties between Russia and the U.S have been a significant hurdle to their relationship. In 2008, bilateral trade between Russia and the U.S amounted to only US$27.1 billion. In 2010, although bilateral trade had recovered to pre-crisis levels, it was still only US$25.3 billion. The U.S is Russia’s seventh largest trading partner, yet their trade is still less than that between Russia and Belarus or Russia and Turkey. Russia is not even in the list of top 25 trading partners of the U.S., much lower than other members of the G8.

In 2011, although the Pepsi-Cola Company invested $3.8 billion to purchase Wimm-Bill-Dann, a Russian food producer, and Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Google and big U.S. companies have shown much interest in investing in Russia, by the end of January 1, 2011, accumulated direct investment by the U.S. in Russia amounted to $5.38 billion, accounting for just 4% of Russia’s foreign direct investment.

This stagnation in trade and economic relations between the two sides has seriously restricted their bilateral ties. “Narrow military-political limitations makes any discrepancy in this field extremely fragile, while a lack of economic interests can turn any political discrepancy into a key problem for bilateral ties, allowing them to be controlled by those people who seek political interests and money through conflict.” Putin realized that “the main problem for the relationship between Russia and the U.S lies in the fact that bilateral political dialogue and cooperation lack a stable economic foundation. Bilateral trade volume and the scale of mutual investment are not in accord with their economic potential. So they have not yet created a safety net to stabilize their ties.”

Putin’s main task after he returned to his post as President was to revitalize Russia’s economy, which is still heavily dependent on exports of oil and gas, and to modernize its Soviet-era industries. He needs to persuade more Western enterprises to do business with Russia. Analysts believe that “since both Obama and Putin have an interest in seeing economic ties grow; the best chance for the United States and Russia to improve their relationship may lie in business and trade.”

Recently, some obstacles that have long hindered bilateral economic cooperation have been eliminated, indicating that economic cooperation may soon begin a period of rapid growth. On November 10, 2011, the World Trade Organization agreed on the final terms that would allow Russia to join as a member: Russia’s 18-year negotiations with the WTO have finally came to an end. Becoming part of the WTO is a key step for Russia’s entry into the global economy. Although some Russians still worry a lot about the risks brought about by accession to the WTO, Putin firmly believes that “to become a member of the WTO will strongly help Russia’s innovation-oriented development in the strategic field. Economic openness and increasing competition are good for Russian citizens, and it will also boost development for producers in our country. As a member of the WTO we will be able to use its legal framework to defend Russia’s interests.”Russia’s entry into the WTO also creates a stable trading environment which will be beneficial to the promotion of unified trade rules. After its entry into the WTO, Russia’s general tariff rates will fall to 7.8% from 10%. The average tariff on agricultural products will fall from 13.2% to 10.8%, and the average tariff on industrial products will fall from 9.5% to 7.3%.

The U.S. has taken a constructive position over Russia’s entry into the WTO. Russia’s entry also brings new opportunities for the further development of Russia-US economic cooperation. Obama has taken the elevation of Russia-U.S. economic and trade cooperation as a breakthrough to improve bilateral ties. He believes that the “Jackson-Vanik Amendment” will restrict the ability of U.S. businesses to share the benefits of Russia’s entry into the WTO. Obama has urged Congress to repeal the law. Although the two parties in Congress still disagree over this, one thing that is sure is that once Russia becomes a WTO member, the U.S. must repeal the law in relation to Russia as required by WTO rules. The shackles that have long hindered Russia-U.S. trade are finally being removed.

On April 16, 2012, Eduard Khudainatov, President of the National Oil Company of Russia, and Rex Tillerson, President of ExxonMobil, signed a second-stage agreement at Putin’s official residence at Novo-Ogaryovo. Putin personally witnessed the signing. According to the agreement, the National Oil Company of Russia has acquired 30% of the shares of three projects in west Texas and the Gulf of Mexico and in Alberta in Canada.

The National Oil Company of Russia is an important tool for Russia to implement its energy strategy and diplomacy. Its strategic cooperation with the Exxon Mobil Corp does not come out of the blue. It is part of its long-term strategic goal. Russia wants to develop the Arctic shelf. Putin has attached great importance to this, believing that the area is a strategic reserve for Russia’s national development. Under the country’s Mineral Resources Law only state-owned companies have the right to exploit Russia’s continental shelf, but the National Oil Company of Russia and the National Natural Gas Industry Company of Russia are not powerful enough to develop it by themselves. In 2011, Russia invited many European and American energy enterprises to jointly develop its continental shelf and even signed a letter of intention for cooperation with BP. In the end, this was aborted because of a disagreement on stock rights. Eventually, the Exxon-Mobil company became the first foreign energy company to enter into the development of Russia’s continental shelf. Russia also wants to accelerate the modernization process of its energy industry. The two companies will prospect in the Kara Sea and will jointly research an oil drilling platform for use in the Arctic. Russia’s first floating nuclear power station was launched this year. With the help of advanced technology from the U.S., Russia will learn how to exploit for oil and gas resources in the Arctic. Russia also wants funds to support an innovation-oriented economy. Putin plans an investment of over US$1 trillion, far beyond Russia’s current financial capability. The Russian government plans to recover 80 million tons of oil and tap 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas every year from the Arctic continental shelf before 2030, with a gross value more than US$100 billion. Putin wants to use some of this money to promote an innovation-oriented economy. Moscow also wants to attract foreign capital. Until now, direct foreign investment in Russia has only reached US$493.5 billion, of which 65% comes from international offshore centers, most of which are round-trip transactions. In recent years, due to corruption and the poor protection of private property rights, Russia’s investment environment has worsened considerably. Putin is expecting the Kara Sea project to attract $500 billion over the next 30 years in the oil and gas fields, and $300 billion direct investment in related fields. Russian deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin says that the Kara Sea project needs to build at least 10 ice-proof oil drilling platforms, each costing US$15 billion. Both sides still need to invest $150 billion altogether. Therefore, if the project goes well, direct investment from the U.S. to Russia will pass $100 billions, a sum far greater than provided by any other country.

We can say that energy cooperation between Russia and the U.S is key to binding the two together. It will certainly upgrade their level of economic cooperation and will also lay a solid foundation for improving bilateral relations.

Domestic Politics:Positive Change

Russia-U.S. ties have long been heavily influenced by domestic political factors in the two countries. Since the end of the Cold War, “though Russia is no longer the greatest global competitor against Washington, many people in Russia and the United States believe that confrontation is the natural state of their bilateral ties. Psychology, habits, personal reasons, and bureaucratic mechanisms all influence this confrontation.”However, against the background of the global financial crisis and while the two are “resetting” their relationship, those domestic political factors that have impacted ties are changing slowly but significantly.

First of all, the two are increasingly viewing each other as “partners” now rather than as “opponents”. In March 2011, the Valdai Discussion Club, a key strategic think tank in Russia published a research report called “U.S.-Russia Relations after the ‘Reset’: Building a New Agenda.” It pointed out that “U.S.-Russian relations have markedly improved over the past two years. The “reset” of relations proposed by the Barack Obama administration has been a success. The threat of a retreat to a systemic confrontation has almost disappeared. Many of the conflicts between the two countries have been either resolved or, for the most part, reduced to a simmer. Both Russia and the United States have displayed pragmatism by lowering the importance of persistent conflicts in favor of the benefits of cooperation. For the first time in the post-Soviet era, the U.S. has partially revised its position on Russia-related issues and its interests with regard to Russia for the sake of gaining Moscow’s support in matters of interest to Washington. Unlike previous rounds, the current improvement in U.S.-Russian relations rests on a more solid foundation—namely, the parties have a clear and pragmatic understanding of their interests and the importance of constructive mutual relations for their implementation.”

U.S. attitudes towards Russia are also changing. In 2009, Dimitri Simes, Director of the Nixon Center wrote that “pursuing a partnership with Moscow is difficult and frustrating, but neglecting Russia could severely compromise the pursuit of vital U.S. national interests tomorrow and in the years to come. The United States must overcome the unmistakable impression that making Russia a strategic partner has never been a major priority... More fundamentally, the United States needs to think more strategically about what is required to turn Russia into a responsible stakeholder in international security.” In 2010, James Collins, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and Director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stressed that: “Russia is no easy ally for the United States. Yet however challenging this partnership may be, Washington can’t afford not to work with Moscow. Russia is indispensible. As long as the United States participates in the global economy and has interests beyond its own borders, it will have no choice but to maintain relations with Russia.”Even Brzezinski, who is always alert to Russia’s “empire ambitions” expressed recently that “a civil society is actually appearing in Russia based on democratic rules and belief in democracy... the youth generation and young people in the middle class of Russia really agree to democratic principles.” In his new book Strategic Vision: the United States and the Crisis of Global Power he wrote that “We should accept Russia as a member of the European Atlantic system in order to construct an even larger and more vigorous West.”

Moreover, strategic circles in Russia and the U.S. have also strengthened contacts, trying to seek new breakthroughs in the bilateral relationship. Former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Senator Sam Nunn formed a “Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative.” In February 2012 at the 48th Munich security policy conference, they issued a final research report, saying “We should transform and demilitarize strategic relations between the United States/NATO and Russia and build an inclusive, effective Euro-Atlantic Security Community.”

Secondly, there are more U.S. lobby groups now that support developing Russia-U.S. ties. The U.S. will hold presidential elections at the end of this year. But the main foreign policy issue being debated between the Democratic and the Republican parties is China not Russia. Even so Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has accused Obama of “being weak” on Russia, saying that Russia is the U.S.’ “top enemy”. However, his opinion is not the mainstream. More importantly, although U.S. exports to Russia are still low, some large US companies including Boeing, Caterpillar, General Motors and Ford are making profits in Russia. “To counter those Washington lobby groups who are skeptical of Russia, these large companies are now more active in pushing for a good economic relationship with Moscow. This has made it possible to build a foundation for the bilateral relationship.”

Thirdly, the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (Medvedev-Obama commission) is providing a mechanism for the improvement of bilateral relations, and has to some extent broken that air of inaction that pervades both countries’ bureaucratic agencies.  The Bilateral Presidential Commission was formally established in 2009, and it was one of the most important achievements of the “resetting” of Russia-U.S. relations. Its mission is to improve communications and cooperation between the governments of Russia and the U.S.. At present, the commission includes over twenty working groups in the areas of political consultation, space cooperation, science and technology, nuclear power and nuclear security, defense, military cooperation, health care, the environment, energy, agriculture, arms control and international security, business development and economic relations, civil society, counter narcotics, counter-terrorism, education, sports and cultural exchanges, emergency response, innovation, and judicial cooperation, with more than 60 government agencies in Russia and the U.S. involved in the work of the commission. Since its establishment, the commission has convened more than 400 meetings, exchange and military exercises, and at the same time it has become an important platform for citizens and professionals of both countries to expand mutual contacts and exchanges.

Finally, the mass media have framed Putin’s return as not “unfavorable to bilateral ties”. Many people believed that Putin’s return would impede Russia-U.S. ties. However, while Putin has spoken tough on the U.S., he is by no means anti-U.S.. Putin gave Washington strong support after the “9/11” incident. In 2009 and 2010, Russia voted at the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions on Iran. It can be said that “there are plenty of important issues on the agenda—nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, the dangerous situation in Pakistan and the wobbly global economy—on which U.S. and Russian interests more or less converge. An experienced leader such as Putin, who prides himself on being cold-hearted and calculating, shows he’s able to act pragmatically when it serves Russia’s interest.” During the Russian presidential election campaign, although Putin knew his voters were looking forward to his “anti-American tune,” he behaved more like a strategist taking national interests at their core, rather than as a populist. During his campaign, Putin took a moderate stance towards the U.S., and said he was looking forward to “making substantial progress in Russia-U.S. relations,” with “the mode of friendly cooperation like allies.” Putin knows very well that good ties with the U.S. and NATO are key to Russia’s modernization ambitions. He has not only agreed to this in principle, but he is also seeking realistic possibilities to make this happen, while not sacrificing any of Russia’s own interests.”


Based on an analysis of the four variables, we can see that Russia-U.S. relations are undergoing some very important changes. The two countries have made great progress in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues, and have actively sought compromises on the anti-ballistic missile issue. NATO’s eastward expansion that had worried Russia has come to a stop. The geopolitical competition between Russia and the U.S in the post-Soviet era has also halted. Thus Russia has won an unprecedented opportunity to revive its economy. The U.S. supports Russia’s entry into the WTO and the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment will remove barriers to economic cooperation between Russia and the U.S.. Putin is now hoping to import funds and technology from the U.S. to assist Russia’s economic modernization and to use energy cooperation as a breakthrough to speed up bilateral economic cooperation. Domestically, both countries are beginning to view the other more as “partners” than as “opponents”. U.S. lobby groups who support better ties are growing in number. The Bilateral Presidential Commission has broken the inertia of the bureaucratic agencies to a certain extent, providing a new platform for bilateral cooperation. More importantly, Putin is a realist who is expecting to achieve “a qualitative breakthrough” in pushing the relationship. We predict that in the next five years, bilateral ties will continue this positive trend.

(translated by Feng Shengyang and Zhao Jinfu)

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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