Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.
Because I was not very impressed with Obama in the first place, I expected little from “the reset” and little there has been. The problem with any initiative of the Obama Administration is brutally this: is there any follow-up after the speech?
The “reset” did change the rhetoric, although there have been no real trials. The nuclear agreement was made. But Russians would complain that they still see geriatric obsolescences like Captive Nations and Jackson-Vanik, assurances on WTO admission that come and go, periodic resolutions on “the Russian occupation” of Georgia and moralistic finger-wagging. They would ask “where’s the beef?”. I leave it to Americans to make their own list of Russian sins (Anna Chapman, Magnitskiy; any day’s indictment from the Washington Post or Ariel Cohen).
But the bottom line is that the US-USSR relationship was much more important to the two –and to the rest of us – than the US-Russia relationship is. The important thing is that each stop thinking of the other as the Main Enemy; each must rid itself of superseded habits of thought. Getting there will take some time: the USA is still the most important country on the planet and Moscow obsesses about it (perhaps too much: Saakashvili is not Washington’s creation and neither was Yushchenko). From Washington’s perspective, Russia does not turn up very often in the daily White House crisis briefings and is only important to the still vocal Russia-the-eternal-enemy faction.
What interests do they have in common? Not very many, in truth. They share a common enemy in jihadism, although the anti-Russia lobby still hasn’t figured that out. Nuclear weapons are a factor, but less and less important. There are trade interests – although not big. Occasionally Russia’s influence in some forlorn place is potentially significant. They are not large on either’s radar.
What opposing interests do they have? Again, not many. For years the anti-Russia lobby has warned us that Moscow wants to take over Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltics or whatever but it still hasn’t happened. And, if Moscow truly had some existential desire to conquer Georgia, the anti-Russia lobby still hasn’t explained what stopped it three years ago: the Russia that they fantasise about would have gone to Tbilisi, seized Saakashvili and still be there. Moscow is nervously concerned about the ultimate use of US missiles in Europe. What Moscow actually wants is a quiet life so that it can modernise itself. But it doesn’t want to be played for a sucker as it believes it was in the 1990s. This is the root of the missile problem: Moscow does not trust Washington’s mere word after, to take one example, NATO’s expansion.
There is no advantage in closing off every entrance, rejecting every overture, suspecting everything and pretending that Russia is still the USSR and gradually working to turn Russia into a real enemy.
But, what frightens me about US-Russia relations is that many on the right side of the US political spectrum still reflexively believe that Russia is the Eternal Enemy and, the way things are going, as well as the House of Representatives, they will soon control the Senate and the Presidency.
But, what keeps me (faintly) optimistic is that the inheritors of the Obama Administration will have bigger, and more urgent, problems than Russia to deal with.