University of San-Francisco, Professor of International Relations
Illusions and disenchantments of the 1990-s
After the disintegration of the USSR, Russia tried to build the relations of a strategic partnership resulting in its integration into the Western structures with USA and other countries of the West. The integration strategy implied radical economic and political reforms and full-fledged membership in international organizations, such as NATO, European Union, IMF, etc. A new Russian leadership was hopeful that the United States as the leading power of the western civilization would do its utmost to practically implement the integration strategy.
But the integration failed to be realized due to different understanding by political classes of Russia and the USA their interests in the world. While the Kremlin was guided by the desire of returning to the mainstream of western civilization broken off by the Bolsheviks, Washington was mainly interested in asserting its economic, political and nuclear supremacy in the world. Russia didn’t get the much expected large-scale economic aid while the decision about NATO’s expansion to the Russian borders only contributed to understanding of the illusory nature of initial plans for integration.
By the beginning of 1994 when the decision about the North Atlantic alliance’s expansion without Russian participation was made traditional super power ambition sentiments had taken root in the Russian political class. The coalition chaired by Yevgeny Primakov, Head of the External Intelligence Service, included the representatives of the military and industrial complex and the silovikis’ lobby prepared to stand up for the Russia’s interests in the world in the face of the U.S.’s expansion. The future foreign policy was based on the rhetoric of a "multi-vector” and "equal” global cooperation pursuing the aim of achieving a "multi-polar” world. It was also assumed that the "reintegration” of the post-Soviet space and the development of relations with China and India with the view to containing the USA would take place.
Alas, such a policy was doomed to failure. A half-disintegrated country turned out to be incapable of pursuing a great-power policy. The uncontrolled crime, corruption and poverty rate growth prevented the country from getting focused on addressing foreign policy issues. Russia lost 1/6 of its territory, half of its GNP, with the substantial part of the economy controlled by the oligarchs. Увы, и эта политика не могла увенчаться успехом.
From cooperation to the assertiveness in the 2000-s
The coming to power of Vladimir Putin was marked by the abandonment of the "multi-vector” rhetoric. Mr. Putin laid emphasis on finding the spheres of cooperation with the USA and was one of the first to support Americans in their fight against terrorism after 9/11. Russian president was hopeful that American partners would give up their idea of global supremacy in favor of cooperation with Russia and other countries based on the principles of parity. However, the denunciation of the ABM Treaty, the intensification of unilateral efforts on nuclear modernization, the invasion of Iraq and stepping up the attempts to take under control Euro-Asian energy flows testified to the U.S.’s stronger global ambitions.
Having realized the situation Russia turned to an assertive policy and in a number of foreign policy aspects united its efforts with the countries of Western Europe and also Asia and Latin America. Russian foreign policy once again acquired global dimension that was underpinned by grown economic capability of the country. Soon, right after the U.S. supported "color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine Russia put under fire the Washington strategy of global change of regimes. Putin’s speech in Munich in February 2007 became the climax of this criticism. Simultaneously Russia declared moratorium on compliance with the terms and conditions of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and undertook a number of steps to strengthen its energy independence and exercise influence on Euro-Asian countries with the view to enhancing internal political and regional stability.
Russia’s assertive strategy got deadlocked in the wake of the global financial crisis that shook the country and as a result of the irrelevant policy of military dictate towards a number of the former USSR countries. The standoff with Georgia demonstrated that the Russian leadership was prepared to violent actions in standing up to its interests in security sphere but, at the same time, brought to Russia significant reputational costs. The question, how far is Russia prepared to go in its confrontation with the USA, was posed by many both in Europe, Euro-Asia and elsewhere.
The policy of modernization and its limits
By spring 2009 Russia in its foreign policy had returned to finding the ways of re-establishing cooperation with USA. President Dmitry Medvedev declared technological and political modernization the main priorities of the country. As a result of new presidents in the office new opportunities for building mutually beneficial partnership opened up for the two countries. Russia responded to Barack Obama’s initiative of "resetting” the relations with Medvedev’s foreign policy strategy aimed at creating "the unions of modernization” of the Russian economy. The U.S. with its huge investment and technological capability was supposed to play in it one of the key roles.
New cooperation with the USA contributed to the softening of Americans’ stance on ABM, refusal from harsh rhetoric of the regime change and NATO expansion as well as the signing of the framework treaty on the reduction of nuclear arms. In Russia the establishment of a joint with the White House governmental commission on specific issues including the issue of a civil society development replaced the criticism of the U.S.’s "undemocratic” policy. The agenda of the Russian-American relations came to embrace also the issues of economic cooperation, such as Russia’s accession to WTO, the development of the energy dialogue, investments and high technologies.
However, the policy of modernization soon revealed its limits. The Russian leadership is still in a fog about the U.S.’s intentions regarding ABM in Europe. The Americans’ stance on NATO expansion has indeed softened but there hasn’t been made any serious progress so far. Washington is not inclined to consider any possible alternatives to the NATO-centric system of security in Europe and mostly ignored Russia’s proposals of signing a new treaty on common European security. The statements made by the U.S. officials and their visits give clear evidence of Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO membership ambitions support. New differences over the Middle East, especially in the aftermath of the events in Libya and Syria, have emerged or deepened. In the election season’s context public criticism of Moscow’s "undemocratic” policy has again increased in the USA. In June 2012 the U.S. Senate adopted a new "human rights protection” Magnitsky bill allowing to introduce sanctions against Russian citizens.
On the whole, as before, the USA position can be described as unilaterally pragmatic. Americans try to get Russia to make certain concessions on Iran, Libya and Syria, on nuclear arms reduction and to provide assistance on military operation in Afghanistan, but they don’t want to move towards establishing a strategic alliance with Moscow. Despite Medvedev’s efforts to create a new image of a ‘pro-Western” Russia it continues to be perceived in the West with suspicion and is not viewed as a serious candidate for strategic partnership. The current White House incumbent’s approach based on liberal values allows the USA to conduct a dialogue with the "authoritarian” Kremlin but doesn’t imply the deepening of the relations with Russia.
To a new interdependence
By trial and error Russia has gradually approached the possibility of building mutually beneficial relations with the USA. Apparently, both countries need each other. America needs the support of the Russian leadership in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East and on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, while Russia pursuing the policy of modernization continues to depend on investment and technological potential of the American business. Recent big contracts with «ExxonMobil» on the development of the Arctic continental shelf testify to both the growing interest of the Kremlin to better economic relations with the USA and to their huge potential. The Obama-Putin summit in Los-Cabos in June 2012 also symbolized the understanding by both sides the importance of interaction on the issues they are concerned about. The parties refrained from sharp criticism of each other. Putin, for example, refused from traditional criticism of the U.S. plans of anti-missile defense system deployment. A few days later the Russian president welcomed at St. Petersburg Economic Forum the representatives of American business and the opportunity to attract new Western investments into Russian economy. Thus, gradually a new model of interdependence, in which the deepening of economic relations serves the guarantee of the ongoing, although with difficulties, dialogue on security issues, is being created.
The creation and deepening of interdependence of the two countries may well facilitate stability and predictability of their relations. Meanwhile, there should be no illusions regarding the possibility of strategic partnership with the United States. Due to its history, mentality and position in the world the USA cannot become Russia’s strategic partner either today or in the near future. Therefore, the attempts to become America’s "main friend” are not only doomed to failure but also dangerous. Russia has its own way and own interests different from the interests of both the West or Asia or the Muslim East.
It’s impossible to predict whether the currently created model of interdependence will outlive Obama’s presidency, for the possible outcome of the U.S. presidential race is not yet clear. That said, it’s quite possible to set out the pre-conditions for the Russian-American interdependence model existence. Among them, above all, is the ongoing growth of the Russian economy capable to attract new investments. Not less significant is also the preparedness of the Russian leadership to refrain from a symmetrically tough response to the steps such as the Magnitsky Act, for instance. The statements made by some representatives of the Russian political class about the damaging effect of rapprochement with the non-trustworthy America will only add to the strengthening of the interdependence opponents. And, finally, the efforts to improve Russia’s image abroad are all but necessary. Without the development of the policy of Russian presence in global media space Russia will yet for a long time continue to be perceived as the country mired in corruption and exhausted by foreign policy ambitions but not as a fast-growing and prepared for cooperation global power. In the age of new media of mass communication and "soft power” global propaganda of Russia’s image as a state responsible for the prosperity of its citizens and peaceful resolution of international conflicts is a necessary condition for retaining its influence in the world.