Ivan Tsvetkov is Associate Professor of American Studies, International Relations Department, St. Petersburg State University. He is an expert in the field of historical science and contemporary U.S. policy and U.S.-Russian relations. Since 2003, he has been the author and administrator of the educational website "History of the United States: Materials for the course" (http://ushistory.ru).
Amidst concerns of default in Washington and the potential for falling oil prices, Russia is shaping up as a surprisingly reliable ally for the U.S.
"A crisis in the U.S. is always an opportunity to make good money. I increased my trading capital in 2008. Come to my training and I'll teach you how to profit from the falling dollar and falling oil prices!"
Recently, appeals of this kind are being increasingly heard by listeners of Russian radio stations. Print publications do not fall far behind producing free advice either. One of them, for example, warns:
"Compatriots, make a point of this, the United States has started printing a new sample of hundred dollar bills. Why is that? Because after default is declared, the old ones will be withdrawn from circulation. This is how the U.S. government is going to solve its problems – at the expense of people like you and me, because the Americans themselves do not keep their savings in hundred dollar bills."
Russia's man in the street is no stranger to such situations. He has been faced with the sudden depreciation of the national currency over the past decade, more than once. However, the U.S. dollar has never failed him.
It is a little hard to believe it today, especially given the fact that the show called "The Obama administration's fight to raise the national debt ceiling" has been played on TV more than once.
Russians are much more concerned with the problem of the possible drop in oil prices overseas. Many people are familiar with the declaration of a certain respected economist, "With a decrease in oil prices to below $80 a barrel, the standard of living of half of Russia's population will fall below the poverty line."
However, the traditional principle of life helps us out here, "One does believe in wonder when one hears the sound of thunder.” It seems to be pointing to the disorder inherent in the Russian national character, but in fact, it saved Russia’s inhabitants from groundless anxiety on numerous occasions. In the end, there is no default yet, and if one is to occur - we do not know how it will affect oil prices.
Once we direct our reasoning from everyday concerns to the issues in high politics, it immediately becomes clear that the thunder really has already struck, although its echoes have not reached everybody, and may not have been identified by all. The matter is not in the value of the dollar or the level of the stock market or the price of oil -- although everyone is waiting for a strike from there.
The budget debt and the approaching debt crisis in the U.S. have already led to very important political changes that have far-reaching consequences for Russia and for the international system as a whole. It is possible that the configuration of the Russian- American relations will now be modified in a serious way.
The scenario of a potential U.S. default repeated for the second time in two years, combined with the inability of approving the budget due to inter-party squabbles, sent a perfectly clear message to foreign political elites: the U.S. has problems, the U.S. is unable (perhaps temporarily, perhaps not) to fulfill its commitments of international leadership entirely or to guarantee regional stability.
The cancellation of President Obama's trip to summits in East Asia is only the most vivid manifestation of a new trend, but there are others. An example of this is the statement by the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, that he was suspending the update of social networking accounts because of the termination of funding.
In both Obama’s and McFaul’s cases it is not so much the fact of government officials’ renouncing their duties for legitimate reasons that is important. What is important is the critical element being exposed in them. It turns out that all of Obama's strong statements about shifting U.S. foreign policy efforts to the Asia - Pacific region can be questioned by the stubborn House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. As for Ambassador McFaul, it appears that he was telling the Russians about democracy on Twitter and Facebook just because he was being paid a salary for it.
Both the Indonesian and the Brunei summits, which turned to triumph for the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Obama’s absence, is unlikely to have improved Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mood, despite the fact that he celebrated his birthday on the island of Bali.
Traditionally, the Russian authorities have never missed an opportunity to accuse the United States of a variety of sins, but this time the tone of the Russian comments was overwhelmingly respectful and even somewhat apologetic.
Why would President Putin act as an advocate for Obama who was locked up by the intractable Republicans in Washington?
It's simple - Russia does not like the fact that China is beginning to squeeze its way through to the vacant place of the world's hegemon. The perceptions of Russian-Chinese solidarity directed against United States are far from reality, especially when there is more than a hint of probability of Beijing turning into a "big brother" for Moscow.
In this sense, the Kremlin is no less interested than the White House in the speedy resolution of the budget and the debt crisis and a return to the status quo: U.S. dominance in the world arena is not always appealing for Russia, but it is much more familiar and predictable.
A week after the start of the budget confrontation in the U.S., China's Ministry of Finance issued a pretty tough warning to the U.S. authorities, with the requirement to resolve their internal problems and prevent any damage to Chinese investment in the U.S. economy.
It is well known that not only the Chinese but also the Russian foreign exchange reserves are dollar-denominated to a significant extent. However, no public warnings from the Russian authorities against the United States have been reported yet. What is it - a consequence of their weak interest in what's happening, or the desire to oppose China as a more sensitive and understanding partner?
The outcome of the current political crisis in the United States is uncertain. The degree of hostile rhetoric and the mutual recriminations between Republicans in Congress and President Obama, which have dramatically increased compared with 2011, are very disturbing.
However, in the case of a successful outcome for the Democratic Party (it is, after all, most likely), the American president will be able to add every ultimatum attack from Speaker Boehner and other Republican leaders to his stock of political capital.
After all, the victory in a tough fight has double the value. It's a pity that it is going to be much more difficult for the U.S. to compensate for the loss of its international reputation. However, it seems that in this difficult matter, the White House can count on help from a rather unexpected side - the Kremlin.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.