Viktor Olevich is a political analyst, lead expert of the Center for Actual Politics.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin wave as leaders pose for a family photo during the Belt and Road Forum at meeting's venue on Yanqi Lake just outside Beijing, China, Monday, May 15, 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Pool Photo via AP)
A road toward common causes
The crisis in Russian-American relations we are witnessing has reached a boiling point. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the Soviet ambassadors to Washington were not labeled spies and visits by Moscow’s foreign minister to the White House were not seen as putting the republic in mortal danger.
The Soviet Union may have favored Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican firebrand Barry Goldwater in 1964, but hardly anyone in the American political establishment seriously accused the ultimate winner of the race of conspiring with the communists.
Quenching the flames of rampant Russophobia in the United States and Washington’s readiness to accept a new role for the United States in a budding multipolar international order are key to fixing relations between the great powers.
The triumphant atmosphere of the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when Washington could dictate its will to the rest of the world without paying much attention to the needs or wants of other powers is gone. Attempts to cling to a steadily dissipating Pax Americana are both futile and counterproductive, only further destabilizing geopolitical tectonic plates and eroding American influence and prestige in key regions of the world.
A pragmatic, realist reappraisal of the Russian-American relations should start with addressing issues directly affecting the diplomats of both countries.
The mean-spirited, shabby treatment of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak by the Washington political class and press corps is unprecedented in its unfairness.
Starting off on a positive note with Mr. Kislyak’s incoming replacement, Anatoly Antonov, would pave the way to a healthier atmosphere, more conducive to dialogue and compromise rather than suspicion and mutual recriminations. Prompt return of the Pioneer Point diplomatic retreat in Maryland and another Russian mansion on Long Island’s Gold Coast that were expropriated by U.S. authorities on President Obama’s orders in violation of the Vienna Convention would be a significant step in normalizing ties with Moscow.
A coordinated effort to combat international terrorism is a policy that both nations can pursue to mutual benefit. America’s chaotic foreign policy in the Middle East at the outset of the new century and its reliance on radical Islamic groups of questionable repute to achieve its geopolitical goals in the region have produced a quagmire that can be assuaged only with the assistance of Russia and its allies.
The Obama administration policy of removing secular rulers of Arab nations has failed to produce democratic change in Libya, Syria and Egypt. Instead, it led to a serious rise in influence of Islamic terrorist organizations and mass civilian casualties resulting from popular unrest, civil war and sectarian conflict.
Russia and the United States share an interest in ridding the Middle East of the most dangerous terrorist formations and preventing their adherents from carrying out acts of violence abroad. Abandonment of efforts by American foreign policy planners and ideologues to export democracy and bring forced change is a necessary prerequisite to a return to a sustainable and stable political environment in the Middle East and other troubled regions.
A joint commitment to emancipating the region of ISIS, Nusra Front and other non-state terrorist actors can be based only on mutual trust, willingness to share relevant intelligence and wide cooperation between the American and Russian militaries.
Improved relations between the United States and Russia would provide room for negotiations on the future framework of the Middle East, taking into account the geopolitical interests of both powers, as well as concerns of the nations of the region.
Success in joint ventures against common adversaries in the region could also bode well for reaching lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only Moscow and Washington working together can bring parties to make necessary but unpopular decisions that will ensure a better, peaceful life for future generations on both sides.
Cooperation between Russia and the United States can also serve to impede the spread of weapons of mass destruction around the world. Even the unsympathetic Obama White House openly admitted that Moscow played a key role in bringing about a fruitful completion to the Iran nuclear deal reached in 2015.
Despite skepticism in neoconservative circles, the deal helped in averting open conflict between Washington and Tehran by creating a multilayered framework of control by international monitoring organizations. Successful P5+1 negotiations with Iran could serve as an example for resolving the current crisis around North Korea.
Despite heated rhetoric and threats coming out of Pyongyang, the North Korean leadership is not interested in provoking a war with the United States and its allies in the Far East. In a world where Iraq, Libya and Syria came under attack by U.S. armed forces after abandoning their WMD programs, Pyongyang sees its nuclear program as the most effective deterrent against American military intervention.
The crisis in the Far East cannot be resolved by verbal duels between Washington and North Pyongyang or increasingly frequent military exercises on North Korea’s borders. Military action against North Korea risks causing widespread death and destruction on both sides of the border, as well as endangering the lives of thousands of American GIs stationed in South Korea.
The most effective path to curtailing the North Korean nuclear program lies through a process of negotiations among the United States, North Korea and other major actors in the region.
Having a significant interest in peace and stability on their eastern borders, Russia and China could assist in reaching a mutually acceptable solution if Washington would be willing to provide serious, verifiable nonaggression guarantees to Pyongyang.
Healthy, respectful relations between major powers are key to maintaining peace and stability on the world stage. Attempts by elements of the U.S. foreign policy and national security apparatus to stave off the inevitable transition to a multipolar world order only breed more chaos and destabilization, threatening not just foreign actors, but also the American political system.
A return to a realpolitik approach in a multipolar setting would give hope for peace to millions of people who have seen nothing but war in the past decade and open the gates to joint projects and opportunities in science and technology, transportation, medicine and education for Russia and the United States.