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Ivan Timofeev

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Director of Programs, RIAC Member, Head of "Contemporary State" program at Valdai Discussion Club

Republican Mitt Romney’s victory in the upcoming U.S. presidential election could lead to the deterioration in relations with Russia. Strategically, Moscow and Washington are not interested in such an outcome. Politicians and diplomats should be realistic and avoid the “spirit of the Crusades.” Reason for optimism is the shift of generations and the untapped potential relationships at the level of business, civil society and experts.

Republican Mitt Romney’s victory in the upcoming U.S. presidential election could lead to the deterioration in relations with Russia. Strategically, Moscow and Washington are not interested in such an outcome. Politicians and diplomats should be realistic and avoid the “spirit of the Crusades.” Reason for optimism is the shift of generations and the untapped potential relationships at the level of business, civil society and experts.

Election campaign in the USA is gaining momentum. The main competitor to the current head of the Oval Office, President Barack Obama is Mitt Romney. Hardly one of the candidates will succeed with convincing preponderance by the time of the elections. As usual, the American electoral race remains intriguing. But Romney has all the chances to become the new U.S. president.

In Russia, this perspective is seen without much enthusiasm. Republicans are known for a penchant for hard dialogue with Moscow. In addition, Romney’s recent scandalous statement: “Russia is the United States’ number one geopolitical foe” only added fuel to the fire. This statement is too much, even by “cold war” standards. Against the backdrop of the finish of the “reset” in Russian-American relations, it was particularly sharp. It left nasty taste in Russia’s mouth. Moscow prepares for serious cooling-off in Russian-American relations. It’s time to ask questions about the possible consequences, to forestall excessive deterioration of relations, and to preserve the achievements of the so-called “reset”.

This cooling-off will affect both the USA and Russia. Despite the enormous power, the number of threats to American security is growing. Competition with China in the Asia Pacific Region is growing slowly but surely. The Middle East is immersing in a line of poorly managed conflicts. Iran is gaining momentum. Uncertain future of Afghanistan. And all this against a background of difficulties in the economy, both global and national. Hostile Russia is not in the Washington interest. As well as instability or crisis in Russia. Any dissipation of resources today is bad for the United States. It does not matter whether they will be spent on curbing the imaginary Russian threat, or on “fire fighting” on the post-Soviet space.

Russia does not need any complications of relations as well, especially in the logic of the “number one foe”. Military spending will inevitably increase, modest resources for modernization will shrink, access to Western technologies will weaken, and internal development of Russia is important today than ever before.

The “reset” in the relations with Russia was quite realistic. It should not be idealized however – all achievements of the last four years in relations with Moscow have been in American interests. But they were implemented simultaneously with the interests of our country. These mutually beneficial relations allowed moving away from zero-sum games, where either one or the other wins.

However, the agenda of the “reset” in many ways has exhausted itself. Even if Obama wins the upcoming presidential election in the USA, a hard work on maintaining the positive dynamics of relations is ahead. If Romney wins, the task will be even more complicated. Serious problems in bilateral relations will have to be solved on the background of a possible deterioration of political rhetoric.

But, there is reason for cautious optimism. First of all – both in Russia and the United States there is a shift of generations. Demographic cohorts, who were born either at end of an era of bipolarity or even after it, are entering in the active age.

Values and attitudes are changing at the level of experts and bureaucrats. You can simply look at the titles of articles and books on international relations and the content of official documents in order to understand the real priorities of Americans. Russia in these priorities fades into the background. Ambitious bureaucrats will find it harder nowadays to make a career on the use of an enemy in the face of our country, and an ambitious scientist – to raise the rating of their citation. Middle East and Asia are a more “delicious” topic. Voices of “cold war” Veterans are strong. But they do not differ in harmony. There are almost no proponents of dialogue with Russia, among them, perhaps just as much as the “youth” among them.

In Russia, the nature of the generational shift is largely going in the same direction. Mistrust to the West remains. But this is not the hostility and fear of twenty-five years ago. America is gradually moving away to second place in the list of perceived threats. Of course, the preservation of the United States in the form of the enemy is claimed by a number of social groups. But their position is not absolute.

But, generational shifts should not be regarded as a panacea. The military on both sides will continue monitoring the mutual potentials and building planning based on a worst-case scenario, because it is their job. Politicians from time to time will continue exchanging barbs – this is the voices of conservative voters. Mistrust that has been accumulating for decades will probably has to be overcome during a long time. The Romney’s paradoxical coming to power may play in favor of bilateral relations. If the cooling-off does not go over a reasonable framework, it will trigger new ideas and solutions for the next political cycle.

A more significant reason for optimism is the effect of a low base in the Russian-American relations. We ran into a temporary ceiling at the level of official diplomacy. But the constructive potential of the business, civil society and experts, have not been largely used by us. It is at this level the fabric of bilateral relations should be woven step by step. Economic interdependence, thousands of non-government bonds and non-profit organizations, and mutual understanding between the experts are insurance against populist politicians. But this insurance has yet to be built. It should also be borne in mind that the American political community is extremely diverse. It is represented by a large number of interest groups. The victory of a particular candidate in the presidential election does not eventually close the window of opportunities.

Source (in russian): РБК daily.

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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