U.S.-Russian Relations Deadlocked: Post-“Reset” Dynamics
One year after the utter failure of the U.S.-Russia “Reset,” the relationship between the two countries is gradually nearing its nadir. Beginning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message of encouragement to Russia’s opposition movement and democracy scholar Michael McFaul’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, the climate in U.S.-Russia relations started to deteriorate leading to USAID’s closure, open confrontation on the Syrian issue, and exchange of the punitive “Magnitsky” and “Yakovlev” bills. Whilst the Obama Administration has been struggling to resuscitate its relations with the Kremlin, the U.S. Congress has sought to do the opposite. U.S. Senator Schumer’s caustic comments about Russia’s acquiescence in harboring the former CIA operative Edward Snowden is a case in point. Unless there is a consensus between the Obama Administration and Congress about the means of handling affairs with Russia, U.S.-Russian relations will likely ebb and flow in the ensuing years. And given that neither Moscow, nor Washington are committed to sacrificing their national interests for the sake of the “Reset” anymore, the relationship is set to get worse in the near future.
The United States has emphasized several notable achievements of the U.S.-Russia “Reset,” including the new START treaty, joint sanctions against such pariah states as Iran and North Korea, cooperation on the Afghani campaign, and Russia’s accession to the WTO with the help of Washington. Aimed at promoting the interests of both parties, the “Reset” has facilitated several important shifts in U.S.-Russian relations, but fell short of retaining momentum after Vladimir Putin’s comeback in 2012. The “Reset,” however, was more beneficial to Russia rather than to the United States, and undue concessions toward the Kremlin sparked harsh criticism of Obama’s foreign policy stateside. Fraught with ambiguity, Washington has not come up with a new vision for U.S.-Russian relations, which have thus far been hanging in the air.
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The major impediment to normalized U.S.-Russian relations and the real reason behind the failure of the “Reset” lies, in fact, in the absence of understanding between the countries’ leaders. The Obama Administration’s liberal agenda in international and domestic politics has been at odds with Vladimir Putin’s realpolitik and conservative policies at home. Not only are Messrs. Obama and Putin worlds apart on such foreign policy issues as Syria and nuclear disarmament, the leaders also hold discordant views on nearly every matter pertaining to democratic governance. The awkward meeting of the two presidents during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland underscored tensions between Russia and the United States and complicated the stalemate in Syria further.
Coupled with an obvious lack of common interests in world affairs (save for Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea), personal enmity between American and Russian presidents does not bode well for the future of U.S.-Russian relations. If Washington is indeed serious about bettering its relations with Russia, the first thing the United States should do is to adopt a realistic policy towards the Kremlin and put aside U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s quixotic ideas about U.S.-Russia cooperation on “everything and everywhere.” In a world where the newly emerging states have to pursue pragmatic goals in order to vie for international influence, Russia and the United States are on different sides of the fence. That said, any positive shift in U.S.-Russian relations will be contingent on Washington and Moscow’s determination to develop new policy ideas, which would reflect truly common interests as opposed to unrealistic expectations. Accordingly, U.S.-Russia cooperation on maintaining security in Afganistan and Central Asia after 2014 could pave the way for a redefinition of the post-“Reset” relationship between the two countries.