The path to U.S.-Russian cooperation

Despite many turns and twists in American politics after coming to power of administration of trump, there is a possibility of improvement over time in U.S.-Russian relations. My cautious optimism is based on three assumptions.


My first suggestion: President trump will continue to demonstrate an interest in maintaining contacts and cooperation with Russia. He intends to contain and defeat the threat of terrorism, to make progress in resolving the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, as well as to cope with the challenges of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Agreement to a limited cease-fire in Syria, signed by President trump and President Putin during the summit of the G20 group of Nations, can save the first of the mentioned desire to improve relations with Russia — this is the goal he constantly proclaims from the beginning of the election campaign — despite the domestic political price.

My second guess: Putin is starting to take more seriously cooperation with the United States and make clear instructions about what he wants — in what areas and on what issues. The lack of specificity on the part of Putin is the main obstacle to progress. When it was called senior American officials, he spent time in an expression of discontent about the policy under Obama, or about unnecessary from his point of view, U.S. missile strikes on Syria. As you know, it was the administration’s response to trump’s use of the Syrian regime of chemical weapons.

Putin did not show serious attitude towards any subject matter. He even unexpectedly said the planned visit of Deputy Secretary of state Tom Shannon (Tom Shannon), during which they planned to discuss a number of issues of concern to both sides. Perhaps Putin just didn’t want to deal with someone who was a rank below heads of state. And, in fact, the meeting in Hamburg was more productive. The agreement on the ceasefire in Syria is important, but it is not yet clear whether Putin’s desire and ability to operate on two issues that are Central to the Syrian crisis. We are talking about the development and implementation of the plan under which Assad and his family leave the political scene that will be part of agreements to end the civil war, as well as on the reduction of Iranian influence in Syria.

As for the first part, Washington has hinted at greater flexibility in regard to modality and the timing of Assad’s departure from the political scene in Damascus. As for the second part, Putin has strengthened Iranian influence in Syria, and Tehran now has a significant presence. For Putin, currently the gap with Iran or limit its effect will be difficult. However, this will make a huge step forward; it will be a meaningful gesture to Washington.

My third assumption: the Administration trump can formulate a balanced and realistic strategy towards Russia on the background of inflammatory melodrama, that is, amid accusations of Russian interference in presidential elections. Such a strategy, no matter how unlikely it may seem today, should have three set of similar topics.

To investigate and keep. In the United States, it is widely believed that Russia intervened in elections in 2016, and it causes outrage in deep distrust. There is also concern about possible collusion between the Russian and the members of the electoral team of the trump. A thorough investigation of this case is a good thing. Let’s hope that it will help to clarify this question and help high-ranking American politicians to understand Russian tactics and capabilities of Russia. This would allow them to strengthen precautionary measures and do everything to ensure that this never happens again.

To set the regional balance of power and to do it in full. Although economic opportunities in Russia are reduced, it is pursuing an aggressive policy in several regions. Putin went through a difficult period, trying to cope with the downturn in the Russian economy. The United States, taking into account the weakening of Russia must strive to achieve balance of power in order to minimize the risk of escalation. Washington should support democratic reforms without trying to hurt the pride of Russia or its image as a great power. The administration is trump doing the right thing, strengthening its defense and pushing the Europeans — their overall economy a lot more Russian — to do more for defense.

Negotiate and cooperate. Washington should be sensitive to Russian interests and to explore those areas in which both sides could benefit from improved relations. These may include the following issues: fighting terrorism; deterring nuclear proliferation; support for the effectiveness of the UN through the adoption of common positions on key challenges and find solutions to the deadlock created by the veto in the Security Council; joint actions aimed at ending civil wars and regional conflicts. The latest actions much hope does not inspire, but the situation may change.

In 1983 the Reagan administration modernized the military capabilities of America and responded to Soviet aggression, particularly in Afghanistan and in other places, but at the moment the White house began the process of preparing for possible negotiations with Moscow. It took several years, but these efforts have borne fruit. The administration of the trump must apply the same approach.


Note: this article is part of the proceedings of the Symposium on us-Russian relations, which will be published in the September/October 2017 of the journal National Interest.