What Kind of Relationship Is Possible Between Moscow and Washington?

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As President Obama prepares to visit Russia next week, Columbia University‘s Robert Legvold has a thought-provoking article on the state of U.S.-Russia relations in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.
Legvold helpfully identifies current U.S. policy as “selective engagement and selective containment,” while advocating a new framework for the relationship that includes ambitious goals on nuclear non-proliferation, regional security, and energy security.
Legvold explicitly places himself alongside Anders Aslund, Andrew Kuchins, Thomas Graham, and Steven Pifer within what I would call the “realist” camp of Russia analysts, who believe that a new strategic relationship with Moscow based on mutual interests is possible. (I would include Dimitri Simes, Dmitri Trenin and Nikolas Gvosdev in this group as well.)
Legvold offers two reasons why the time is ripe for a renewed effort to improve relations: new leadership in Washington and the onset of the economic crisis, which he suggests is likely to lead to more restrained Russian behavior.
The idea that a sustained economic slowdown will limit Russia’s foreign policy options certainly makes sense, but I would be curious to know what Legvold thinks of arguments made by Stephen Sestanovich and others that Moscow’s aggressive posture toward Washington is such an essential part of the Putin-Medvedev-led oligarchy’s legitimacy that it cannot be abandoned.
On the issues at the heart of the U.S.-Russia relationship, Legvold’s argument in favor of collaboration is most persuasive when he addresses the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. This is an area in which both sides have a real and stated interest in working together both to reduce their own arsenals and to prevent proliferation.
On Iran’s nuclear program, he suggests that Washington should seek a deal that either allows Tehran to have a nuclear-cycle capability under strict IAEA inspections or an arrangement by which Iran joins an international fuel-service center. Either way, Legvold makes a good point that Russian cooperation is vital and depends on Washington proposing a deal that Tehran can accept. Russia is not going to help Washington coerce Tehran, but may use its leverage as Iran’s primary supplier of nuclear equipment to help Tehran get to “yes” on a broader deal.
His calls for a dialogue on the future of Afghanistan and cooperation on transnational threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and cyberattacks also make sense.
But while Legvold’s argument is dispassionate and cautious in tone, I find his analysis a bit optimistic at times. For instance, he says that

There is no logical reason why the two countries with the lion’s share of the world’s nuclear weapons cannot create a tighter regime to shrink their own arsenals and pave the way toward arrangements that render safer the programs of other nuclear powers, why the world’s largest energy producer and its largest energy consumer cannot fashion a genuine energy partnership, why they cannot work together to mitigate the instability in and around the vast territory of the former Soviet Union, or why they cannot collaborate to ease the integration of rising powers such as China and India into a revamped international order.

This is an ambitious agenda indeed – and to be fair, Legvold cautions that “these goals may not be imminently attainable.” Still, some level of cooperation in these areas is necessary if these issues are to form the basis of a strategic partnership, as Legvold proposes.
On the energy issue, it is true that both Russia and the United States benefit from a predictable flow of energy at stable prices, but Legvold fails to tell us what a bilateral strategic energy partnership could accomplish. Energy security is an issue that cuts across many of both Washington’s and Moscow’s strategic relationships and seems like an area where Moises Naim‘s concept of “minilateralism” applies.
And while both Washington and Moscow certainly have an interest in a stable post-Soviet space, I am curious whether Legvold would recognize (implicitly) a Russian sphere of influence in that space. If he would not, then it seems that competition rather than cooperation is likely to characterize this aspect of the relationship for the foreseeable future.
Similarly, the issue of how to incorporate China and India into the international system deserves to be addressed between Moscow and Washington at the highest levels, but this seems like an issue where the two sides’ interests might diverge at least as much as they converge.
Finally, it would be interesting to know how Mr. Legvold views Russia’s likely trajectory over the medium to long-term. Whether Russia’s dysfunctional political and economic systems can evolve to meet the needs of the Russian people and provide the resources necessary for an active international security role remain questions to be answered – and surely the answers have profound implications for what Washington’s policy toward Moscow should be.
(For a fascinating Russian perspective on Russia’s medium-term outlook, reference “The World Around Russia: 2017.”)
Overall, Legvold’s analysis is refreshingly even-handed and his suggestion that dialogue on these difficult issues can lead to trust and incremental progress over time is persuasive – but he is most certainly correct when he says that achieving real substantive progress will be difficult.
— Ben Katcher

Comments

23 comments on “What Kind of Relationship Is Possible Between Moscow and Washington?

  1. erichwwk says:

    A moment of truth for Obama in Moscow
    By M K Bhadrakumar
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/KG04Ag01.h
    tml

    Reply

  2. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, obviously Moscow has no sentimental or ideological interest in Palestinian nationalism for its own sake. And the Palestinians themselves can’t offer Russia much of anything material, as you note. But Moscow does have a very lively interest in promoting good relations with the Islamic Middle East, and with Muslims on its own borders and inside Russia. Sympathy with the Palestinian cause is ubiquitous across the Muslim world, not just that world’s Arab portions. Wherever Islamist activity of any kind is found, whether moderate or militant, passionate sympathy with the Palestinian cause is also present. (The Ukrainian security services recently disrupted the formation of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islam, anti-Zionist group founded in Jerusalem.)
    Prior to a final status agreement on Palestinian statehood, there is little Israel can offer Russia that is not trumped by the danger to Russia of alienating those Muslim populations. To the extent improved Russian-Israeli relations are viewed by Muslims in the region as promoting a peace process, and as consonant with the Road Map and renewed regional peace push, they can be useful to Moscow. If they were to go beyond that into some sort of new “tilt” toward Israel or a new acceptance of Israeli aggression and colonialism, they would be dangerous to Russia. Medvedev’s recent speech to the Arab League leaves little doubt he sees things the same way.
    And Russia is unlikely to place any long-term bets on the influence of Lieberman, who may very well be here today-gone tomorrow if continued diplomatic pressure leads to the fall of Israel’s rightist government. Israel’s government fears it is being out-maneuvered and cornered diplomatically, and the scrambling Lieberman is desperate to drive some sort of wedge between the members of the renewed Quartet who are now working once again on the I/P problem. It hurts Russia little to be diplomatic, receive Lieberman civilly and listen, and explore options for the post-resolution future. But Lieberman doesn’t have the influence or reputation to disrupt the new peace track, which seems to be moving along with reasonable good cooperation from the powerful outside players in Washington, Moscow, Cairo and the European capitals.
    I think some of the following help give a more rounded picture of Russian policy in the region than does Levy’s NYT article:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601095&sid=aCRVLclQQRp4
    http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/82858/medvedev-in-cairo-following-in-obama-39-s-footsteps.html

    Reply

  3. Dan Kervick says:

    Thanks questions. That was my problem: I had three links. I’ll edit the post.

    Reply

  4. questions says:

    Dan, if you have more than 2 links, you get that error message. Not sure that’s what happened to you, though.

    Reply

  5. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, obviously Moscow has no sentimental or ideological interest in Palestinian nationalism for its own sake. And the Palestinians themselves can’t offer Russia much of anything material, as you note. But Moscow does have a very lively interest in promoting good relations with the Islamic Middle East, and with Muslims on its own borders and inside Russia. Sympathy with the Palestinian cause is ubiquitous across the Muslim world, not just that world’s Arab portions. Wherever Islamist activity of any kind is found, whether moderate or militant, passionate sympathy with the Palestinian cause is also present. (The Ukrainian security services recently disrupted the formation of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islam, anti-Zionist group founded in Jerusalem.)
    Prior to a final status agreement on Palestinian statehood, there is little Israel can offer Russia that is not trumped by the danger to Russia of alienating those Muslim populations. To the extent improved Russian-Israeli relations are viewed by Muslims in the region as promoting a peace process, and as consonant with the Road Map and renewed regional peace push, they can be useful to Moscow. If they were to go beyond that into some sort of new “tilt” toward Israel or a new acceptance of Israeli aggression and colonialism, they would be dangerous to Russia. Medvedev’s recent speech to the Arab League leaves little doubt he sees things the same way.
    And Russia is unlikely to place any long-term bets on the influence of Lieberman, who may very well be here today-gone tomorrow if continued diplomatic pressure leads to the fall of Israel’s rightist government. Israel’s government fears it is being out-maneuvered and cornered diplomatically, and the scrambling Lieberman is desperate to drive some sort of wedge between the members of the renewed Quartet who are now working once again on the I/P problem. It hurts Russia little to be diplomatic, receive Lieberman civilly and listen, and explore options for the post-resolution future. But Lieberman doesn’t have the influence or reputation to disrupt the new peace track, which seems to be moving along with reasonable good cooperation from the powerful outside players in Washington, Moscow, Cairo and the European capitals.
    I think some of the following help give a more rounded picture of Russian policy in the region than does Levy’s NYT article:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601095&sid=aCRVLclQQRp4
    http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/82858/medvedev-in-cairo-following-in-obama-39-s-footsteps.html
    http://www.rferl.org/content/Palestinian_Leader_Abbas_Visits_Chechnya/1362040.html

    Reply

  6. Dan Kervick says:

    Comments now held pending approval?

    Reply

  7. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, obviously Moscow has no sentimental or ideological interest in Palestinian nationalism for its own sake. And the Palestinians themselves can’t offer Russia much of anything material, as you note. But Moscow does have a very lively interest in promoting good relations with the Islamic Middle East, and with Muslims on its own borders and inside Russia. Sympathy with the Palestinian cause is ubiquitous across the Muslim world, not just that world’s Arab portions. Wherever Islamist activity of any kind is found, whether moderate or militant, passionate sympathy with the Palestinian cause is also present. (The Ukrainian security services recently disrupted the formation of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islam, anti-Zionist group founded in Jerusalem.)
    Prior to a final status agreement on Palestinian statehood, there is little Israel can offer Russia that is not trumped by the danger to Russia of alienating those Muslim populations. To the extent improved Russian-Israeli relations are viewed by Muslims in the region as promoting a peace process, and as consonant with the Road Map and renewed regional peace push, they can be useful to Moscow. If they were to go beyond that into some sort of new “tilt” toward Israel or a new acceptance of Israeli aggression and colonialism, they would be dangerous to Russia. Medvedev’s recent speech to the Arab League leaves little doubt he sees things the same way.
    And Russia is unlikely to place any long-term bets on the influence of Lieberman, who may very well be here today-gone tomorrow if continued diplomatic pressure leads to the fall of Israel’s rightist government. Israel’s government fears it is being out-maneuvered and cornered diplomatically, and the scrambling Lieberman is desperate to drive some sort of wedge between the members of the renewed Quartet who are now working once again on the I/P problem. It hurts Russia little to be diplomatic, receive Lieberman civilly and listen, and explore options for the post-resolution future. But Lieberman doesn’t have the influence or reputation to disrupt the new peace track, which seems to be moving along with reasonable good cooperation from the powerful outside players in Washington, Moscow, Cairo and the European capitals.
    I think some of the following help give a more rounded picture of Russian policy in the region than does Levy’s NYT article:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601095&sid=aCRVLclQQRp4
    http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/82858/medvedev-in-cairo-following-in-obama-39-s-footsteps.html
    http://www.rferl.org/content/Palestinian_Leader_Abbas_Visits_Chechnya/1362040.html

    Reply

  8. arthurdecco says:

    “Sorry, Arthur, as usual you are poorly informed.” Wig Wag
    Two lies in your first sentence, Zig Zag. You are neither sorry, nor am I uninformed. But you do lie masterfully, I’ll give you that.

    Reply

  9. Carroll says:

    “Finally, it would be interesting to know how Mr. Legvold views Russia’s likely trajectory over the medium to long-term. Whether Russia’s dysfunctional political and economic systems can evolve to meet the needs of the Russian people and provide the resources necessary for an active international security role remain questions to be answered – and surely the answers have profound implications for what Washington’s policy toward Moscow should be.”>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Actually we could ask the same thing about America, couldn’t we?
    Saying what I have always said about Russia. The US missed the boat when it didn’t make Russia an ally immediately after WWII. A US-Russian allience would bring a great deal of stability to a lot of regions. Maybe Obama can do it. All it takes is a mental leap,getting out of the box.
    Meanwhile I am still keeping up with Israel’s PR demise. However not even the slickest PR firms and advertisements in the world,which are actually the French PR firms, would be much help in Israel’s case.
    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1244371097449&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
    Israel is losing the PR war so badly that even evangelical support is eroding
    EVEN EVANGELICAL SUPPORT is eroding. A vocal minority remain effusive on Israel’s behalf. But the broader community is not monolithic. Many of its members are hungry for change, not unlike the political appetite that won Barack Hussein Obama the presidency. Among evangelicals the religious equivalent is a movement led by people like Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian; Stephen Sizer, a pastor who has gained popularity by condemning “Christian Zionism”; and, of course, Jimmy Carter, who accuses Israel of committing a “holocaust.” How widespread is the erosion of evangelical support for Israel? Google this: “Letter to President Bush from Evangelical Leaders.” Look at those who signed it – and the organizations they represent. Their claim to “represent large numbers of evangelicals” is true.
    And behind it all? A resurgence of replacement theology, an ideology that, for almost 1700 years, has been used to ignite atrocities against Jewish communities.
    So what can Israel do to win its global PR war, a war for truth?”……
    ….the suggestions for talking points follow. Gawd!.. are thse people dumb or what?

    Reply

  10. WigWag says:

    Got it, Don.
    All the NGOs, all the human rights activists, all the relief organizations; they’ve been pushing for the US (and the rest of the world) to do more in Darfur because of the oil.
    And the only motivation for the U.S. government is to seek advantage for its oil companies.
    Now I understand.

    Reply

  11. WigWag says:

    Sounds to me like alot of wishful thinking on your part, Dan.
    “Russia is counting on continued US alienation from Iran and from ordinary Arabs, and continued US determination to deny its practical interests and come down reflexively on the side of the one remaining old-style European colonial state in the region, and continued erring on the side of self-destructive ethno-religious bias and Judeo-Christian solidarity.”
    Nope, it’s the Russians who are coming down on the side of that “old-style European colonial state.” Why? Because they realize that the Palestinians offer them nothing and the rest of the Arab world is largely irrelevant to them as well. And of course, they realize that Arab governments really don’t care about the Palestinians either.
    “In the end, Russia can afford even less than the United States to be seen as overly cozy with Israel. It has lots of Muslims right in its own backyard and inside its borders.”
    The Muslims in Russia’s backyard or in its borders aren’t Arab. The Muslims bickering with Russia have plenty of reasons to be angry with the Russians but they are disinterested in the fate of their Palestinian co-religionists. In fact, I would venture a guess that the average Muslim citizen or Russia is less interested in Palestine than the average reader of the Washington Note.
    “Apparently, Levy missed that whole extended episode of Putin’s routing of the oligarchs and the shutting down of several of their money pipelines to Israel.”
    I sincerely doubt that Putin’s routing of the oligarchs was motivated in the slightest by anything pertinent to Russia’s views about Israel. Certainly the Israelis don’t seem to be taking it personally.
    The Russians have abandoned the Palestinians and forged closer ties with the Israelis because the Russians are realists; the Israelis have something tangible to offer; the Palestinians have nothing tangible to offer.
    It takes a good liberal internationalists like the Americans , the Canadians or the Europeans to care about what happens to the Palestinians; to just about everyone else, it’s a big yawn.
    “Both countries are concerned, for different reasons, about any diminishing of animosities between the US and its range of self-chosen adversaries in the region, and any signs that the US may be seriously considering substantive moves away from a decades-long policy of shooting itself in the foot with the Middle East Arab and Muslim masses who are the future of the region.”
    The Middle East Arab and Muslim masses the future of the region?
    I’ll give you that one; maybe by the 25th century.

    Reply

  12. Don Bacon says:

    I don’t have time to disprove all of WigWag’s ridiculous claims. This is a start.
    Wigwag:
    Darfur has a moral element.
    the reality:
    Southern Darfur, like southern Sudan, is rich in oil. The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation holds the large oil concession in southern Darfur. Chinese soldiers are alleged to be protecting Chinese oil interests.
    WigWag:
    Our intervention in Somalia was made in reference to the moral beliefs of U.S. leaders.
    the reality:
    Far beneath the surface of the tragic drama of Somalia, four major U.S. oil companies are quietly sitting on a prospective fortune in exclusive concessions to explore and exploit tens of millions of acres of the Somali countryside.

    Reply

  13. Dan Kervick says:

    Following Obama’s Cairo speech, and the intensified US verbal pressure on Israel to adhere to its Road Map responsibilities, Lieberman’s evident intent was to throw a scare into Washington by heading straight to Moscow in order to try to send the message that Israel has options. That’s a game Russia might be happy to play along with, at least for the time being, in an afford to spook Americans out of their new-found concern for enlightened self-interest.
    Both countries are concerned, for different reasons, about any diminishing of animosities between the US and its range of self-chosen adversaries in the region, and any signs that the US may be seriously considering substantive moves away from a decades-long policy of shooting itself in the foot with the Middle East Arab and Muslim masses who are the future of the region. Russia is counting on continued US alienation from Iran and from ordinary Arabs, and continued US determination to deny its practical interests and come down reflexively on the side of the one remaining old-style European colonial state in the region, and continued erring on the side of self-destructive ethno-religious bias and Judeo-Christian solidarity.
    A few mentally sluggish American opinion leaders have taken Lieberman’s bait, or have at least pretended to, and are now trying to scare Americans into concern over some future Israel-Russia entente. So far, I give Obama credit for not biting. In the end, Russia can afford even less than the United States to be seen as overly cozy with Israel. It has lots of Muslims right in its own backyard and inside its borders. And in fact, Israel really has few options, and is far more dependent on US sponsorship and protection than it would like the world to believe. But the spectacle of the Russian Lieberman making kissy faces with Putin and Russian leaders only makes it easier for Obama to sell Americans on the need to get tougher with Israel. Hey, maybe Lieberman is “our guy” after all. Perhaps he will really help us out and go visit Lenin’s tomb next.
    Clifford Levy’s take that relations between Israel and Russia have been “steadily improving” since the collapse of the Soviet Union seems odd. Apparently, Levy missed that whole extended episode of Putin’s routing of the oligarchs and the shutting down of several of their money pipelines to Israel.

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  14. WigWag says:

    JohnH, you make a good point about Russia’s ethnic ties to Serbia. There’s no question that there is “moral” dimension to that relationship that is in many ways reminiscent of the relationship between the United States and Israel. On the other hand, I think you could make the argument that the pan-Slav ideology (especially between the Christian-Orthodox Serbs and the Christian-Orthodox Russians) is so deeply rooted in Russian political culture that Russia defines its geopolitical aspirations in a way that encompasses the geopolitical aspirations of the Serbs. But I admit that my proposition is highly debatable.
    Zathras, I’m not sure why you find it hard to believe that Russia follows a realist foreign policy. Their foreign policy aspirations fully match their economic and security interests. The Russians are largely disinterested in and indifferent to matters that don’t implicate these interests. To me this seems entirely different than the United States which takes positions on, and frequently engages with, issues that are only remotely related to American interests.
    What are some of the things the Russians are going to demand in return for greater cooperation with the United States on Iran, proliferation and other issues?
    1) No antimissile-missiles in Eastern Europe. Especially no deployment of a system in former Soviet satellites.
    2) No additional expansion of NATO.
    3) Recognition that Russia is the dominant power in it’s near abroad and an agreement by the United States and Europe to butt out.
    4) Far less U.S. engagement with Ukraine and Georgia.
    5) Reversal or at least moderation of the U.S./European position on Kosovo, Serbia and Republika Srpska.
    Russia has legitimate and easily understood economic and security interests in each of these areas. A foreign policy that emphasizes these issues seems pretty “realist” to me.

    Reply

  15. WigWag says:

    Sorry, Arthur, as usual you are poorly informed. Obama hasn’t met with Lieberman; Sarkozy just ridiculed Lieberman in public; but just three short weeks ago the entire Russian political establishment rolled out the red carpet for the Israeli Foreign Minister.
    It proves my point. The Russians pay slight rhetorical attention to the plight of the Palestinians but in reality, it is obvious that they are indifferent to Palestinian aspirations. The Palestinians have nothing to offer the Russians so Russia could care less whether Palestinians live or die.
    On the other hand, Israel and Russia have growing commerical ties, growing cultural ties and growing military ties.
    Here’s more on Putin’s warm meeting with Avigdor Lieberman courtesy of the New York Times (July 13, 2009)
    Mideast in Flux: Israel’s Foreign Minister Cozies Up to Moscow
    By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
    Published: June 13, 2009
    MOSCOW — “Would you mind speaking without an interpreter?” Vladimir V. Putin asked, and his visitor, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new foreign minister, responded that he could not imagine doing business any other way. The two then chatted in Russian, as if their meeting this month were a homecoming for a local boy who made good…
    In some sense, it was. Mr. Lieberman is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, and the notably warm reception that he received in Russia could be a sign of things ahead. His hard-line positions have disquieted the Obama administration, but in Moscow, there was no such squeamishness…
    There was no way to tell, of course, how much of the cordiality was simply a display for the cameras. Still, it pulled back the curtain a bit on how Israel and Russia are trying to navigate the crosscurrents of a Middle East profoundly in flux — notably in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and in Iran, where the tumultuous election on Friday was perhaps the most vivid illustration…
    This week, Mr. Lieberman is to visit Washington for talks with American officials, but Mr. Obama is not scheduled to see him. In Russia, by contrast, Mr. Lieberman had a parade of meetings with Prime Minister Putin, President Dmitri A. Medvedev and others. And Mr. Lieberman went to Russia before Washington…
    Mr. Lieberman seemed to thrive here because he speaks not only the language of Russia, but also that of the Russian leadership. Both sides believe in a tough use of state power, according to political analysts, as well as a resolute nationalism and a willingness to act against Islamic extremism in ways that may be perceived in the West as excessive.
    For example, Mr. Lieberman, who reflects the right-wing views of many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has called for Arab citizens in Israel to swear an oath of loyalty to the state. The Kremlin recently established a panel to combat what it termed attempts to falsify history in ways that demean the achievements of Russia…
    Since the Soviet collapse, Russia’s relations with Israel have steadily improved; the one million immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union for Israel became one reason. Many maintain a cultural bond to Russia. (Mr. Lieberman himself emigrated from Moldova in the late 1970s.)
    Russia and Israel have eliminated visa restrictions for travel between their countries, and Russian tourists now flood Israel, with Israeli executives often going the other way. Anti-Semitism in Russia still exists, but is much less widespread. Because of the immigration, Russia arguably has closer societal ties to Israel than the United States does…
    (On his Russia visit, Mr. Lieberman even boasted that the immigrants so revere Russian culture that celebrations for the birthday of Pushkin would be more elaborate in Israel than in Russia itself.)…
    “It is gratifying to realize that people who know more than hearsay about this country are appointed to such high posts in Israel,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Lieberman. “I hope that it will be an additional impetus for the development of Russian-Israeli relations.”
    Analysts pointed to another aspect of this budding relationship: both the Kremlin and rightist Israelis nurture grievances about how they are seen in the United States and Europe.
    “Both sides feel marginalized and pushed into a corner,” said Dmitri Babich, a political commentator with the state-run news agency in Moscow.
    “If we look at all the criticism from the West about the Chechnya problem, it is very similar to what you hear people say in accusing the Israeli government,” he said. “Even the terms are the same — disproportionate use of force, too much collateral damage, etc. They feel that the West doesn’t realize how complex these problems are.”
    Mr. Lieberman himself alluded to that confluence.
    “Russia, more than anyone, is very familiar with terror,” he said. “Russia itself has suffered from double standards.”

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  16. Zathras says:

    The ascription upthread of a “realist perspective” to Russian foreign policy is curious. I would have thought it clear by this time that Russia under the Putin government has pursued a foreign policy motivated by sentiment tinged with nostalgia.
    Realism for Russia — where the population is actually declining and is riddled with appalling public health problems, and the economy is heavily dependent on commodity exports — would dictate a foreign policy of retrenchment. Actually, a realist foreign policy for Russia now would pick up the policy arc initiated by the Soviet regime under Gorbachev over twenty years ago. The Putin government, which tends to see the Gorbachev period as a betrayal of the Soviet record rather than an inevitable consequence of it, has chosen to go in another direction, in this area and in others.
    Russian support of Serbia in the Balkan wars, and over Kosovo now, was obviously helpful to Serbia; Russia’s refusal to countenance stronger sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program is helpful to Iran; Russian bullying of its neighbors among the former Soviet republics is doubtless welcomed by ethnic Russians who live there. The returns to Russia from any of these policies — let alone from all of them together –are pretty meager, if one doesn’t count the emotional satisfaction derived from shouting defiance at the West and intimidating the smaller countries on Russia’s borders. My point is that this is precisely what one must count when evaluating the sources of Russian conduct.
    At issue, principally, is how Russia views the Soviet legacy. Russians might well view it as an historic disaster, which left their country hollow at home and with few real friends abroad. Putin and his handpicked president Medvedev do not see things this way. Since he was annointed by Yeltsin, Putin has acted as if he were determined to preserve as much of the Soviet legacy as he could. In foreign policy this has meant defining what Russia is for in terms of what America is against, and of acting as much like the old superpower as it is still possible to do.
    Whether this is good or bad is not our problem. Our problem is that Russia’s failure to come to terms with its own past imposes limits on how successful American efforts at cooperation and engagement with Russia are likely to be. I agree with Katcher that Legvold is indeed optimistic, because I think the driving motivations behind Russian foreign policy require a level of competition — less politely, of repeated confrontations that may or may not be predictable in terms of a “realist” assessment of Russian interests — that will make cooperation on most issues very difficult most of the time, even when it does not need to be.

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  17. arthurdecco says:

    “Did Obama notice how warmly Avigdor Lieberman was greeted by President Putin when most of the rest of the world disdains him?” posted by Wig Wag
    Yeah, I noticed… I noticed that during the requisite photo-op President Putin held Avigdor Lieberman’s hand like it was a dead, stinking fish while the expression on his face was that of someone who would rather have been sticking knitting needles in his own eyes instead of sharing the podium with a political punk/pustule like Avigdor Lieberman.
    You will never change Zig Zag – you’re inherently incapable of honesty.

    Reply

  18. Vladimir Val Cymbal says:

    The difference between the authoritarian style of the old Soviet Union and Russia of to day has not changed much. The power is at the top and forced down to the people. In America the change of style is huge. The current congress and administration are taking total control of this country. If the majority party (Democrats) does not take back the leadership from National Socialist Wing of the party this nation will suffer the loss of liberty that past generations have fought and died for.
    What ever agreement is made it will be broken by either side as soon as it is to their advantage. Putin is an old master of this type of negotiations. Obama is as green as a tadpole. What ever the outcome, we will be on the short side of the results. We see two socialists maneuvering on the world stage who both are manipulating their countrymen.

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  19. ... says:

    wigwag quote “the U.S. makes foreign policy decisions with regard to morality all the time.” torture was considered a moral issue i guess… do we, or don’t we? lol… i am sure there are many other examples to going to war on the basis of a ‘moral’ position… killing and murdering are now ourageous moral acts on the part of the usa for the welfare of others less fortunate… i guess i needed some upside down views to spice up the evening…

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  20. JohnH says:

    Wigwag–yes, you can cite exceptions to the rule so as to show that American foreign policy might be called immoral, not amoral. The best instances involve strong ethnic interests driving policy (Israel, Cuba). The other instances, particularly in the Balkans, are at best dubious. Kosovo in particular seems to have been created as a rump state for the sole purpose of housing a gigantic military base.
    And you could argue that Russia has similar instances of morality based foreign policy–their ethnic tie to Serbia is a prime example.
    BTW, I loved your characterization of the foreign policy mob: “The liberal internationalists (and the neocons) each have so many competing agendas that it is difficult or impossible for them to come up with a cogent position vis a vis the Russians.” (or most anyone else) This is a good explanation of why it is that no one can define America’s nation interest–it’s a grab bag of interests, serving to make it sound like foreign policy experts are all on the same page.
    America’s vital strategic interest? It’s whatever you want it to be on any given date!

    Reply

  21. WigWag says:

    Actually JohnH, U.S. foreign policy may be immoral but it is not amoral.
    Unlike Russia, which makes foreign policy decisions with no regard to morality, the U.S. makes foreign policy decisions with regard to morality all the time. U.S. intervention, as meager as it’s been, in Darfur has a moral element. Our intervention in Somalia was made in reference to the moral beliefs of U.S. leaders. The U.S. bombing of Serbia, our intervention in Kosovo and Richard Holbrooke’s involvement with negotiating the Dayton Accords were all motivated not exclusively by American interest but also by moral considerations. In fact, had U.S. interests been the governing factor, there would have been no Dayton Accords, no recognition of Kosovo’s independence and no bombing of Serbia. All of these actions made it far harder to interface with the Russian and severely complicated our relationship with them. These moves were made in spite of U.S. interests not because of them.
    Many people argue that U.S. support of Israel contravenes U.S. interests or at least that our quite exuberant support of Israel does.
    The United States supports Israel so vigorously because a significant number of Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, believe it is the “right” thing for the United States to do. Similarly the U.S. has only a modest interest in helping the Palestinians secure a state of their own. If we succeed, the effect on U.S. interests around the world will be remarkably unimpressive. President Obama is motivated to help the Palestinians secure a state because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, not only because he thinks (erroneously by the way) that it will advance American interests. If the United States was truly only motivated by self interest it would adopt precisely the same position vis a vis the Palestinians that the Chinese and Russians have; complete indifference.
    The U.S. embargo of Cuba was manifestly against American interests and everyone knew it including the politicians and diplomats who advocated sticking to the embargo so assiduously. The embargo was motivated by moral reasoning not realpolitik. The fact that advocates of the embargo don’t share your personal sense of morality is inconsequential to my argument. The point is that it was their sense of morality that motivated them, not an assessment of where American interests were to be found.
    The Russians and Chinese base their foreign policy on their perceptions of what will make them wealthier and stronger; everything else to them is largely irrelevant. The United States bases its foreign policy on its perceptions of what will make it wealthier and stronger too. But unlike the Chinese and Russians many other factors also play a role.
    Whether it’s the neocons promoting democracy or the liberal internationalists promoting whatever their agenda happens to be; Americans shape foreign policy with a different mindset that the Russians do.
    I listed above many of the sacrifices the Russians will want in return for their cooperation on things we care about. Every one of those items will be distasteful to liberal internationalists and neoconservatives alike. If Obama is unwilling to bite the bullet, he can expect to make very little progress with the Russians. The question I pose is whether he’s simply too deluded or too impressed with the redemptive power of his own rhetoric to know it.
    Superimpose on that, Obama’s extraordinarily poor negotiating skills and his penchant to negotiate with himself and it’s hard to be optimistic. If Obama’s negotiations with the Russians on international issues go anything like his negotiations with the Republicans on health care reform, we are sure to be very disappointed.

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  22. JohnH says:

    Wigwag says, “For both powers, morality and ethics are an afterthought in the formulation of foreign policy if they are even that.”
    And formulation of foreign policy is not amoral for Washington? After seeing Washington preside over perhaps a million deaths in Iraq, more millions of refugees, and widespread destruction–all for no clearly stated, honest reason–who could possibly conclude that Washington’s policies are anything but amoral?
    The difference is that Washington is trying to justify its actions to a broader public, at home and abroad, and needs to maintain appearance by holding a giant fig leaf over its mechanism. Russia and China have no such need for appearances.
    What is also striking is that Ben hopes that Russia will reign in its behavior due to the economic crisis. Wouldn’t it be nice if US imperialists felt constrained by the crisis, too? Does Washington really believe it can continue to borrow forever from China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia to fund its military adventures?

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  23. WigWag says:

    As usual, Katcher pinch hitting for Clemons, comes up with a very provocative post.
    One important factor that has complicated U.S.-Russian relations since the Administration of George H.W. Bush is that the Russians negotiate from a realist perspective and Clinton, George W. Bush and now Obama negotiate from either a liberal internationalist or neoconservative prospective.
    The Russians are interested in promoting their self-interest and they define that self-interest in a relatively traditional and narrow way. The liberal internationalists (and the neocons) each have so many competing agendas that it is difficult or impossible for them to come up with a cogent position vis a vis the Russians.
    George W. Bush may have looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul but when Putin looked into Clinton’s and Dubya’s eyes he saw two very confused men. Now it’s Medvedev and Obama but the result is likely to be the same.
    Is Obama willing to revoke the recognition of Kosovo or allow Serbia to annex the predominantly Serbian northern Kosovar provinces? How does Obama feel about Russia’s position on Republika Srpska? Is he willing to resign himself to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Georgia? What position is he going to take on Russia’s rekindled interest in extending its influence in its Baltic neighbors? Does Obama understand that Russia couldn’t care less about students demonstrating for greater freedom in Iran and that from Russia’s perspective the more heads the Mullahs crack, the better? Does he understand that from Russia’s perspective the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians has no moral dimension whatsoever and that Russia’s view of the region is defined solely but what it perceives its own interest to be. Did Obama notice how warmly Avigdor Lieberman was greeted by President Putin when most of the rest of the world disdains him? How willing is Obama to overlook Russian meddling in the Caucasus and how willing is he to acquiesce to the maintainence of Russia’s virtual gas monopoly in Europe?
    The two most important foreign powers the United States needs to deal with are China and Russia. Despite the differences between the two, they have one characteristic in common; their foreign policy is amoral. For both powers, morality and ethics are an afterthought in the formulation of foreign policy if they are even that.
    Until the United States finds a way to deal with that reality it is not likely to make great headway with either the Chinese or the Russians.
    Obama’s team of Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Richard Holbrooke, and the rest may be smart but they just don’t think like the Russians.
    What we need is another George Kennan

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