In response to statements by US President Biden about President Putin, Russia summoned its ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to Moscow for consultations – an unprecedented step in the history of Russian-American relations. But even without this reason, an analysis and revision of Russian relations with the United States is necessary. And here it is necessary to abandon the emotions and illusions that have revived again against the background of the presidential scandal.
Emotions are pushing Russia to expand confrontation with the United States, in an extreme version – to turn the fight against the global dominance of America into the main idea of Russian foreign and partly domestic policy. Such a turn rhymes with Soviet policy during the Cold War, but in the current situation it is practically impossible to implement due to the lack of sufficient resources.
In addition, one should not forget that the overstrain of forces in foreign policy was one of the factors that led the USSR to the crisis in the 1980s. The outburst of emotions in the form of rhetoric – which we are still seeing – is, of course, less dangerous, but at the same time absolutely unproductive.
Illusions lead one to believe that Russia can still prove something to the United States, bring Washington to reason, and ultimately force the United States to respect Russian national interests on the basis of global Russian-American understanding, some big deal. There are far fewer of these illusions now than they were four years ago, but they have not completely disappeared from the consciousness of the Russian elites.
We will have to admit that thinking in the spirit of Soviet-American detente and equal and mutually beneficial cooperation is now, three decades after the collapse of the USSR, hopelessly outdated. Moreover, an overly obsession with the United States is a problem in Russian foreign policy.
If you act without emotions and without illusions, then what makes sense to do?
First, to continue to ensure that various possible incidents with the Armed Forces of Russia and the US / NATO, their aircraft and ships do not occur, and if they did, they would be immediately stopped. Lines of communication and contacts for this exist and are maintained, as far as can be judged, in proper condition. This is the main thing in relations with the United States for the foreseeable future: to avoid an unintentional armed conflict.
Second, continue to strengthen the multifactorial US military containment – nuclear and non-nuclear – as the basis of Russia’s independent position vis-à-vis the United States. It is deterrence, not arms control treaties, that is the basis of strategic stability and a guarantee of the existence of Russia itself. While avoiding a devastating quantitative arms race, it is necessary to understand that in modern conditions deterrence is not limited to the nuclear sphere and is increasingly spreading to other areas, including the cyber environment and outer space.
Third, to start negotiations on strategic stability, but remember that the subject of these negotiations is extremely difficult, and Washington will strive to conduct them from a position of strength. This means that Russia and the United States are unlikely to reach an agreement in the five years that the recently extended START-3 treaty is in effect. Therefore, one must be prepared to maintain strategic stability without an international treaty basis.
Fourth, on the nuclear issues of Iran and North Korea, it makes sense to act on the basis of our own assessment of the situation, without trying to “sell” the Americans their help in advancing their agenda. Instead, it is better to jointly with other negotiators – China and, if possible, with European countries – to promote the agenda that Moscow considers realistic and reduces nuclear risks.
Fifth, to develop, to the extent dictated by Russian national interests and limited by the willingness of the United States, interaction on climate and environmental protection, cooperation and security in the Arctic, combating pandemics and countering terrorism. On all these issues, it is necessary to develop a national Russian agenda in order to promote it in contacts with the United States and other countries.
Sixth, to actively develop relations with China in all areas, while maintaining the independence of Russian policy and avoiding direct involvement in the US-China conflict – as Beijing is doing with respect to the confrontation between Russia and the United States.
Seventh, consider the US sanctions against Russia as an incentive for national revival and further economic, financial, technological, informational, cultural sovereignty in the context of global competition. Strengthen the socio-political foundation of the state by strengthening the rule of law, reorganizing the ruling elite and changing economic policy so that it stimulates the growth of an independent middle class. Confrontation with the United States is an impetus for the development of Russia.
Eighth, abandon – for obvious futility – attempts to influence American domestic politics. The cost of involving another state in the internal processes, especially a large one, significantly exceeds the possible gain. There are no politicians in the United States, and in the foreseeable future, who are friendly towards Russia. The degree of internal stability in the United States depends on internal American processes. These processes need to be closely monitored because of their consequences for Russia, but monitored so as not to get drawn into them.
Ninth, to separate in their approach to the United States the American political class and the media community, which are generally persistently hostile to Russia, and other groups of American society: business, scientific and technical circles, municipalities, public organizations, and so on. To the extent possible, encourage the development of civil non-political ties between Russian and American society.
Tenth, it is more active to get rid of American-centrism in foreign policy. Broad productive interaction with the United States is not expected in the foreseeable future. At the same time, Russian foreign policy needs to strengthen a number of other areas, from the near abroad (in the first place) to the countries of East and South Asia, the Near and Middle East. A resource maneuver is needed, but such that it does not weaken Russia’s ability to monitor Washington’s policies and actions.
These are just some of the most general thoughts. The scandal provoked by Biden’s words makes it possible to slowly figure out how to continue doing business with the United States. For the foreseeable future, Ambassador Antonov has much more to do in Moscow than in Washington.