It is always interesting to watch a shooting star or to see an e-mail fall from cyberspace. This time, I received an article “Changing Course in Moscow” by Jeffrey Mankoff from the upcoming September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Mankoff is the author of the book “Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics.”
The article contains the predictable discourse on the Moscow-backed “modernization alliance” between Russia and the West. The author attempts to determine whether Moscow has truly changed course. If so, why did the new policy emerge, and how should the United States respond?
There is clearly a new policy — what Mankoff calls a “dramatic shift” — as President Medvedev is the force behind the efforts to modernize the Russian economy with the help of the United States and the European Union. For former President Vladimir Putin to propose this during the presidency of George W. Bush would have been laughable. The author’s argument is fairly obvious, but then he comes across an interesting thought that boils down to two words: two years.
Both Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama have two more years in office before the next presidential elections. Mankoff believes that Washington should use this time to show that it is open to a modernization alliance if Moscow’s intentions are serious.
The author, like most of his colleagues, believes there is struggle between the “good” Medvedev and the “bad” Putin. If an agreement can’t be reached while Medvedev is in office, there will be consequences. As I said, Mankoff is not the only analyst enthralled by this false concept. Incidentally, Moscow may be trying to determine a course of action should the “bad” Republicans come to power in the United States in two years. Yet, Mankoff’s article somehow overlooks this point.
So, presidential elections are in two years, both in the United States and Russia. Is this how long the window of opportunity will be open?
It should be noted that Medvedev and Obama considered an improvement in Russian-U.S. relations an obvious tactical move, as both presidents needed to score a quick foreign-policy success. And rapid success should never be expected, except when it comes to Russian-U.S. relations.
It was decided that the first step would be signing the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, which the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will take up on September 16, as it was clear from the outset that concluding the treaty would be a simple task.
Now that the simple part is done, the rest of the time should be spent trying to keep the issue of improved bilateral relations out of the crossfire of domestic partisan battles. This is an issue for professionals, acting with the approval of both countries’ political parties and societies as a whole. For starters, Russia and the United States must increase annual bilateral trade beyond the current $25-30 billion. In this regard, the business community could have a moderating influence. Obviously, if peoples’ money is on the line, politicians will be less inclined to play political games.
Russian-U.S. relations were “reset” less than 18 months ago, following the first Medvedev-Obama summit on April 2, 2009. While the New START Treaty has yet to be ratified, much has been accomplished since then, including cooperation between law-enforcement and security agencies on Afghanistan and illegal drug trafficking as well as agreements on civilian nuclear power industry, to name just a few examples. In order to move forward, we need to understand how both sides will benefit from improved bilateral relations. On this point, strategic considerations are as important as tactical ones.
A weakness in Mankoff’s article is that it does not evaluate Russian-U.S. relations in a global context. The main idea is that Moscow is proposing a “modernization alliance,” and the United States had better seize this opportunity or else… (see above).
During the Cold War, Soviet-U.S. relations could be considered in isolation, because the two superpowers were the global context. If they had decided to be friends, the rest of the world would have followed suit. But the world is much more complex today.
It is relationship between the United States and China that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has referred to as the most important issue in the world, followed by the Greater Middle East (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, etc.), and only then by relations between Russia and the West.
The same is true of the EU and Europe in general, where everyone is concerned about their relations with China, India and the Muslim world. And Russia faces the same situation. Two, three or four years present entirely different windows of opportunity when all the major global players will have to improve relations with the East as soon as possible. All countries prioritize relations with the Asian countries. The United States and Europe will not remain the sole source of innovations forever. The East will gradually catch up.
The U.S.-EU strategy of the 1990s was to lure Russia to its side in its competition with the East, but this won’t work any longer. Now a stronger Asia is a fait accompli.
The “modernization alliance” is a chance for normal relations between the former global rivals, who are no longer competing against each other and who can no longer afford to be distracted by pointless hostility. There are simply too many more serious problems. This will be true two years from now, and beyond.
RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev