By Alexey Pilko
This week marks three years since the US-Russia “reset”, an interesting but not unique phenomenon in relations between Russia and the United States. In March 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva. They agreed that it was time to turn the page in relations between the two countries and start a constructive dialogue with a clean slate. Three years is enough to figure out whether Moscow and Washington have indeed managed to reset. Or are they stuck on the way to this reset?
First of all, it is important to understand that the reset was not something new for our country and the United States. Earlier, even during the Cold War, the countries tried to set aside their conflict and find a new formula for their relations. The most striking example is the lessening of tensions in the 1970s. However, we can also remember Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to America in 1959, which had a temporary but still positive impact on Soviet-American relations.
In the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan created a new platform on which to base the relationship between the USSR and the United States. This, however, turned out to be short-lived, falling victim to the utilitarian approach of the Clinton administration. Finally, we can look back to 1933, when a young and energetic President Roosevelt brushed aside stereotypes and began actively cooperating with the Soviet Union. Could this not also be called a reset in diplomatic relations between our two countries? Let me remind you that this cooperation resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and was the most successful episode in the history of our two countries’ relations.
Compared with the examples above, the current three-year reset has not been so successful. Of course, we can point out some positive developments in US-Russian relations. If in 2008 they were on the verge of a new cold war, in 2012 we at least talk to each other in a normal, respectful tone. If we look at the facts of the case, this reset has become a kind of mutual concession between Russia and the United States: Moscow supported Washington on the issue of Afghan transit and shared its concerns about Iran. The White House promoted Russia’s speedy accession to the WTO, refused to support Georgia and compromised with Russia on START-3.
However, the reset is now over. In fact, since the signing of an agreement on reducing strategic nuclear weapons, it is, to use computer terminology, short-circuited. Now, the two countries have a choice: whether to stop now and let the reset go down in history as a cosmetic fix to US-Russian relations (by the way, its success is obvious), or to develop a positive new basis on which Russia and the United States can cooperate and move forward as partners and perhaps allies in the future. Unfortunately, while the second option is preferable by far, events will most likely develop in another direction.
What has put us in such a pessimistic mood? The answer: analysis of the existing reality. First of all, we should emphasize that Russia and the United States in relation to each other are self-contained political entities. They have no economic or political dependence. Also, Moscow and Washington are still the guarantors of the existing strategic balance of forces in the world, and the only area where they actually depend on each other is military relations. Russia is the only state that can destroy the United States and vice versa. Therefore, the main term of any formula for their relationship in these circumstances is the military factor. And simply in military terms, Russia and the United States have big problems. Because with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington returned to its old idea, one which seemed to have been thoroughly forgotten in the 1950s, i.e. attaining absolute military superiority.
Steps such as the development of a new American missile defense system to be deployed near Russia’s borders cannot help but worry Moscow, which responds accordingly. New sources of disagreement build up, and their weight can quickly crush the few positive things that have accumulated since 2009. Thus, the solution of the “security problem” in relations between Russia and the United States is the only true way for the countries to break with the past and stop looking at each other with a high degree of suspicion.
It should be said that our country has already moved half way toward this goal. In 1991, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded and Soviet troops left Europe. It seemed as though the bipolar confrontation had finally turned into cooperation. However, the unprecedented concessions of the Soviet Union and Russia have been interpreted differently. The United States began the process of absorbing the “Soviet legacy” without dismantling the military infrastructure of NATO; rather, it moved it further east. As a result, Russia has found itself isolated in a NATO-centric model of European security, and its attempts to persuade Washington and its allies to take into account Russia’s interests have failed. The U.S. today has simply no incentive to take into account the security or interests of our country or any other.
That is why the current situation looks like a dead end. Today, it is impossible to imagine the White House agreeing to any serious concessions to the Kremlin in the military-strategic sphere. But without a breakthrough in this field, the current and all subsequent restarts will only be temporary.