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Columbia University experts look into the future of Russian-American relations
An online discussion took place at the Harriman Institute on the future policy of the new US administration towards Russia. Institute Director Alexander Cooley invited four of his fellow political scientists, leading experts in the study of Russia and the post-Soviet space for a discussion..
As Professor Cooley stated in his opening remarks, during the Trump administration‘s term in office, relations between the two countries have deteriorated, and Russia’s hostile actions have become one of the key arguments in the internal political struggle in the United States. Biden cabinet is expected to take active steps to restore the model «normal diplomacy», including in relation to Russia. What mechanisms should be put in place by the Biden administration to overcome the difficulties along the way? Is it realistic to return to constructive cooperation between Washington and Moscow, or are we doomed to deal with a new reincarnation for another four years? «cold war»? And how the domestic political situation in both countries can affect the priorities of US foreign policy?
There will be no reboot
The first to speak was Professor Emeritus of Columbia University Robert Legvold, an expert on international relations in the post-Soviet space. From 1986 to 1992 he served as director of the Harriman Institute.
«We cannot talk about a new reboot, the obstacles are too great, – said professor Legwold. – The challenges are too serious, especially in the area of national security».
Legvold offered several recommendations for the new US administration. He considers sanctions to be an ineffective instrument of influence and believes that they should be reinforced or even replaced by other, more effective measures..
«We must be aware that in the person of Putin we are dealing with a kleptocratic regime, – said professor Legwold. – Our goal – to restrain this regime as much as possible, which goes to great lengths to legitimize itself, including murders, poisoning of those who disagree, repression of the opposition and simply dissent. Realizing the aggressiveness of this regime and its hostility towards the United States and the West in general, we are called upon to strengthen national defense, first of all, to strengthen cyber security. The new concept of diplomacy presupposes a radical revision and prioritization of foreign policy tasks. I guess a one-time large-scale reboot is not real. We must take small steps, but take them quickly».
Kimberly Martin (Kimberly Marten), professor of political science at Barnard College, part of Columbia University, warned that guesses and predictions – the case is shaky, and therefore it is advisable to operate only with facts. She focused on the personnel renewal of the State Department.
«We have the right to expect the Biden administration to stabilize the principles of foreign policy, – said Professor Martin. – It is especially important for the United States to return to a policy of closer cooperation with allies, primarily in the NATO structure..
Analyzing staff appointments in the State Department, Professor Martin drew attention to the fact that the Russian direction has been strengthened by experienced diplomats of the Obama presidency, who adhere to a hard line against the Putin regime. We are talking, first of all, about the new Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, his deputy Wendy Sherman and Victoria Nuland, nominated for the third most important position in the State Department.
According to Martin, the Russian direction, most likely, will not become the main one for Blinken and his team.. «US foreign policy will focus on an alliance with other countries of the free world and, at the same time, on countering corrupt autocratic regimes, – noticed professor Martin. – Ideas and values will not be considered separately from each other. As for Russia, the main areas of confrontation with it will be cybersecurity, the war in Ukraine and internal repression, including the use of chemicals by the Kremlin to eliminate unwanted».
Leverage and rhetoric
«Putin unites with other autocrats of the world public demagogy, – considers Timothy Fry (Timothy Frye), Professor at Columbia University and Director of the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. – They have adopted the language of the victim. Like, we are locked in a besieged fortress, and are defending ourselves from the aggression of the West. But, of course, at the first opportunity, the plaintive rhetoric falls silent and outright expansionism is fully manifested. The seizure of Crimea became a kind of reward for Putin, who earned good populist points at home with this blatant aggression. But over time, reality makes itself felt, and today «patriotic» the enthusiasm of the Russian people for Crimea has noticeably diminished. In a similar way, many people in Russia began to treat the ideas floating in some spheres with great waryness. «amalgamations» with Belarus».
Timothy Frye considers the recent massive protests in dozens of Russian cities against the illegal arrest of Navalny and the gigantic corruption exposed in the sensational video report «Putin’s palace», clear evidence of the change in the internal political climate in Russia.
According to him, the Russians are generally dissatisfied with the prolonged economic stagnation, which they directly associate with the large-scale theft of the ruling elite. Sacrificial rhetoric «besieged fortress» no longer works as efficiently as it used to, says Fry.
At the same time, he calls on the new leadership of the State Department not to sweep aside such traditional forms of cooperation between the two countries as youth educational exchanges and business cooperation.. «We must continue to demonstrate to the Russian people our good intentions and a sincere desire to improve relations.», – Fry noted.
Political scientist Eliza Giuliano (Elise Giuliano), professor at Columbia University, outlined in her speech a range of issues related to Ukraine.
«The armed conflict in Donbass continues for the seventh year, – she said. – Russia continues military intervention in Ukraine. Despite all the geopolitical changes, the Ukrainian node remains a key position in relations between Europe and Russia, the United States and Russia. Why? Because the security of Europe and the United States largely depends on how and when this conflict is resolved, as well as the future of the entire belt of the post-Soviet space, which includes, in addition to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.».
According to Giuliano, Biden urgently needs to restore confidence in the United States from NATO partners.
«I do not exclude that the basic architecture of relations with the republics of the former Soviet Union will be revised, – she thinks. – What is beyond doubt is the course of the Biden administration towards a noticeable increase in economic and military assistance to Ukraine, as well as assistance to Kiev in the fight against corruption, primarily with such odious oligarchs as Igor Kolomoisky and Dmitry Firtash. In addition, you need to understand how effective the position of the special representative of the State Department for Ukraine is (Kurt Volcker, who held this position, resigned in 2019 during the famous scandal that led to the first impeachment of President Trump. – O.S.). In my opinion, this position is ineffective».
Answering the question of the correspondent of the Russian Service «Voices of America» on the possible options for the reaction of the Biden administration to the arrest of Navalny and mass protests in Russia, Kimberly Martin suggested that the matter will not be limited to new sanctions.
«It seems to me that the new administration will look for additional levers of influence on Russia, – she noticed. – What kind of leverage these are, we do not yet know.».
According to Timothy Fry, it is necessary to call Russia to account for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with a chemical warfare agent «Newbie». After all, Russia signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Russia ratified this convention in 1997. – OS) However, as he noted, no matter what measures Washington takes in the Navalny case, the Kremlin’s reaction will be predictably unequivocal.
«We know that any attempt to criticize the Kremlin‘s internal policy has provoked and is causing a sharp anti-Western reaction: they say, the CIA is to blame for everything., – said professor Fry. – No innovations are foreseen here».