prospects for US-Russia relations under Putin

Text of report by the website of pro-government Russian newspaper Izvestiya on 22 March

[Commentary by Andranik Migranyan, political analyst: "Does Putin need the ‘reset’?"]

Does Putin need the ‘reset?’

Political scientist Andranik Migranyan on how the results of the Russian elections will influence the US presidential race.

The current presidential campaign in the US is concentrated on the country’s domestic problems: Unemployment, the state of the economy, immigration, health reform, and introduction of a tax on the rich. But there is one other foreign political topic that worries the American administration. This is Iran’s nuclear file. Each of the presidential candidates is trying to secure the support of the powerful Israeli lobby in the US, and is prepared to promise even forceful action, so as not to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. According to the apt definition of Dimitri Simes, the American democracy promotion complex, as President Eisenhower had said about the VPK [military-industrial complex], has a destructive effect on US domestic, and especially foreign, policy, and may pull the country into an escapade in the Near East, with very serious and unpredictable consequences. If this happens, then not only will the country’s economy be in for some serious trials, but also its political elite. And since Russia is very close to regions that pose a problem for the US, and especially to Iran, whose destabilization may have a serious effect on our Transcausus and Caucasus, we cannot remain aside. In this context, Putin’s victory in the presidential elections in Russia has raised a number of very important questions associated with Russian-American relations.

For the past few years, the US Administration has successfully "sold" the American public on the policy of reset of relations with Russia. Today, the question of whether this policy will be continued is being discussed. I think that it is unlikely that the new Russian president will associate himself with the reset. And not because he does not want normalization of relations and constructive cooperation with the American administration – the very concept of the "reset" today has an ambiguous reputation and different interpretations in the US as well as in Russia. Most likely, Putin will be guided by the main principles of his own policy and will rely on those positive achievements which he had with the former administration of George Bush. We need recall only the fact that he was the first to respond to the events of 11 September 2001 and offered his help and support in the struggle against international terrorism and the Taleban in Afghanistan.

It is no accident that, in his article about foreign policy, Putin never once mentioned either the reset, or the new architecture of Euro-Atlantic security proposed by Dmitriy Medvedev, which received a cool reception from the Western partners. Thus, from Russian-American relations under the new Russian Federation president, we should expect not a continuation of the reset, but a continuation of Putin’s general course, which will also include the positive achievements in Russian-American relations over the past 4 years. For example, such achievements as continued cooperation on Afghanistan (the idea of creating a transit base in Ulyanovsk, through which the Americans will transport their troops, is close to realization). Both sides realize that they must cooperate more closely in the sphere of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and the energy sector, and must resolve the question of repealing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and a number of others.

But there are two problems which may mar relations between our countries. First of all, this is the problem of missile defence. Putin has repeatedly stated that deployment of elements of a missile defence system poses a threat to our national security, and that Russia would be forced to take response measures – to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad Oblast. Because of the differences with Russia over missile defence, Washington has decided to hold two May summits – the G8 and NATO – in different cities. Judging by all, the Americans have decided that, after the G8 Summit, Putin may demonstratively leave Chicago right before the NATO Summit. So that now, if the Russian president does not want to go from Camp David to Chicago, this would already not look like a serious demarche, attracting the attention of the international community.

But there is also a second important problem, which is being discussed in Washington. American lawmakers understand that, after our country joins the WTO [World Trade organization], the Jackson-Vanik Amendment will have to be repealed, because it will already create problems for American business in Russia. But at the same time, it is important for the administration to retain its "stick" towards Russia. Therefore, they are discussing the adoption of the "Magnitskiy law," according to which the American authorities, along with human rights organization, would draw up lists of persons who are guilty of human rights violations in Russia, after which they would be refused entry into the US, and their assets in American banks would be frozen. The adoption of such a law may very seriously complicate relations between our countries. Today, Washington is discussing the idea of making this law international – that is, including the European countries, which must also adopt similar sanctions in regard to persons who violate human rights in Russia.

At a recently held seminar at The National Interest Centre, where the results of our elections and the prospects of Russian-American relations were discussed, many analysts spoke of the fact that, despite the harsh statements addressed to American politicians and the actions of the US Administration in many problem regions of the world, Putin is a pragmatist, and will pursue the national interests of Russia in his policy towards the States, and will not opt for creating tensions between our countries unless there is an extreme need to do so. The Russian Federation president-elect understands perfectly well the role and place of the United States in the present-day world, recognizes the importance of constructive cooperation with that country, and has an adequate understanding of the resources and capacities of Russia itself. At the same time, Putin will try to do everything possible to give Russia a free hand for implementing an independent foreign policy so that, if necessary, he could create unions and coalitions with various countries for the purpose of realizing our country’s interests and achieving its goals. We must remember that the US has not completely withdrawn from the Iraqi campaign, is waging a war in Afghanistan, is having problems with Iran, and intends to change the regime in Syria. In this sense, ours is a more advantageous position. Russia is not waging war anywhere, and has the opportunity to take a pause – to see how the US Administration will act. During the American electoral campaign, we will hardly hear anything good about the prospects for Russian-American relations. This should not disappoint us – such are the laws of the electoral campaign genre in the US. The serious discussion will begin only after the elections and the inauguration of the new US President in January of 2013.

Source: Izvestiya website, Moscow, in Russian 22 Mar 12

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