Shevtsova’s Russia Reality Check

Seems like everyone is talking about what the next U.S. policy toward Russia will consist of following the collapse of the reset.  Much of that, of course, will depend on what kinds of signals we see from Moscow.  On the one hand, there are those who believe that a softer approach is coming.  But others see darkness.

Lilia Shevtsova has a new piece in the Financial Times that lays it out in stark terms:

The Kremlin is offering new rules that sound like an ultimatum. Accept the concept of total state sovereignty, allowing any regime (Syria included) to treat its people as it sees fit. Co-operate on trade, investment and other areas of mutual interest. Do not obstruct our elite’s activities in your countries, which means forgetting about the Magnitsky act barring Russian officials accused of human rights violations from the US. Accept that we have a “sphere of interests”. And no lectures about democracy.

The west can remain a strategic partner if it accepts these rules, and if the “strategy” means giving the regime life-support. As with the US-Russian reset at the start of Mr Obama’s first term, the west will be free to play “Let’s pretend”, but without much help from Moscow.

I am not entirely convinced that in the near-term relations will remain frigid – Moscow is fond of maintaining a swing position, a kind of constructive ambiguity where their cooperation on key issues can sometimes appear within grasp before disappearing again.  However Shevtsova does make a convincing argument that the hostile containment of the West by Russia as the besieged fortress may become the dominant trend so long as there is a breath left in last year’s mass protest movement.  So oddly, the more successful the opposition, the worse relations will be with the United States.