The Rhetorical Thaw

Roger E. Kanet of the University of Miami has published a new 30-page paper on U.S.-Russian relations entitled “From Cooperation to Confrontation: Russia and the United States since 9/11.”  He’s assembled quite a laundry list of the things that upset Moscow.

The new tone promised in American foreign policy is likely to improve the environment in which Russian- U.S. interactions occur–at least at the rhetorical level.61 Moreover, there exists a substantial area of overlapping interests between the Russian Federation and the United States relating to other aspects of arms control, international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and now the global economic slowdown. However, there is one set of issues where U.S. and broader Western compromise would appear to be impossible, without their abandoning principle. Russia cannot be permitted to veto the continuation of the development of close ties between former Soviet republics and clients with the West. The rush to membership in the EU and NATO that began with the collapse of the external and internal Soviet empires two decades ago was not orchestrated in Washington or Brussels, but rather in the countries which had just escaped half a century, or more, of Soviet domination.

Whether Moscow’s new-found assertiveness in its relations with its near neighbors will undercut prospects for improved relations will depend almost entirely on Moscow’s flexibility in dealing with these countries as sovereign equals and not as a part of a revitalized ‘Greater Russia.’62 What is clear is that the areas of mutual interest exist between Moscow and Washington where both sides could benefit by renewed cooperation, that the new administration in Washington seems willing to back off from some of its predecessor’s policy initiatives deemed most unacceptable in Moscow, and that some in Moscow seem willing at least to test a possible return to a less assertive approach to the Russian-U.S. relationship.