Can the U.S. and Russia Really Cooperate?
Anatol Lieven prefaced his examination of U.S.-Russian relations by emphasizing that his was the view of a friendly European/Brit who lives, works, and pays taxes in the United States.
September 11 provided a new opportunity for the U.S. and Russia to cooperate on much more solid footing as both countries have found a common enemy in Islamic terrorism. While considerable adjustments have been made on both sides, Lieven asserted that comparatively less effort has been focused on what the U.S. needs to do within this partnership, which in his view is to diminish the constant "nagging and lecturing" that the Russians – not to mention others in the international community – find "profoundly irritating."
If there is to be a stronger partnership between the U.S. and Russia, a new balance between cooperation and criticism must be found that more closely resembles the model that the U.S. has adopted with its allies. In this regard, he noted that Russia is actually far from being the least democratic of America's allies and security partners. Both sides will also need to make further domestic and foreign policy changes. Russia, for example, must change several aspects of its policies, such as those on Iraq and Iran, as well as the traditionally hostile attitudes of the Russian security elite towards the U.S.
Three areas on which the United States must work include learning to accept other countries as equals, eliminating the blanket opposition to Russian influence, and recognizing the triangle of relations between the U.S., Russia, and Europe. One of the key issues for the U.S. is, "can the U.S. fully and successfully cooperate with other significant individual actors on the world stage?" Though Russia has given up its superpower status, it has not given up its "great power" position on the international stage. Russia continues to maintain individual positions on key issues and retains the ability and desire to play a predominant role in its own neighborhood. This is not an unusual position, and the U.S. must learn to accept this fact.
Yet, the U.S. has consistently demonstrated a blanket opposition to Russian influence, deeming this reduction of Russian influence to be a priority of U.S. policy and vital to U.S. interests. He cautioned that U.S.-Russian relations must not be reduced to a "zero sum" game, which is still the essence of U.S. policy towards Russia. Rather, Lieven advocates a policy of "conservative shaping," which can influence Russian actions and decisions in ways that benefit the U.S., rather than this blanket policy of rolling back Russian interests. In this regard, Lieven noted that despite lingering opposition to NATO enlargement among Russian political and security elites, he did not expect this issue to become a problem. This is because Russian President Putin, ever the pragmatist, views the impending enlargement of NATO this year to include as many as seven new countries – including the Baltic States – as weakening NATO as a collective defense institution and thereby making it less of a threat to Russia.
Lieven recognized the triangular relationship among the U.S., Russia, and Europe as a critical factor affecting America's position of influence and its partnership with Russia. Over the past decade, Russia under Presidents Yeltsin and Putin has consciously moved towards the west. This has meant a movement towards Europe and the EU more often than a movement towards the U.S. as Russia, on certain critical issues (including the Balkans and the war in Kosovo and currently the Middle East), shares attitudes closer to those of Europe. Taking this into consideration, along with the fact that U.S.-European relations are currently burdened by European frustration with the perceived go-it-alone approach of the U.S., it is highly unlikely that Russia would side with the U.S. in the event of a serious U.S.-EU split over policy (in the Middle East, for example). Consequently, the U.S. needs to take a close, objective look at what needs to be done not only to strengthen its partnership with Russia, but also to maintain its influential position in world affairs.