|U.S.-Russia Relations in the Post-Western World
Andrei P. Tsygankov1
San Francisco State University
In Responding to a Resurgent Russia: Russian Policy and Responses from the EU and U.S., edited by Vinod K. Aggarwal and Kristi Govella.
This paper describes the nature of U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War, with special attention to the period after September 11, 2001. Although the two nations have learned to cooperate on some issues, their relationship can be described as limited engagement with elements of rivalry, rather than cooperation. The United States’ support for expansion of NATO, competition for energy resources in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea, and methods of fighting terrorism in the region—among other issues—continue to put the two nations at odds with each other. Pressing the “reset button” in relations with Moscow, as suggested by U.S. President Barack Obama, will therefore not be easy.
However, reengaging Russia in reciprocal relations is especially important today given the increasingly post-Western nature of the world. Although the exact direction and endpoint of global development remains unclear, there is hardly any doubt that the international system is moving away from its post-Cold War West-centeredness. Military involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing global financial crisis, has made it difficult for the West to function as the world’s economic and political authority. Economically, China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region are emerging as new centers of global gravity. In security relations, the Western monopoly on the use of force has been undermined by Russia’s military intervention in Georgia in August 2008. In this increasingly post-Western world, the United States may require additional allies and may have to learn to respect Russia’s interests and act in consultation with the Kremlin and other key actors in the region.
This paper analyzes the respective strategic visions of the United States and Russia, focusing on their perceptions of political changes in the former Soviet region, security issues, and energy relations. The concluding section reflects on causes underlying the lack of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia and suggests some possible ways of moving forward.
1.2 The U.S. Perception of Russia
Immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the American leadership attempted to develop a partnership with Russia. However, many within the American political class viewed Russia’s international strategy as threatening the U.S. position in the world, which greatly contributed to the failure of the U.S.-Russia coalition.
1.2.1 American’s Attempted Partnership with Russia
The 9/11 tragedy took place on American soil, but it was seen as an equally tragic and dangerous development by Russia as well. By that time, Russia had already experienced multiple domestic terrorist attacks, and many Russians sympathized with the United States and extended their support to the American people and their government. President Vladimir Putin was among the first to call then-President George Bush to express his support and pledge resources to help America in its fight against terror. Against the reservations of the political class and a number of social strata, Putin offered America broad support for operations in Afghanistan that included intelligence sharing, opening Russian airspace to relief missions, taking part in search-and-rescue operations, rallying Central Asian countries to the American cause, and arming anti-Taliban forces inside Afghanistan.
As the horrific attacks began to create a new social and political atmosphere in international relations, an important opportunity for establishing a partnership between the United States and Russia emerged. Initial developments following the terrorist attacks were encouraging. Bush responded to Putin’s offer of support by indicating a change in the American perception of Russia. Previously, the Bush administration did not foresee any breakthroughs in relations with Russia. It had made public the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who had spied for the Russians, and it subsequently expelled fifty Russian diplomats. The Bush Administration has also threatened to end any economic aid except for nonproliferation projects, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused Russia of proliferating nuclear materials and weapons technologies. As late as February 2001, Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice insisted that Russia was a threat to America and its European allies.
Following the attacks, however, America was increasingly prepared to see Russia as an equal and potentially strategic partner in the global war on terror, rather than a threat. The already-established cordial relations between Bush and Putin that were established at their first meeting in Ljublana, Slovenia in 2001 were now strengthened in the name of redefined national interests. Convinced that “old suspicions are giving way to new understanding and respect,” President Bush now saw the two countries as “allies in the war on terror” moving “to a new level of partnership.”2
This changing perception had also begun to shape Washington’s attitudes toward several issues of prime significance to Russia: Chechnya, the nature of the Russia’s domestic political system, the military, and energy security. The White House showed greater sensitivity to Russian arguments that Chechnya was a part of a global war on terror. Although many in Washington’s policy circles continued to refer to Chechen terrorists as “rebels,” demanding that Russia “negotiate” peace with them, Bush differed in his assessment. For instance, he expressed strong support for Putin’s decision to storm a Moscow theatre after Chechen guerrillas took 700 hostages and threatened to blow up a theater in October 2002. While the American media was overwhelmingly focused on Russia’s negative role in the hostage crisis, Bush insisted that “the people who caused this tragedy to take place are terrorists who took hostages and endangered the lives of others.”3 He reiterated his conviction in further statements that “terrorists must be opposed wherever they spread chaos and destruction, including Chechnya.”4 Overall, Washington toned down its rhetoric about Russia’s role in escalating tensions and violating human rights in the region, and was more willing to accept the Kremlin’s attempts to stabilize the area.
It was also around this time that Bush expressed his confidence in Russia’s commitment to principles of democratic governance. Despite the chorus of critiques from Western human rights agencies and experts,5 Bush called for patience and expressed his respect for Russia’s political path.
U.S.-Russia relations also improved in the area of military security. Putin’s efforts to focus the security agenda on issues of counter-terrorism resonated with the White House. As the Russian leader expressed an interest in joining NATO, some NATO leaders indicated their support of Russia’s membership in the alliance. In late 2001, NATO secretary general Lord Robertson, supported by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, advocated the idea of giving Russia a status equal to the alliance’s 19 permanent members, including veto power over certain decisions. In an assessment by The New York Times, the plan promised a “fundamental shift in behavior for the 52-year-old organization, which was founded after World War II specifically to contain the military power of the Soviet Union” and Russia’s “full partnership with Western democracies.”6 An important step in that direction was the establishment at the May 28, 2002 summit in Rome of a new NATO-Russia Council for consultation on security principles and action against common threats. The U.S.-Russian Joint Declaration at the summit was the highest point in their fast-developing relations. It stated the two nations’ “belief that new global challenges and threats require a qualitatively new foundation for our relationship” and that “we are achieving a new strategic relationship. The era in which the United States and Russia saw each other as an enemy or strategic threat has ended. We are partners and we will cooperate to advance stability, security, and economic integration, and to jointly counter global challenges and to help resolve regional conflicts.”7
Finally, the U.S. government also demonstrated an interest in developing a major energy partnership with Russia to reinforce the strengthening of bilateral ties. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham was supportive of rebuilding relations with Russia, viewing them in terms of greater diversification of supplies away from the Middle East: “Greater energy security through a more diverse supply of oil for global markets—these are key elements of President Bush's National Energy Policy.”8 Abraham’s visit to Moscow in November 2001 reportedly ended the years of U.S.-Russian rivalry over Caspian Sea oil. Rather than trying to isolate Russia, Russian companies were invited to participate in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. At about the same time, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) was established to carry oil from Kazakhstan's Tenghiz oil field (the world's sixth largest) to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossisk.9 Its membership included Chevron-Texaco, Arco, Mobil, Shell, and the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan. In May 2002, the U.S. and Russian presidents signed a joint declaration on energy cooperation with the intention, in President Bush’s words, to build a “major new energy partnership” that would unite Russia and America as close partners.10
However, in the early 2003, U.S.-Russia energy relations took a different direction. The U.S. investment flow to Russia’s energy sector stopped, which some attributed to the absence of “a good legal and business climate,” particularly in the area of taxation related to the production-sharing agreement (PSA).11 More importantly, as the next section shows, Washington begun to loose political capital necessary to prevent deterioration of relations with Russia, and the PSA story was only one aspect of the emerging political vacuum.
1.2.3 Partnership Unraveled
The US-Russia partnership was not to last and soon the initially encouraging developments turned into renewed competition over a whole series of issues. The United States did not resort to policies of containment, nor did it push for severing Russia’s relations with the G8, NATO or foreign investors. Some elements of cooperation survived, including counter-terrorist intelligence information sharing, policy coordination against nuclear proliferation, and development of some economic ties. Nevertheless, Washington backed away from its initial commitment to take its relationship with Moscow to a new level of cooperation. As the immediate sense of the post-9/11 threat had subsided, the U.S. returned to expecting Russia to follow America’s foreign policy agenda.
In the Caucasus, Washington’s unwillingness to oppose Russia’s Chechnya policy—partly due to the Kremlin’s cooperation with the war in Afghanistan and partly because of established Al-Qaeda ties in the region—soon yielded to renewed suspiciousness of the Kremlin’s intentions. Instead of being seen as a state determined to secure its borders and territorial integrity, Russia was being increasingly perceived as revisionist and expansionist. Already in late 2002, some clear signs appeared that the White House was not prepared to tolerate Russia taking any initiative in the Caucasus and would only work with Moscow if it followed Washington’s agenda. It was one thing for the White House to announce its determination to hunt terrorists wherever they are,12 yet it was an entirely different matter to allow the Kremlin to do the same. When Russia accused neighboring Georgia of providing safe haven for terrorists on its territory and warned that it might take action, the United States sided with Georgia. And when an unknown airplane attacked a remote Georgian region that bordered Chechnya, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer publicly accused Russia of lying when it claimed that it did not bomb Georgia, thereby violating Georgian sovereignty and escalating tensions in the region.13
The relationship visibly deteriorated after 2003. The United States insisted that Russia find a “political solution” to the Chechnya problem, by which Washington meant holding talks with those whom the Kremlin considered to be terrorists. The United States also downplayed links between Chechen terrorists and Al-Qaeda, which made it possible to grant political asylum and media exposure to those closely affiliated with Chechen terrorists.14 And inadvertently, through its intervention in Iraq and global strategy of regime change, the United States contributed to Russia’s already strained relations with Muslims. Intervention in Iraq made efforts to engage moderate Muslims across the world even more difficult, which translated into a greater support for Islamic radicals inside Russia.15
There was also a change in the American attitude toward Russia’s domestic political system. Rather than viewing the country as in need of greater stabilization in the face of a long economic depression and many security vulnerabilities, the White House focused on seeing Russia as insufficiently democratic. Following Putin’s proposals to increase state centralization after the devastating terrorist attack in Beslan, the United States became alarmed over Russia’s anti-democratic trends, warning that a divergence from democratic values could harm U.S.-Russian relations. The United States itself made a number of state-consolidating steps in response to the terrorist threat, such as passing the Patriot Act, and the White House was widely accused of violating democracy and human rights in fighting the war on terror. Yet then-Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the Kremlin not to allow the fight against terrorism to “harm the democratic process,” and President Bush raised concerns about “decisions ... in Russia that could undermine democracy.”16
In line with its new regime change strategy, the United States pushed the entire former Soviet region toward transforming its political institutions. It provided funds for the opposition and supported revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.17 The revolutions added to the Kremlin’s perception that Washington’s chief objective might have been to change the regime in Russia as well. That influential elites in the United States maintained contacts with some radical organizations in Russia, such as the National Bolshevik Party, while increasing pressures on the Kremlin to “democratize” and respect political freedoms, only served to strengthen this perception. For instance, in April 2007 the U.S. State Department issued a report highly critical of Russia’s political system, pledging various assistance to “democratic organizations” inside the country, which the Russian government viewed as terrorists.
The relationship also suffered considerably in the area of military security. In addition to withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the United States took steps to advance its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders, arousing further suspicions in Moscow. Despite the established Russia-NATO Council, the two sides again treated each other as potential enemies rather than partners, and Washington did little to integrate Russia into Western security institutions or address its concerns. Not only did the U.S. not stop at two waves of NATO expansion that had already taken place despite opposition from Russia, but it also worked on extending NATO membership to former Soviet states such as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. Although Russian officials such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the possible entry of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO would bring about a tremendous "geopolitical shift" requiring Moscow to “revise its policy”,18 Washington took these warnings lightly. In this context, Russia saw Washington’s plans to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic as a deviation from, rather than a contribution to, the war on terror. In response, President Putin went as far as to announce his decision to declare a moratorium on implementing the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which would allow Russia to freely move its conventional forces within its territory in response to steps by NATO that the Kremlin might see as potentially harmful.
Finally, little came of the two nations’ efforts to establish an energy partnership. Russia’s energy strategy—increasing state share in energy companies, building pipelines in all geographic directions, raising energy prices for its oil and gas-dependent neighbors, moving to control transportation networks in the former USSR and coordinating its activities with other energy-producers—generated anxiety in the American political class. Individuals such as Senator John McCain and Vice-President Dick Cheney issued multiple statements indicating their concerns with Russia’s new “imperialism” and energy “blackmail.” Washington no longer looked for ways to work with Russia as an energy partner, and instead routinely denounced its leaders for “using energy as political leverage to influence its neighbors’ policies.”19 The United States had earlier built the alternative Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and now began to work hard on persuading potential investors and Central Asian nations to build the Trans-Caspian route under the Caspian Sea, circumventing Russia. In May 2007, Putin secured a commitment from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to increase exports of Central Asian oil via Russia’s pipelines, which only served to heighten U.S. concerns.
1.3 Russia’s Vision and Strategy
Russia’s perception differed from that of the United States. This difference in perception became evident in the Kremlin’s vision of state-building challenges, political institutions, security threats and energy opportunities.
The post-Soviet Russia operates under new international conditions that no longer reflect traditional patterns of Western domination. However, Russia’s long history as an empire and its complex relations with non-Russian nationalities make it a challenge to create a new power-sharing mechanism with the region. A case in point is Chechnya.
Russia’s Chechnya problem was an issue of rebuilding a state under growing ethno-nationalist pressures—and by a regime that was itself of separatist origin and came to power by toppling the central authority. By the time Boris Yeltsin decided to intervene in Chechnya in the early 1994, it was already too late. Chechan President Dzhokhar Dudaev was no longer in full control of the republic and had to share power with organized crime. Political instability followed. The society fragmented and could no longer function as a whole.20 And Russia’s army—an institution that was highly demoralized and humiliated during the protracted campaign to discredit the Soviet system—was was unable to restore order and instead exacerbated the situation by engaging in criminal activities, brutalities, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. All of this made it extremely difficult to restore order and threatened the state’s ability to govern in the republic. The peace agreement did not last, and violence returned with renewed force.
Even after the end of the second Chechnya war in 2004, Russia continued to suffer from multiple terrorist attacks, and some analysts projected a further growth of violence in the region.21 The Beslan hostage crisis further exposed weaknesses of the Russian state and the rule of law. These weaknesses were all too evident in the corruption of local officials who made it possible for terrorists to safely pass several security check points, inadequate special services, and delays to the proper investigation of the terrorist act. The solution therefore was not in negotiating with Chechan separatist leader Shamil Basaev, but rather in strengthening state governance and increasing the Chechen people’s involvement in ruling their republic.
The Kremlin proposed a series of steps which included far-reaching reform of the political system. At the heart of the proposed reform was the idea of further centralization of decision-making. Local governors were no longer to be elected; instead, they were to be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislative bodies. Russia also stepped up its counter-terrorist activities and promised to continue with its Chechenization policy by holding new parliamentary elections in Chechnya and gradually expanding political rights in the republic. New parliamentary elections in Chechnya took place in November 2005, with the overall voter turnout estimated at 60 percent, far exceeding the minimum 25 percent mark mandated by law.22 After eliminating the most notorious terrorists, the Kremlin also offered Chechen fighters amnesty and incentives to lay down their arms, and thousands of them did so. In addition, Moscow allocated more than 2 billion dollars in extra federal assistance to the region. Gradually, Chechnya changed into a different place, with refugees returning, terrorists leaving the republic and the rest of the Northern Caucasus taking interest in Chechnya reconstruction.
1.3.2 A State-Controlled Democracy
Although Russia’s experience of combining democratization with other state-building challenges has been a mixed one, its overall trajectory is rather positive. Russia has come a long way from communism while preserving some important attributes of state governance. Lacking a strong middle class and political order—conditions that are critical for a functioning democracy—the country has created a functioning macroeconomic environment and abstained from attempts to restore its empire. Partly because of the adoption of radical economic reforms, Russia had almost become a failed state,23 but it subsequently revived its economy and a good measure of political viability.
The fragility of Russia’s political system helps us to understand the Kremlin’s nervous reaction to Western democratization pressures and the color revolutions occurring in the former USSR and Balkan States. The colored revolutions were strongly supported by Western nations, but from Russia’s standpoint the revolutions had a destabilizing effect for the region. Georgia under President Mikheil Saakashvili has had problems solving vital social and political issues. In dealing with separatist regions, Tbilisi increasingly relied on force, while pressuring Russia out of the region. The Orange coalition in Ukraine, for its part, failed to address the root causes of the revolution—poor living conditions and unpopular leadership—and the country remained unstable.24 Georgia and Ukraine have also expressed a desire to join NATO, which has added to Russia’s sense of strategic insecurity.25
In Kyrgyzstan, yet another case of a color revolution, the situation was arguably the worst, partly because of the country’s location. Sandwiched between the Ferhana Valley and China’s Xinjiang province, Kyrgyz territory was commonly used as a transit route by drug traffickers, Islamic militants, and Uighur separatists. Kyrgyzstan’s change of power in March 2005 was accompanied by violence and looting, and the new regime had difficulties in preventing criminal groups from shaping the political system.
Vulnerable and insecure, Russia has sought to do everything in its power to stabilize its political environment and minimize outside interference. President Putin insisted on Russia’s right to “decide for itself the pace, terms and conditions of moving towards democracy,” and he warned against attempts to destabilize the political system by "any unlawful methods of struggle.”26 The Kremlin’s supporters and theorists sympathetic to the official agenda have developed concepts of “sovereign democracy” and “sovereign economy,”27 insisting on the need for Russia to protect its path of development and natural resources. The Kremlin’s leading ideologist, Vladislav Surkov, justified the concept of sovereign democracy by citing the need to defend an internally-determined path to political development and to protect the values of economic prosperity, individual freedom and social justice from potential threats. He defined these threats as “international terrorism, military conflict, lack of economic competitiveness, and soft takeovers by ‘orange technologies’ in a time of decreased national immunity to foreign influence.”28 The Kremlin has trained its own youth organizations and restricted activities of Western NGOs and radical opposition inside the country. Russia’s elections too demonstrated the ample fear of outside interference, and the willingness of politicians to resort to an anti-Western rhetoric.
1.3.3 The Threat of NATO Expansion and the U.S. Missile Defense System
After 9/11, Putin moved to cooperate with the United States by supporting the anti-Taliban operation in Afghanistan and deemphasizing his opposition to the White House’s decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty. Putin at one point also showed interest in joining NATO and demonstrated his commitment to working with the alliance members to address the newly emerged threats of terrorism. However, the notion of cooperation that the United States had in mind left little room for Russia and its security interests. NATO was to be expanded to the East and the United States was to move its security infrastructure closer to the former Soviet borders, and Russia was expected to accept these moves.
Given this disjuncture in interests, Russia had cause to be skeptical of America’s declared intentions to develop a security partnership. Many in Moscow interpreted the West’s decision to expand its military alliance without planning to include Russia as a threat.29 In response, President Putin delivered a tough speech in Munich in the early 2007, in which he warned that Russia intended to pursue a more assertive course in relations with the United States. Then, while continuing to withdraw its troops from Georgia, Russia announced a moratorium on the CFE Treaty that the Western nations had refused to ratify for eight years. Having left the door open for a return to the treaty, Russia nevertheless indicated that its level of frustration was running high. The Kremlin also appointed Dmity Rogozin, a hard-line nationalist and critic of attempts to develop relations with the West, as Russia's new ambassador to NATO. In addition, Russia was determined to show that it was dissatisfied with negotiations with the West over NATO expansion and was prepared to prevent incorporation of states like Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance by all means available. After the recognition of Kosovo and the NATO summit in Bucharest, Russia strengthened its ties with Georgia’s separatist territories. It also sent signals that it was prepared to work to develop separatist attitudes in Ukraine.30 In August 2008, in response to Georgia’s use of force against South Ossetia, Russia sent its troops to defeat Georgia’s army. In addition to cementing military presence in the Caucasus, the Kremlin also recognized independence of two Georgia’s autonomies, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
As for the U.S. nuclear primacy drive under Bush’s administration, Russia’s initial posture was muted and non-threatening. In 2000, Putin finally convinced the Russian Duma to ratify the START 2, which had been signed in January 1993 and promised to reduce the amount of nuclear missiles to a new 3,000-3,500 threshold. And despite Bush’s decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty in 2002, Putin was hopeful that the two nations’ ability to focus on issues of counter-terrorism would develop their mutual trust and perhaps render the nuclear primacy drive unnecessary. Opposition to this view in the military and political establishment was formidable, partly a result of NATO’s war in Yugoslavia, which led to the new draft military doctrine.
The situation began to change in 2002-2003 when the Russian security perception shifted to viewing the United States’ nuclear policy as directed against Russia. Increasingly, the Kremlin saw Washington’s plans to deploy Missile Defense System (MDS) elements closer to Russia’s borders as a direct security threat and a deviation from the war on terror. Although the Kremlin considered drastic cuts in the Russian nuclear arsenal throughout 2001-2002, by late 2003 it had returned to its traditional emphasis on preserving nuclear parity with the United States.31 In October 2007, Putin went as far to draw a parallel between the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba that led to the US-Soviet crisis in 1962 and the U.S. MDS plans in Eastern Europe.32
Acting on this threat assessment, Russia pursued a policy response that included the preservation of existing nuclear treaties, the development of systems capable of breaching the U.S. MDS, and plans to retarget missiles to new American installations in Europe. First, the Kremlin emphasized the need to preserve existing nuclear agreements, such as START 2 and SORT. Although some within the military establishment threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans the deployment of medium-range missiles, the Kremlin did not endorse these threats. Well aware of Russia’s inability to match the American strategic arsenal, Russia instead developed new weapons capable of an asymmetrical response. In 2006, Putin said that Russia had tested new missiles that were “hypersonic and capable of changing their flight path” and therefore penetrating any MDS.33 The Kremlin also announced plans to reequip its new single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ISBM) Topol-M (SS-27) with multiple warheads.34 Finally, the Kremlin said it would have to retarget its missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic as places for the new MDS infrastructure.35
While making these preparations, Russia did not give up on its efforts to engage the United States. In June 2007, Putin surprised the United States by proposing to share
the early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan. He said the radar system Russia was using would cover not only part, but the whole of Europe and will therefore “make it unnecessary for us to place our offensive complexes along the border with Europe.”36 The White House later dismissed the proposal as insufficient for addressing its security concerns with Iran and elsewhere. It took the arrival of President Barack Obama to abandon the old MDS approach and to partly resolve the difference with Russia.
1.3.4 Global Energy Clout
Russia views energy as a tool for achieving its larger modernization objectives. As explained by Putin, the role of the energy sector is to work with the state to promote these objectives. Relying on market forces is essential, but insufficient: “Even in developed countries, market mechanisms do not provide solutions to strategic tasks of resource use, protecting nature, and sustainable economic security.”37 The state therefore has to shape policy outcomes by actively seeking to control social resources, coordinating the activities of key social players and assisting the country in finding its niche in the global economy. In order to achieve these tasks the state has to be sufficiently concentrated, and relatively autonomous of interest group pressures.
The Kremlin was therefore ruthless to those oligarchs whom it perceived as violating its “new deal” by refusing to stay out of politics and being uncooperative with the state in the implementation of its economic vision. Boris Berezovski and Vladimir Gusinski, who launched an anti-Putin propaganda campaign using their media empires and their own TV-channels, were charged with not paying their financial debts to the state and fled the country to avoid prosecution. Mikhail Khodorkovski too was given time to leave the country, but chose not to, and on October 25, 2003, he was arrested on charges of multiple fraud and tax evasion. Despite their selective nature and questionable legality, the Kremlin’s actions against oligarchs were strongly supported by the general public, which overwhelmingly felt robbed by Yeltsin’s reforms. In a country where notions of law and justice were severely undermined, a legal solution to the problem of excessive wealth concentration and the restoration of a balance between state authority and big business was arguably hard to come by.38
With respect to the overall objectives of economic recovery and political independence, Russia has developed a coherent strategy of exploiting the country’s abundance in natural resources. In an environment of rising energy prices, the emphasis shifted away from providing macroeconomic discipline and tough fiscal policies and toward the desire to capitalize on Russia’s reserves of natural gas and oil. Russia’s strategy has included several important elements. Among them are increasing the state’s share in energy companies, such as Gazprom and Rosneft, often at the expense of Western capital; building pipelines in all geographic directions; seeking to negotiate long-term contracts with energy consumers and obtain access to their markets and distribution networks; raising energy prices for its oil and gas-dependent neighbors; moving to control transportation networks in the former USSR; and coordinating its activities with other energy-producers. Acting on these policy guidelines, the state renegotiated production-sharing agreements with Western companies in the most lucrative oil fields in Siberia and the Far East. Foreign energy giants, such as Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum, now had to play by different rules as set by a more assertive Russian state. In the Caspian Sea, Russia sought to remain an important oil producer and preserve its status as a major transit country through which to carry energy from the Caucasus and Central Asia to Europe.
Although it has generated anxiety in a number of energy-consuming countries in Europe and the United States, the strategy reflects more than anything else Moscow’s legitimate desire to capitalize on its energy reserves and improve its chances to serve as a reliable oil and gas supplier to primarily Western countries. Against the advice of some energy analysts and geopolitical thinkers, the Kremlin did not think it would be better off sharply redirecting its oil and gas supplies toward Eurasian countries such as China and India. Judging by statements of its key officials, Russia continues to welcome energy cooperation with the United States and other Western nations. As the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Yuri Ushakov wrote, although American investments in Russia grow every year and Russian oil supplies to America reach unprecedented levels every year, “in real terms, our energy cooperation is way below potential.”39
1.4 Conclusion: Prospects for U.S.-Russia Relations
Overall, cooperation between the two countries has been less than impressive. Although the nature of the current post-Western world prescribes multilateral solutions, the U.S. has continued to make unilateral decisions, such as bringing Georgia to NATO without addressing Russia’s concerns or encouraging Ukraine towards NATO membership. It has armed narrowly-based militaristic regimes in Azerbaijan and Georgia. And it has sought to control the Caspian Sea reserves and isolate Russia from the energy infrastructure in the region.
President Barack Obama has indicated his willingness to abandon his election rhetoric about a “resurgent Russia” and has proposed—via Vice-President Joe Biden’s speech in Munich on February 10, 2009—to press the “reset button” on relations with Moscow. The new administration has prioritized the stabilization of Afghanistan and expects the Kremlin’s cooperation since terrorist camps and intense drug trafficking from the area create problems for Russia as well. In addition to continuous counter-terrorist cooperation, the United States hopes to strengthen Russia’s support for nuclear non-proliferation and to coordinate reactions to the global economic crisis.
However, Russia remains suspicious about U.S. intentions and policies as undermining Russian security interests. This suspicion has its roots in the American support for the color revolutions, which that many in the Kremlin view as directed at Russia. Russia feels humiliated by what it sees as lack of appreciation of its foreign policy interests, and it argues that it was Russia, not America, that had to swallow the war in the Balkans, two rounds of NATO expansion, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, military presence in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, and now, plans to deploy elements of nuclear missile defense in Eastern Europe. This has all served to complicate efforts at bilateral cooperation.
In the meantime, Washington continues to operate with an attitude of superiority that is evident in a broad range of its policies and attitudes, from a persistent attitude that “we won the Cold War” to expanding NATO, blocking development of Russia’s energy infrastructure and pushing the Kremlin to adopt Western-style democratization. These policies betray a fundamental misunderstanding of international and former Soviet realities. Russia is not a defeated power and has greatly contributed to the end of the Cold War. It has security and economic interests that are principally undermined by the process of NATO expansion and unilateral exercise of energy policies. Finally, Russia’s current imperatives are those of a state-building nature, which are broadly supported by the public. Further democratization may come, but not before a strong middle class emerges and a sense of security from external threats is realized.
If the two sides are to build foundations for a future partnership, they ought to begin by developing cooperation on both the strategic and operational levels of dealing with the threat of terrorism. In the absence of proper vigilance and cooperation among states, terrorism may even obtain a nuclear dimension. The Caucasus and Central Asia, with their mixture of ethnic and clan loyalties, remain some of the world’s most difficult regions to understand. Western leaders should support a locally-acceptable solution to the conflict, one that is grounded in general principles of territorial integrity and the accommodation of minorities. On the other hand, the U.S. and Russia have an interest in being firm with radical Islamists—whether in Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Balkans or the Middle East—who are preying on the world’s political divisions and military confrontations, and who rely on violence as the dominant method of achieving their objectives.
The two nations must also cooperate on equal terms in security affairs including reduction of their nuclear arsenals and negotiation of new treaties. Instead of expanding NATO, the U.S. should also work with Russia to address issues of instability in Afghanistan and Central Asia, the rise of China, and the proliferation of conventional weapons in Eurasia and the Middle East. It would thus behoove Washington to act in consultation with Moscow and other key actors in the region. After three failed attempts to engage the United States and other Western nations in a mutually advantageous partnership under Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin respectively, Russia now wants to be sure Washington does not overstep its boundaries in the region, and the Kremlin views Western intentions largely through a geopolitical lens.
Finally, the U.S. does not have a good alternative to developing energy cooperation with Russia. Russia represents a critically important market for the United States, which consumes over 20 percent of the world’s energy and has a shortage of domestic energy supplies. As U.S. Ambassador William Burns put it, “in the case of Russia, the United States and energy, the power of the argument for partnership between us is obvious. Russia is the world's largest producer of hydrocarbons; the United States is the world's largest consumer.”40 A recovering great power with the world’s largest energy supplies, Russia can be either a valuable partner or a major spoiler of Western policies in Eurasia and beyond. Denying Russia the right to pursue its energy interests and to establish an independent energy policy at home and in Eurasia is sure to come with large political and economic costs. Treating Russia as a potential threat may bring to power in Moscow those who are not interested in strengthening relations with the U.S. Politically, it may generate a prolonged cycle of hostilities shaped by clashing American and Russia perceptions of each other’s energy intentions, resulting in a situation that some experts describe as the energy security dilemma and others as the militarization of the global struggle over energy supplies.41 Economically, it may lead to the isolation of prominent American companies from developing important energy fields and energy relations abroad.
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