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U.S.-Russia Relations after the Cold War

Viktorija Kotova

Aalborg University, 2014





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The title of the developed thesis is U.S.-Russia relations after the Cold War. U.S.-Russia relations have always sparked an interest not only in academic circles, but also in media and broader public, since these two countries have a tremendous affect on world affairs and the development of their bilateral relations can considerably affect other players of the international system. The dissolution of the USSR and the end of the Cold War provided the two countries with an opportunity to build their bilateral relations based on principles other than deterrence and intimidation. Considering the two countries’ impact on world affairs, the author has decided to examine U.S.-Russia relations after the Cold War, paying special attention to the “reset” policy that was launched in 2009. The “reset” policy allowed the two countries to achieve a breakthrough on a number of controversial issues, including the new arms reduction treaty, Iran’s nuclear problem and WTO accession talks. However, the year of 2012 already indicated disturbing developments in U.S.-Russia relations, until the Ukraine crisis erupted, leading to the adoption of sanctions by the latter. Thereby, the thesis author has raised the following research question: Why did the U.S.-Russia “reset” policy launched in 2009 fail?

To examine U.S.-Russia bilateral relations and to answer the research question the author has chosen theories of realism and liberalism, which in turn allowed the author to derive two hypotheses. The first hypothesis, which finds its roots in the realist tradition, states that U.S. foreign policy pursued after the Cold War impelled Russia to employ counterbalancing behavior to counter U.S. global hegemony, which in turn led to the failure of the “reset” policy. The second hypothesis is derived from the liberal tradition and it states that Russia’s move toward a more authoritarian regime deteriorated U.S.-Russia relations, which in turn resulted in the failure of the “reset” policy. To verify the two hypotheses the author has collected the empirical evidence not only on the development of U.S.-Russia relations after the Cold War, but also on the development of Russia’s political regime, which allows the author to determine whether Russia’s slide toward authoritarianism could undermine the “reset”.

The thesis consists of four chapters and six subdivisions. In the first chapter the author outlays the research methodology. In the second chapter the author considers theories of realism and liberalism. The third chapter provides the empirical evidence, in particular, historical background of U.S.-Russia relations, development of U.S.-Russia relations after the Cold War, the “reset” of U.S.-Russia relations and development of political regime in Russia. In the fourth chapter the author analyzes the empirical material by applying theories of realism and liberalism and tries to uncover the reasons of the “reset” failure. In the conclusion part the author summarizes the main results of the analysis and provides the answer to the raised research question.

After studying theories of realism and liberalism and examining the development of U.S.-Russia relations and political regime in Russia, the thesis author came to conclusion that realism is better prepared to explain the failure of the “reset”. The author has compared fluctuations in U.S.-Russia relations with fluctuation in Russia’s political regime and discovered that there is no any clear correlation in this particular case. Moreover, since 2005, Russia has been constantly ranked as “not free”, however this fact did not prevent the United States from initiating the “reset” policy in order to establish partnership relations with Russia. Thereby, the author has dismissed the second hypothesis and concluded that Russia’s slide toward a more authoritarian regime was not the main reason of the “reset” failure. The author, however, confirmed the first hypothesis that stated that U.S. foreign policy pursued since the end of the Cold War produced Russia’s counterbalancing behavior that eventually undermined the “reset”.

The United States, as offensive realism anticipated, after the Cold War was looking for opportunities to enhance its power and influence. Thus, for example, NATO’s eastward expansion and U.S. growing influence in the region can be seen as rather understandable by realists such as Mearsheimer. However, this U.S. policy was perceived as a threat by Russia, which in turn compelled Russia to look for opportunities to preserve its traditional sphere of influence. When the two countries accomplished all the goals that were set during the “reset”, their competing world order visions, that have their roots in security concerns, led to the failure of establishing genuine partnership relations. For example, the latest bone of contention between the United States and Russia, that brought their bilateral relations to the lowest point since the breakup of the USSR, became the Ukrainian crisis. However, Russia’s actions in Ukraine must be understood in strategic terms, since Russia perceived U.S. growing influence in Eastern Europe as a threat and attempted to secure its influence in the region. Thereby, U.S. power and growing influence, especially in the territories of the post-Soviet republics, produced a backfire effect from the Russian side, which eventually undermined the “reset”.

List of Acronyms
Acronym: Signification:

ABM Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty

EU European Union

FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation

G7 Group of Seven

G8 Group of Eight

G20 Group of Twenty

GLONASS Global Navigation Satellite System

MFA Ministry of Foreign Affairs

NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NPT Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

NGO Non-governmental organization

New START New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

OSCE Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

RSFSR Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic

SORT Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty

START Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

START II Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II

START III Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty III

U.S. United States

UN United Nations

UNSC United Nations Security Council

USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

USAID United States Agency for International Development

WW II World War II

WTO World Trade Organization

WMD Weapons of Mass Destruction

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