As we move towards 2012 and elections in Russia and the United States, the issues of how each country will manage the relationship in the future will become more urgent. On both sides there is a high level of uncertainty about the results of the elections (unless Putin runs alone without significant opposition). In that case, on the Western side, there will be a high degree of anxiety. Even as this is written both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are sparing for political positions while various partisans are urging both to run.
But the dual elections set in motion, on each side, a national assessment of the success of their policies of cooperation. The election process will also, in some cases, initiate a debate whether cooperation is worthwhile and create an opportunity by some elements to develop opposition to the other side’s actions or policies.
One of the problems is that there are interests in both Russia and the United States who would like to undermine cooperation and reconciliation between Russia and America. On the Russian side, there are right-wing nationalists who are deeply anti-West and still view the U.S. in Cold War terms. Further, there are military elements that have their own agenda and desire to create their own “bogeyman” to gain resources and influence.
On the American side, there remain the neo-cons and other conservative groups who, like their Russian counterparts, still remain in their Cold War stupor. Further, they do not want to admit that the Obama “Reset” has been largely successful.
Hopefully the respective leaders in Russia and America will defend the New START treaty as a gain for all sides. Hopefully the forces at work in Russia, and especially President D. Medvedev, will continue to argue that Russia has more to gain by cooperation than confrontation. But much remains unknown about the debate on this question (and others) within the Kremlin.
In Russia, Putin has used past elections to advance a strident nationalistic and anti-Western/American stance which played well at home but at the cost of a self-induced rise in right-wing nativistic opinion. Will this play out again as we move towards 2012? Medvedev has made a stake in the U.S. – Russia relationship and developed an image as a modernizer and moderate reform leader. Cooperation with the West is part of his strategy. But Prime Minister Putin has continued his rhetorical nationalism and stance of skepticism and criticism of America and its global role.
Obama’s “Reset” initiative has been largely successful with the New START treaty, Russian cooperation in getting key transit rights into Afghanistan via that country, and Russia’s stand down in the UN Security Council on the Resolution on Libya. There has been a host of cooperative actions and programs under the umbrella of summit meetings and other contacts. Russia has also gained American support of its membership in the World Trade Organization. There are still key differences including Iran’s nuclear ambitions and European missile defense. Further progress on nuclear and non-proliferation issues, confidence building measures, and economic, science, environmental, and technological cooperation would enhance and solidify the mutual structure of common gains.
Russian analysts and Kremlin leaders, however, must also be pondering the possibilities of what will happen if Obama is not reelected. They must also be worried that if anyone of the likely Republican presidential candidates, given the composition of that ideological right-wing field, won, they would undo all that has been carefully built up over the last three years. That must have them worried and wondering if they have made a shaky “bet” on a lasting and solid relationship with America.
While the American election will be focused on domestic unemployment, the economy, and possibly the results of a dysfunctional Republican Congressional stance on the debt fiasco, there will also be some debate on Obama’s foreign policy, especially among those voters most knowledgeable and involved in international programs, trade, and generally global issues. Nevertheless, unpredictable events in Russia and nearby nations of the old Soviet Union could, like the Georgia conflict, bring this relationship into public debate.
We will be examining the impact of the coming elections and developments in Russia-U.S. relations over the coming months and welcome comments on its significant impact on security and related foreign policy issues. Please look for new posts on this.
And do add your comments and questions.
By Harry C. Blaney III.