Saturday, August 6, 2016

Russia and America: Destined for Conflict?

From Dimitri K. Simes, at the National Interest:
THE NEXT American president will face the most serious challenge from Russia since the end of the Cold War or, for that matter, since the early 1980s, when the United States and Yuri Andropov’s Soviet Union actively confronted one another around the globe. Russia today is increasingly an angry, nationalist, elective monarchy, and while it is still open for business with America and its allies, its leaders often assume the worst about Western intentions and view the United States as the “main enemy”—indeed, a new poll finds that 72 percent of Russians consider the United States the country most hostile to Russia. Worse, Moscow has been prepared to put its money where its mouth is in proceeding with a massive military modernization. The Russian government is simultaneously tightening domestic political and police controls and seeking new alliances to balance pressures from the United States and its allies and partners.

It is important not to oversimplify this situation. It is not a reenactment of the Cold War; history rarely repeats itself so precisely. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not a superpower and its top officials are realistic about their country’s military, geopolitical and economic limitations. Russia does not have a universal ideology predicated on the West as an enemy. In fact, Putin and his associates regularly profess interest in resuming cooperation with the United States and its allies—on terms acceptable to the Kremlin. The Russian government is eager to obtain foreign investment and access to Western technology, which requires normalcy in relations with the West.

We cannot be sure how Putin and his associates would respond if the United States and its allies were prepared to reshape their policy towards Russia by defining their interests more narrowly, being less categorical about Russian domestic practices, putting a premium on avoiding confrontation and, when possible, even engaging in cooperation with Russia. All that can be said at this point is that Russia’s trajectory is alarming, but probably not yet irreversible...
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