Limited Possibilities and Possible Limitations
No. 1 2005 January/March

Congratulating George W. Bush on his re-election as U.S.
president, Vladimir Putin remarked that over the past four years
Russian-U.S. relations had markedly improved. He added, however,
that the dialog between the two countries would be difficult no
matter who occupied the White House. The second part of Putin’s
statement provokes no objections; as for the “improved” relations
comment, this must have been wishful thinking on the part of the
head of the Russian state.
In fact, bilateral relations between Russia and the U.S. have
become obviously superficial. Their present agenda includes nothing
fundamentally new compared with the Cold War era. The two countries
continue to ignore a majority of their mutual problems, while
focusing their efforts only on the traditional areas of cooperation
– security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and
trade in energy resources (the latter area of bilateral contacts
emerged not long ago, and achievements in this field remain the

Over the last few years, the bilateral relations, far from
growing stronger, have approached a dangerous point. The elites in
the two countries have developed feelings of mutual disillusionment
with each other, as well as the suspicion that the other side is
secretly nurturing hostile plans. Figuratively speaking, the
Russian-U.S. political space now consists of a small sitting-room
where the two presidents demonstrate their mutual sympathies before
the cameras, but beyond view is a large pantry into which they dump
the increasingly complicated problems. Actually, the presidents’
friendship has ceased to be a means for solving these problems and
is actually becoming a means for veiling them. Putin’s repeatedly
expressed wish to see George W. Bush re-elected president in 2004,
was yet more proof that relations between the two countries have
become fragile and unreliable and that their foundation, resting on
personal ties between the two leaders, has grown unstable.
On the horrible day of September 11, 2001, President Putin was the
first world leader to telephone Bush. He assured him that Russia
was on the U.S. side. Yet, despite the importance of that gesture,
it was obviously not enough for building new relations between
Moscow and Washington. It is obvious to the White House that Russia
has never become a true ally of the United States. The Kremlin, in
turn, has grounds for complaining that Bush, believed to be the
most “pro-Russian” president in modern U.S. history, continues to
force Russia out of its sphere of influence; Washington is ignoring
Moscow’s interests, especially in the countries of the former
Soviet Union.


The end of the Cold War introduced unique opportunities for a
strategic partnership between the U.S. and Russia, which, however,
have never been used. President Bill Clinton believed that support
for Russian democracy would be a major factor in the success of
U.S. foreign policy. Many influential members of his administration
– from Vice President Albert Gore to Deputy Secretary of State
Strobe Talbot – were involved in these efforts. However, the
Clinton administration built only unstable mechanisms for
coordinating mutual interests and conducting dialog in critical
periods. The construction of a fundamental long-term basis for new
relations was never started.

During the 2000 election campaign, George Bush accused the
Clinton administration of “losing Russia.” Yet, after Bush came to
power, he rejected all the mechanisms built before him and
Clinton’s idea of U.S. participation in building a new Russian
society and state. Bush reduced his Russia policy to relations
between official structures – and only in the military and
political spheres. This tendency markedly increased after September
2001. Hoping for Putin’s support in the war against terrorism, the
White House backed the Russian leader’s actions, ignoring the
Kremlin’s political evolution.

Washington’s strategy has proven to be erroneous: the
possibilities for its influence on Moscow have decreased
dramatically, while Russia is now farther away from democracy than
it was four years ago. (In all fairness, it must be said that,
apart from the White House’s position, these developments were also
caused by objective factors: the high oil prices and economic
growth in Russia have made it independent of international
financial institutions.)

Thus, two different U.S. strategies vis-И-vis Moscow have proven
to be unsuccessful. Today, there is no unity in the American
Establishment as to what policy should be pursued toward Russia, as
there is simply no more enthusiasm for the project.

The Bush administration has ceased to regard Russia as a
strategic ally. The reason is not only the problems affecting
Russia, but the White House’s general approach to international
relations. Actually, Washington has ceased to rely on allies, and
its foreign policy rests on the assumption that the United States,
the world’s most powerful military, political and economic nation,
does not need strategic support from the outside. America can (and
does) accept support from other countries within the frameworks of
temporary coalitions set up to solve one or another problem, but
tomorrow it may lose interest in these countries, or even declare
them enemies. Unfortunately, the Washington-Moscow relationship now
works according to this principle.

The transition to tactical military and political cooperation
and, using what U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has
called a “flexible” coalition, strategically leads U.S.-Russian
relations nowhere. Yet, it is convenient to the microscopic part of
the Establishment in both countries which has monopolized the
bilateral contacts; this monopolization is yet another serious
obstacle to progress. Washington continues the practice of focusing
its efforts on individual groups and personalities in Russia. This
model has long exhausted itself, and its further use will
effectively discredit the partnership idea.


Today, Washington does not see a role for Moscow to play in its
long-term prospects. It professedly ignores the fact that Russia,
as the owner of the largest nuclear arsenals outside America, is
the world’s only country that is capable of calling into question
America’s existence. Russia possesses colossal resources of
radioactive materials that can be used in the production of nuclear
weapons, as well as resources, technologies, practical knowledge
and specialists required for producing other types of WMD. Without
a partnership with Moscow, the U.S. will never be able to ensure
WMD nonproliferation.

Russia is a U.S. ally in the struggle against international
terrorism. Geopolitically, it remains a major power playing a key
role in Eurasia (the Caucasus and Central Asia) and is a close
neighbor to countries that are in the focus of Washington’s
attention – Iraq, Iran, China, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and
North Korea. Russia is a member of the UN Security Council, and
America finds it difficult to present its international initiatives
as legitimate without approval from the Security Council. Finally,
Russia can influence the world energy market, and may be a serious
alternative source of energy for the U.S. Russia’s integration into
the global economy would benefit American companies as it would
give them access to the Russian consumer, as well as to its labor

What prevents Washington from turning toward Russia?
The main obstacle is the worsening social and political situation
in this country. International practices in the second half of the
20th century demonstrated that a genuine strategic partnership
emerges only on the basis of a common vision and a common system of
values. Washington and Moscow do not share such a system; moreover,
the differences in their basic values have increased over recent
years. The U.S. no longer views Vladimir Putin as a democrat, at
least in the way this word is understood in the West. Washington is
confident that the growth of authoritarianism in Russia will
inevitably generate frictions between the two countries. Sooner or
later, the Kremlin’s actions will come into conflict with the
interests of America and its allies.

Washington is perplexed by the fact that President Putin,
despite his numerous general statements made since he came to
power, has never formulated a clear-cut strategy for developing
Russian-U.S. relations. As the White House has repeatedly made
clear in conversations with Moscow officials, it would like the
Russian leader to expound in public his vision of Russia’s U.S.
policy and thus send a clear signal to the Russian and world
elites. Yet, this has never happened, and the question remains
unanswered whether an alliance with the West is Moscow’s real
strategic choice.


Today, in the U.S., there are three opposing views on Russia.
Some people believe that the new Bush administration must make a
resolute statement about the developments in Russia. It must make
every effort to stop the development of authoritarian tendencies
there, and make it clear to the Kremlin that its degree of
democracy is a more important criterion for Washington in assessing
the situation in Russia than its readiness for cooperation in the
war against terrorism. The West has a powerful lever of influence –
through the Group of Eight, to which Russia was admitted during
Clinton’s presidency “as a favor,” as some people say. Many of them
are even ready for a confrontation with the incumbent Russian
government. This group, comprising Democrats and some
neo-Conservatives, is rather large and influential, especially in
the mass media and nongovernmental organizations.

Another group holds that America should take a critical yet
wait-and-see position and watch developments in Russia, namely,
following parliamentary and presidential elections and the takeover
of power. People holding such views believe that, on the one hand,
the Putin administration is a political reality with which the
world has to reckon with; on the other hand, U.S. interests in
Russia require the development of a long-term strategy for
relations with Moscow in the post-Putin period. This point of view
does not have many proponents, yet it has much influence in the
White House.

The third group combines some aspects of the first two groups’
approaches: it criticizes the Russian authorities on some major
issues and, at the same time, advocates mutual cooperation wherever
possible. It argues that influencing the situation in Russia and,
simultaneously, retaining prospects for a strategic partnership is
possible only through Moscow’s renewed involvement in a partnership
with the U.S. and new attempts to integrate Russia into the West –
but not through increased isolation of Russia in the world.
Proponents of this view speak of the possibility for a new
honeymoon between Russia and the U.S., like the one that took place
more than a decade ago. In order for this to work, they argue that
Washington must find the right model for encouraging Moscow’s
cooperation. This group includes some traditional Republicans and
moderate Democrats, among them some members of the John Kerry

The three groups, however different they may be, adhere to some
common principles. First, unpredictability and chaos in Russia
would pose a threat to the whole world. The West is interested in a
strong and stable Russia that would support order on its own
territory and make a real contribution to regional and global
security. Not everybody, however, thinks that Russia is now able to
cope with such a huge task.

Second, Russia must become a full-fledged democratic,
rule-of-law state that would respect human rights, as well as
possess a normal system of checks and counterbalances with a
transparent and accountable government. Such a Russia may join the
community of democratic states, in which the U.S. is strongly
interested. Yet, many analysts are skeptical about this
possibility, as well.

Third, adherence to the ideals of democracy and human rights is
not a political program of America, nor are they tactics used in
one or another situation, but the fundamental basis of the Western
world’s system, irrespective of what parties and presidents are in
power. It is from this principled position that the U.S. will
always assess Russia. The view, widespread among the Russian
political elite, that America will tolerate an authoritarian regime
in Russia because Washington is more interested in a stable and
predictable Russia, is naХve and vulgar. Historical experience, in
which Americans strongly believe, shows that it is only democracy
that can bring long-term stability and predictability.

Fourth, everybody in the United States agrees that Russia can be
a leading nation in Eurasia. And it is in U.S. interests to see
that Moscow stops demonstrating its imperial aspirations in its
foreign policy, on the one hand, and rids itself of the “besieged
fortress” syndrome, which is rooted in Russia’s past, on the other
hand. This syndrome provokes a certain amount of xenophobia in the
country’s domestic policy, together with an aggressive yet passive
approach to world affairs. The part of the American Establishment
that knows better Russian history, culture and mentality believes
that a change will come about only after several generations change
in the Russian elite.

Fifth, the West is interested in a united Russia, because its
disintegration would have grave consequences for global security
and stability. However, there is no agreement amongst the experts
as to whether Russia’s territorial integrity can be preserved, what
political and administrative methods can be used to solve this
problem, and how effective these methods can be. In particular,
there is no clear vision how the Chechen problem should be solved.
Today, the United States can offer Russia only general political
support; it is not prepared to offer Russia guarantees for the
unity and integrity of its territory. Nevertheless, negotiations on
this subject are possible. At the same time, Washington is not
ready to give such guarantees to countries in the South Caucasus
and Central Asia, yet it would not object to the inclusion of this
issue in the agenda of Russian-U.S. relations.

Sixth, everybody agrees that Russia can become a factor in
stabilizing the world energy market, and this would help the U.S.
diversify its sources of imported oil and gas. For this to happen,
however, Moscow must be politically prepared for a confrontation
with OPEC and some Arab oil producers, with which it presently
enjoys good relations. Russia, with its highly skilled manpower,
may turn into a small yet attractive investment and production
market for American businesses. The only obstacles to that is
Russia’s demographic crisis, as well as the lack of Western
business standards.

So, there is agreement in the American Establishment that the
U.S. must seek to achieve two mutually related strategic goals:
help Russia to become a full-fledged democracy, and consolidate its
role as an ally in the war against terrorism and the construction
of a new global security and stability system. These goals are
viewed as a package, because achieving only one of them is actually
impossible and would not meet U.S. interests. In any case, the two
countries should broaden their traditional bilateral agenda.


The main content of U.S.-Russian relations in recent years has
been not bilateral problems, but rather Moscow’s and Washington’s
interests in third countries and individual regions, above all in
Eurasia. To better understand the depth and complexity of the
problems, it is necessary to make a brief digression into the
The Cold War ended without any documents signed that could have
determined new global rules. During the years of confrontation
between the two systems, the American elite sought not a breakup of
the Soviet Union but rather to make radical changes in the Soviet
political system, together with a normalization of relations. As it
turned out, the West was completely unprepared for the Soviet
Union’s collapse. The emergence of a large group of newly
independent states in Eurasia triggered powerful tectonic shifts in
geopolitics, demography, the global economy, as well as in national
and religious systems that it is still impossible to estimate their
scale and essence.

The last-remaining superpower, euphoric about its victory in the
Cold War, realized only later that the disappearance of its main
enemy could have a negative influence on global security. The
former strategic alliances and geopolitical concepts collapsed;
international institutions began to tremble; foreign policy grew
improvisational; international law depreciated; and military
doctrines went to pieces in the face of new threats and

The future of those countries that comprised the “socialist
community” was perceived during the Cold War years in rather clear
terms:  they would eventually return to the community of
Western democracies. The prospects for a “non-Communist” Soviet
Union were completely unclear for the West. Thus, the need to
improvise in formulating a policy toward a dozen newly independent
states, which were at different development levels, took the
political and expert community unawares, as this community had used
to view everything through the prism of Moscow’s conduct. Having
won the ideological standoff, the United States and its allies
thought their mission was largely completed. Meanwhile, the rivalry
between Russia and the West for rebuilding the former Soviet
republics is only beginning.

The intellectual weakness of the Russian and Western political
elites, unable to correctly assess the fundamental changes brought
about by the collapse of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet
Union, was among the main reasons behind the present crisis in the
world order.

The zealous activity of the West in the post-Soviet space, and
especially that of the U.S., irritates Moscow. Yet, Russia has
never clearly formulated its priorities in such countries and
regions as Ukraine, the South Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle
East (Iran). Conflicts in the post-Soviet zone often break out not
because of differences in countries’ intentions or because they are
reluctant to recognize each other’s interests in a given region,
but because they have never taken the trouble to reconcile their
interests and have never distinctly formulated them.

Is such an agreement possible? In the early 1990s, Washington
gave its tacit consent for Moscow to keep its monopoly influence
over the Caucasus, while Moscow undertook to ensure stability and
order in the region. However, the situation in the Caucasus has
since only worsened, while not a single conflict has been settled;
the U.S. Establishment is growing doubtful about the expediency of
that agreement. While observing Russia’s policy in the former
Soviet republics, Washington is coming to the conclusion that this
policy is ineffective and that it increasingly comes into conflict
with U.S. interests.

According to Washington, many of the post-Soviet conflicts, for
example the one in the South Caucasus, require an international
format for negotiation and peacemaking efforts. The United States,
Russia and, to some extent, the European Union are key actors
capable of ensuring real sovereignty and territorial integrity for
the countries of the former Soviet Union. Without their
participation, regional stability is impossible. Washington is
interested in such stability, specifically because one of the
post-Soviet regions, the Caspian basin, is assigned a certain role
in supplying energy resources to the West. The rivalry between
Russia and the U.S. for influence in the post-Soviet space – to the
detriment of each other’s interests – is irrational and

Actually, Washington is very interested in Russia becoming its
major strategic partner in Eurasia – from the Caspian Sea to the
Far East. However, it is not certain that Russia is able to fulfill
this function. Russia’s relations with the former Soviet republics
are burdened with numerous mutual complaints. With countries in
Northeast Asia things are different. Russia, which has never become
part of Western civilization, has not been giving much care to the
development of serious relations with its Asian neighbors in the
last 15 years. As a result, it has lost many of its positions in
the East. Despite the fact that Russia remains one of the most
pro-American among the great Asian nations, and has tremendous
Eurasian experience, the U.S. does not view it as a strategic
partner in the region. Yet, the vacancy remains unoccupied, because
other potential candidates, for example, Turkey, Israel, India,
Pakistan or Japan, are unable to undertake this mission,

The elites, both in the U.S. and Russia, continue to feel mutual
distrust, mixed with elements of paranoia and malicious joy. The
mass media often paints a primitive and biased picture of the other
country, strengthening old stereotypes and creating new ones, while
ties between the two societies remain very weak. Washington is
under constant pressure from various kinds of international
lobbies, whose interests are often in conflict with Russia’s
interests. In the meantime, Russia does not lobby its own interests
in the U.S. and does nothing to shape a positive image there.


During his second presidency, George W. Bush will not take steps
to broaden the dialog with Russia, nor will Moscow receive any
long-term guarantees from him; Russia’s economic, social and
political development will not be among the U.S. leader’s
priorities. Bush needs the Kremlin only as an ally in the war
against terrorism, which suits Putin perfectly.

However, America’s foreign policy, unlike Russia’s, is not
presidential. The Congress, nongovernmental organizations,
businesses, mass media, and even members of the president’s team
will do anything to influence him. The Republican Party’s leaders
do not want to be accused in the 2008 elections of “losing Russia”
again, or of overlooking the destruction of democracy in the former
Soviet Union while building democracy in the Middle East, thus
putting U.S. national security in jeopardy. A lack of support from
the American Establishment, even on such a minor issue as Russia,
may complicate the solution of other problems for Bush.

Now it will, most certainly, be easier to change the U.S.
president’s position toward Russia. For the American
neo-Conservatives, who make the ideological foundation of the
incumbent U.S. government, Russia’s retreat from democratic
positions would be a serious defeat, which they would not tolerate.
The neo-Conservative ideology is much more imperialist and global
than even the views of the Democrats in Clinton’s times. The
neo-Conservatives give more priority to global democracy than to
the war against terrorism, believing it to be the most effective
way to counter terror. Knowing the messianic nature of George
Bush’s character and policies, one can assume that he will heed
such arguments.

During his second presidency, it will be important for Bush not
only to focus on his main mission, that of proliferating democracy
and freedom in the world, but also to rally his party around this
goal and even try to win over part of the Democrats and independent
politicians. Bush built his 2004 election campaign on a combination
of political and moral values, which won him unprecedented support
among the voters. It is these values that Russia is now retreating
from, thus dissociating itself from Bush, the neo-Conservatives and
the realistically minded Republicans, not to mention America as a

In light of the abovementioned views, Moscow should give up the
convenient “simplicity” in its relations with the U.S. and initiate
a new, broad dialog with Washington, even though it may not always
be pleasant.

For example, in the dialog on the nonproliferation of weapons of
mass destruction, Moscow should focus attention on ways to deny
non-state structures access to the WMD market, and to build ground-
and space-based elements for a joint ABM system. The Bush
administration will not sign new long-term security treaties with
anyone, as it will prefer to keep its hands free. This factor adds
special importance to the efforts to broaden constant contacts
between the U.S. and Russia in the nuclear field and to overcome
mutual mistrust. The potentials of the two countries and the age of
Russia’s WMD make it necessary to consider the possibility of an
accidental nuclear war. The United States and Russia must
immediately revise all aspects of their military doctrines that can
be interpreted as being directed against each other.

As regards Chechnya, Washington does not view this problem as
Russia’s internal affair – to Moscow’s obvious displeasure. Yet,
the motives of the U.S. administration differ from the motives of a
majority of European countries, for example. The Europeans give top
priority to the human rights issue in the troubled Chechen
Republic. For the U.S., they are aware of this problem, however,
the White House is more concerned about Russia’s inability to cope
with the terrorists and remove those factors that promote terrorist

Washington views the situation in Chechnya as proof that Russia
is incapable, politically and militarily, of ensuring security in
its sector of the common front in the war against terrorism. The
territory of the former Soviet Union has turned into one of the
most explosive and corrupt regions of the world, while Russia has
proven to be a weak link in the antiterrorist coalition. In the
post-Soviet space, areas have emerged which are being used as
training and rehabilitation bases for terrorists. In a worst-case
scenario, Russia, unable to eradicate corruption in its army and
law enforcement agencies, may turn from a victim of terror into its

Thus, the U.S. administration, unlike the Europeans, tends to
accept the Kremlin’s arguments that Chechnya is one of the fronts
in the global war against international terrorism. One should bear
in mind, though, that the presidential administration of the U.S.
is not omnipotent in formulating its policy, as it is oriented to
the views of different groups and is under the influence of
different factors. This circumstance partly explains the West’s
benevolence toward emissaries of the Chechen separatist leaders and
their readiness to give them political asylum, much to Moscow’s
dismay. The pro-Chechen lobby in the U.S. is now much more
effective than its pro-Russian counterpart, and Moscow should start
making serious efforts in order to change public opinion in America
in its favor. Otherwise, courts meeting to decide whether or not
one or another Chechen leader should be given political asylum
would always be inclined toward them, especially if the Russian law
enforcement bodies continue submitting unconvincing and
unprofessionally prepared documents to their foreign

A radical change in Washington’s attitude to the Chechen
resistance would require serious and comprehensive accords between
the two countries. The Chechen issue must be included in a large
package of agreements on cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Stepping up this cooperation and raising it to a higher level would
help create a favorable atmosphere in Russian-U.S. relations. This
factor would cause the two allies to help each other with their
problems – the U.S. problem in the Middle East, and the Russian
problem in Chechnya.

Mending economic ties between the U.S. and Russia is a more
serious and long-term factor in mutual relations than the war
against terrorism or efforts to stop WMD proliferation. It should
not be supposed, however, that the Bush administration will be able
to speed up this long process. But economy can diversify the
bilateral agenda. For example, Washington will continue supporting
Russia’s early accession to the World Trade Organization, while the
two countries may negotiate their large-scale cooperation in
rebuilding Iraq, especially its oil industry.

The U.S. has a vested interest in a radical improvement of
Russia’s energy infrastructure, as it would like to ensure reliable
Russian energy supplies to the world market. Washington argues that
Russia will have difficulty joining in efforts to meet the global
demand for energy, although it continues to grow. This is because
Russia’s cheap oil is almost depleted, and the development of new
oil fields requires heavy, years-long investment. The U.S. can help
Russia build a modern energy infrastructure and make this country
more attractive to foreign investors.

Russia’s stepped-up efforts to take control of the energy
industry do not inspire much enthusiasm in Washington, yet they
will not cause the White House to stop its cooperation with Moscow.
Yet, the U.S. is not interested in the “energy switch” becoming the
key and, most importantly, unpredictable element of Russia’s
foreign policy toward former Soviet republics and other countries.
It is impossible to say yet where Russia’s present geopolitical
convulsions will lead it, nor what the final priorities will be for
its foreign strategy.

The centralization of power in Russia will reduce opportunities
for U.S. investment in regional projects, as economic diversity
will decrease and the Russian market will exist within limited
political frameworks. The Kremlin’s growing control over the
regions, which decreases their independence, causes U.S. companies
to lose interest in local projects. Nevertheless, the American
business community is certainly interested in what will happen to
Russia’s Far East, Siberia and territories bordering on China in
approximately 20 to 30 years. What will Russia’s borders look like?
What will the environmental situation, political risks, economic
security, and regional demography be like? Finally, who will be
making the decisions in Russia?

Anyone speaking about a strategic partnership between Russia and
the U.S. must understand that no one can achieve parity with
America today. Yet, the United States, at the same time, is unable
to cope with many problems on its own. These problems are much
easier to solve on the basis of partner relations with other
countries. In Eurasia, Russia can and must become such a partner.
To this end, it must step up its dialog with the U.S. and offer a
wide range of opportunities, including non-trivial ones.

In particular, Moscow and Washington could seriously discuss
variants of their partnership based on regional parity. The U.S.
and Western Europe coexisted for a long time in such a manner: in
exchange for the security and protection of their interests, the
European countries agreed to a reasonable limitation of their
political independence. Today, we know what they gained from that
partnership in the long run. Now, as the political and economic
ambitions of the European Union are growing, the Old World is again
facing the issue of maintaining a balance between European and
American interests. Russia is facing such an issue for the first
Let us suppose that Russia undertakes a mission of representing,
protecting and implementing Washington’s fundamental interests that
are not in conflict with Russia’s own interests. These interests
would be in Eurasia and, above all, in the post-Soviet space where
Russia plays a key role. In exchange, the U.S. will represent and
protect Russia’s interests in other regions of the world, for
example, in Africa and, strange as it may seem, in Europe. The
experience of U.S.-oriented countries, such as Poland or Turkey,
shows that Warsaw and Ankara, in promoting their interests in the
European Union, actively use their relations with Washington as an
instrument of their European policies: the EU cannot ignore U.S.
pressure. Considering the difficulties that Moscow is having in its
dialog with the EU, support of its mighty overseas partner would
provide Russia with much support.

Russia needs a long-term agreement with the world’s leaders
within the framework of efforts to achieve mutual security and
build a new world order. Russia and the U.S. have never held
negotiations of this kind, but these talks could be a serious step
in building a strategic partnership between the two countries. A
partnership that is capable of successfully developing – even if
relations between the two leaders become strained.