Russia and China in the Mirror of U.S. Policies
No. 4 2007 October/December
Igor A. Zevelev

MGIMO University (Moscow State Institute of International Relations)
Moscow, Russia
Doctor of Science (Political Science)
Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center, Washington, USA
Global Fellow: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/person/igor-zevelev


ORCID: 0000-0003-0579-2679
Scopus Author ID: 6506359127
ResearcherID: AAH-5983-2021
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=OrfxYF4AAAAJ


E-mail: [email protected]
Address: One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20004, USA

Mikhail Troitsky

Mikhail Troitsky is an associate professor at the Department of International Relations and Russia’s Foreign Policy of the MGIMO University. He holds a Doctorate in Political Science.

The image of
Russia and China as seen by the American political elite has become
increasingly similar over the past two to three years, and the
process has developed in two directions.

First, the
Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are now
predominately viewed as large countries that have market economies
and authoritarian regimes.

Second, both
countries objectively obstruct the increase of American influence
on the global stage.

Still, the
contents and style of American policy-making, as well as the tone
of the rhetoric, vary noticeably depending on which of the two
countries – Russia or China – is the case in point. Being
neighbors, the two nations share the vision of the system of
international relations that the U.S. is trying to build in the
world today. Neither Moscow nor Beijing accepts Washington’s desire
to remodel the world according to its own whims, and both have put
up stiff, systematic resistance to these developments. And yet,
China’s domestic and foreign policies do not provoke a sharp
reaction from Washington as do the actions taken by

On the whole,
the U.S. takes a more businesslike, restrained and positive
approach toward China, while Russia’s domestic political reality
and international activity are often vilified. Moscow ranks above
Beijing if we consider the emotional taint of U.S. assessments.
This is evidenced in the calls for containment – as demanded in
official U.S. documents and expert reports; such a voice is heard
more explicitly when references are made to Russia.

In 2001, the
Russian sector of George W. Bush’s policies was bolstered by a
certain degree of trust, while China was viewed as a strategic
contender. But the U.S. administration produced clear signs by the
end of the 43rd American president’s second term of office that the
unexpectedly smooth relations with Communist China, and the equally
unexpected tensions in contacts with Russia, will become part of
his political legacy.

Beginning in
2005, one of the objectives set down by the Bush administration was
to encourage China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the
international order, as Robert Zoellick, who now is president of
the World Bank, put it. At the same time, Washington constantly
makes relations with Russia contingent on the latter’s progress
along the path toward liberal democracy and its policies on the
post-Soviet space.

The conclusions
of the Council on Foreign Relations in its reports on Russia (in
2006) and on China (in 2007) pulled no punches. The report on
Russia proposes to build relations along the principle of selective
cooperation rather than partnership, which is dismissed outright as
impossible. “The very idea of a ‘strategic partnership’ no longer
seems realistic,” it says.

But when it
comes to relations with China, the experts recommend Beijing’s
broader inclusion in global processes, albeit with putting certain
checks on its growing might. They reject direct containment
methods.  The report suggests that the U.S. administration
“pursue a strategy focused on the integration of China into the
global community” and “must focus on creating and taking advantage
of opportunities to build on common interests in the region and as
regards a number of global concerns.”

In other words,
the U.S. increasingly views Russia as a failed partner, while China
is viewed as a rapidly growing power that should be integrated in
the global order that is being founded by the Americans.

What are the
reasons for the dark sentiments regarding Russia, and quiet
pragmatism that greets China? Why is U.S. paranoia toward rising
China only talked about in regard to the pro-Taiwan lobby… while
the ‘brutally growling Russian bear’ is a typical cliché for
even the most respectable publications? Why do official U.S.
documents cautiously urge Beijing to continue moving toward
democracy and openness, but issue at the same time stiff-lip
warnings to Russia that future relations are contingent on its
conduct? Most importantly, the question is: What should Russia do
in this situation and is the Chinese model of relations with the
U.S. generally possible or desirable for Russia?

and China as Global Opponents to the U.S.

A comparison of
Russia and China’s traditional potentials leads to the conclusion
that the latter has better chances of becoming America’s main
global contender in the 21st century; the only question that
remains is what forms this competition will take.
China has much
better gross parameters of economic performance. Its GDP purchasing
power parity totaled 77 percent of U.S. GDP in 2006, versus
Russia’s indicator that was just 13 percent. Even if calculated at
the current exchange rate, China will surpass the U.S. by 2027,
Goldman Sachs investment bank experts claim. The fact that Chinese
factories manufactured more cars than the U.S. in 2006 boldly
attests to China’s industrial growth. Meanwhile, Russia’s economy
will most likely make up much the same percentage of U.S. economy
in the coming decades, even if its growth rates remain as high as
in the past seven years. Moreover, the demographic gap between
Russia and the U.S. will continue to grow. By 2050, Russia’s
population may shrink to 108 million people from the current 144
million, while the number of Americans may increase to 400 million
people from the current 300 million.

Russia’s nuclear
and missile capabilities aside, China poses many more risks to the
U.S. as a global contender. For the past 16 years, Beijing has been
implementing an ambitious program of modernizing its Armed Forces,
including space, naval and missile elements. The Pentagon has
stated in reports on the Chinese Army, which it started publishing
in 2000, that the continuing lack of transparency of China’s
defense spending alarms the Americans. This alarm grew especially
after a space test in January 2007 when a Chinese ballistic missile
destroyed a satellite in a low-earth orbit.

Bates Gill, a
notable American expert on China who is also director of the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and his co-author
Martin Kleiber voiced deep concern in the U.S. Foreign Affairs

“Put bluntly,
Beijing’s right hand may not have known what its left hand was
doing. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its strategic rocket
forces most likely proceeded with the ASAT testing without
consulting other key parts of the Chinese security and foreign
policy bureaucracy – at least not those parts with which most
foreigners are familiar. This may be a more troubling prospect than
anything the test might have revealed about China’s military
ambitions or arms control objectives.”

The latest U.S.
Quadrennial Defense Review Report characterized China as a country
that “has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the
United States and field disruptive military technologies that over
time offset traditional U.S. military advantages absent U.S.
counter strategies.”

China has a far
less pluralistic and open political system than Russia. On the
whole, Russia’s bureaucratic methods of adopting decisions are much
closer to American than Chinese methods. The shortcomings of the
Russian system of administration were found in the U.S. system in
certain phases of its development, too, but the Americans
eventually eliminated them.

The impression
that Washington gets from the prospects of China’s traditional
might is magnified by the latter’s opaqueness for ‘mild’ American
influences, which the U.S. hopes to implement in its efforts to
channel Chinese resources to alleys it deems appropriate, or avoid
the risks of experiencing their impact. However, China is far less
perceptive toward American values than Russia.

The Chinese have
developed a durable consensus with regard to the repulsion of
American views on democracy and political plurality. Apart from a
few dissidents, even the forces that consider themselves to be
relatively liberal speak in favor of cautious, slow-paced reforms
while taking account of China’s uniqueness. By contrast, Russian
‘Westernizers’ have enough intellectual, if not political,
strength. Also, Russia has a pro-American political opposition to
the current political course, and the authorities here are much
more tolerant of it than the Chinese.

Russia and
China display characteristic differences on issues concerning the
environment. Russia joined the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and
undersigned a number of obligations. Moscow has no problem
observing these rules since its greenhouse gas emissions are far
below the limits specified in the protocol. Contrary to that, China
proceeds from the principle of “a diversified common
responsibility,” while its own emissions continue to grow. Beijing
generally views the ecological agenda of global policies as an
attempt by Western countries to hobble the fast developing Chinese
economy and to impose unfavorable models of development on it.
Beijing dismisses various environmental standards as unfair and has
no plans for translating them into practice until Chinese affluence
levels approach those of the West.

Even in the early
years of this decade, when the world generally had a positive view
of the U.S., Beijing looked at the Americans’ role on the global
stage rather apprehensively. The refusal to accept American
hegemony is one of the most persistent aspects of Chinese rhetoric
in foreign policy. Beijing had a much less stringent agreement with
Washington on the grounds of fighting with terrorism than Moscow.
The atmosphere of Sino-American relations saw no major changes
after the events of 9/11; Beijing apparently felt some satisfaction
that Washington had shifted its attention to the Middle East. On
the contrary, the U.S. military buildup in Central Asia made China
highly apprehensive long before 2005, when Russia officially voiced
its solidarity with China’s position at a summit of the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization in Astana. Beijing also worries about its
diminishing influence in Pakistan, about Japan’s Self-Defense
Forces operating in the Middle East, as well as the U.S. Army’s
involvement in the antiterrorist operation in the Philippines. All
of this has fueled China’s fear of becoming encircled.

It might seem
that the above factors would make China, and not Russia, America’s
chief opponent on the international stage. Given this situation,
relations between two superpowers – the existing and the potential
one – should have deteriorated. So why does America’s irritation
focus predominately on Russia? The presence of anti-Russian lobbies
that play a disproportionate role in Washington, as well as the
absence of powerful economic groups that might create a good
balance and build good relations with Russia – exactly the same way
as with China – cannot fully explain the U.S.

For an answer, it
is important to remember that the U.S. policy-forming community
does not look at Russia as a country that is radically different
from it, as it believes China is.

On the one
hand, Russia has a much closer historical, cultural and
institutional relationship to the West, and poses less of a
strategic threat to it in the long term.

On the other
hand, the Americans pinned much greater hopes on Russia, since they
believed it shared more similarities with the U.S. than China.
Democratically minded intellectuals, including the media community,
thought in the early 1990s that Russia would fully align with the
West and join its ranks in the short term.

The U.S.
political and expert community hoped that Russia would follow,
albeit with a delay, in the footsteps of the Central European
countries, since those countries had recovered from the painful
social and economic reform process and had joined Western
institutions, like NATO and the European Union. Certain circles in
Washington believed that accession of Central European states to
NATO in the mid-1990s should have motivated Russia to cooperate
with the bloc. This line of logic suggested that Moscow had no
other options than to take this geopolitical blow quietly. The
experts thought that following NATO’s expansion, Russia would have
to initiate an all-embracing interaction with it, accepting the
inescapable reality of the post-bipolar world. In reality, the
expansion did not help these hopes to materialize. In fact, it only
worsened Russian-U.S. relations, which had slightly improved after

Alexei Bogaturov,
an authoritative analyst of international affairs, commented that
“Moscow was preoccupied with the job of winning the love of Western
partners in the first half of the 1990s,” but “in the second half
of the decade Russian diplomats got the task of minimizing the
damage from major international processes, in which Russia was
engaged objectively although it had virtually no role in regulating

The gap between
expectations and reality prompted the West to perceive Russia as a
European deviant, a country whose internal life and international
rhetoric and actions did not match the customary stereotypes.
According to convictions in certain American milieus, as a
transition country Russia should have craved for stronger ties with
the U.S., tirelessly copying American values and practices of state
administration. Yet it showed no willingness to do so; this only
made the U.S. want to teach Russia more and transform it into a
friend from an alien. Thus, this opened a paradox concerning
Russia: instead of China, which deserved much more criticism for
its practices, the U.S. targeted Russian behavior.

On a practical
plane, Russian-U.S. relations are pegged to a constantly changing
list of acute problems that involves NATO expansion, internal
political strife in Ukraine and Georgia, projected oil pipeline
routes, the future status of Kosovo, plans for deploying elements
of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech
Republic, and Russian as well as U.S. military presence in Central
Asian countries. All these nodes of tensions are located along a
broad arch spanning an area from Central Europe to
Southeast/Eastern Europe to the Caucasus to the Caspian littoral
zone to Central Asia. The security interests of the U.S., as a
global power, and Russia, as a regional power, collide inside these
transforming regions.

China and the
U.S. also compete for influence in various parts of Asia, but this
competition is much more positional and rarely results in crises in
bilateral relations. Beijing always abides by the principle of
partnership in its dialog with neighboring countries, and widely
uses multinational formats to this end (ASEAN Plus Three, APEC, the
East Asia Summit, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization).
China’s growing demand for energy resources to feed its economic
growth prompts it to expand its presence in Africa and Latin
American countries. This naturally puts the U.S. government on
alert, yet this does not force Washington and Beijing onto the path
of mutual rebukes at the governmental level.
A New
Geopolitical Triangle

The search for
new partners that would be prepared to rebuff Washington’s advance
caused Moscow to find an ally in Beijing back in the mid-1990s. At
the time, cooperation with the Chinese was viewed as very
promising. The leitmotif of China’s foreign policy rhetoric –
namely, the prevention of any sort of hegemony in the world at
large and in Asia in particular – is consistent with Russia’s
strategic thinking. Russia’s concept of national security, adopted
in 2000 and formally still in effect today, described major threats
as “the desire of some countries and interstate unions to scale
down the role of existing mechanisms of international security,”
i.e. to act unilaterally. Naturally, this description was a direct
reference to the U.S. and NATO. China’s New Concept of Security, a
document issued two years before the Russian paper, revealed a
strikingly similar vision. Beijing’s list of fundamental threats
included hegemony, policies from the position of force, Cold War
mentality, expansion of defense unions, and the consolidation of
military blocs.

Russia and
China have developed a special strategy of responding to the U.S.
They have not built a full-blown union to counteract the Americans
openly. Instead, they try to counterbalance American influence, but
in a tentative manner. Neither Moscow nor Beijing put themselves
into overt opposition to Washington, because at that point they
would risk provoking tough retaliatory measures. They only seek to
demonstrate that there are alternatives to cooperating with the
United States on certain issues.
Russia and
China’s policies toward Washington proceed from the assumption that
U.S. political and economic power in the world is getting weaker,
while their own power is growing. Analysts in Moscow and Beijing
draw this conclusion from a range of considerations. First, their
economic growth rates are well above those evidenced in the
developed countries, including the U.S.

Secondly, Moscow
and Beijing interpret the problems that U.S. troops are now
experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sign of the breakdown of
the unipolar system of international relations presided over by the
U.S. Considering that the U.S. military doctrine relied on its
ability to conduct two large-scale wars simultaneously, Russian and
Chinese observers are inclined to believe that the era of
unilateral actions, as set down by U.S. foreign policy, is drawing
to a close. The mistakes of American diplomacy in what concerns the
maintenance of nonproliferation regimes, especially with reference
to Iran, only serve to intensify this impression.

According to
Dr. Alexei Arbatov, “the U.S. is losing its influence in Western
Europe, in the Far East and even in its traditional fiefdom of
Latin America.”

Third, the
Russians and Chinese believe that the violation of human rights (in
Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and in the CIA’s secret interrogation
facilities in Eastern Europe) heavily impaired America’s image and
the concept of ‘soft power.’ Many Russian and Chinese experts say
that the global jump in anti-American sentiments since the outbreak
of the Iraqi campaign increases the list of countries that would
like to cut Washington’s omnipotence down to size.

Last but not
least, the internal political struggle inside the U.S. around the
prospects for the Iraqi campaign and the absence of unanimity on
the issue among America’s ruling elites are frequently interpreted
in Russian and Chinese political quarters as one more symptom of a
weakening America.

Moscow and
Beijing expect that these circumstances will put brake on America’s
ability to press forward with its international objectives – if not
over the short term (after three to five years), then definitely
over the medium and long term (after ten to fifteen years). That is
why Russia and China resolutely refuse to follow the lead of the
U.S. in politics in the capacity of junior partners.

Russia’s foreign-policy community overlooks an important
consideration in showing Moscow and Beijing’s assessments of the
global situation and relations with the U.S. The fact is that
Beijing eagerly passes on to Moscow the leading role in rebuffing
U.S. policies that both find unacceptable. Meanwhile, China has
secured a less turbulent and more pragmatic interaction with the
U.S. The Chinese model combines an independent line in
international policies, the rejection of attempts to promote
internal political problems to the agendas of bilateral relations,
and some measure of political distancing from the West, since
Chinese leaders claim that Western experience and recommendations
cannot be applied directly due to the present realities in

safeguards its own interests and has its own assessment of risks
from the U.S. Moreover, it is interested in an intense level of
contrariness between Moscow and Washington. China benefits when
Russia is seen as the main critic of U.S. policies and,
consequently, assumes the full force of retaliation for its stance.
The Chinese fear rebuffing U.S. policies – as it might lead to
their isolation – much more than the Russians. For instance,
Chinese ambassadors to the UN do not veto Security Council
resolutions on their own, unless these concern Taiwan. China would
unlikely veto any resolution on Kosovo’s independence if Russia
abstained from the vote.

It is difficult
to imagine a situation where Beijing would invest its efforts to
block disadvantageous American initiatives, while Moscow,
preferring to remain in the shadows, confines itself to supporting
China’s tough criticism of the U.S. Such an approach would invite a
tough response from Washington against China and would call into
question Beijing’s very strategy of a ‘peaceful rise,’ which
implies the gradual accumulation of strength in a way that would
not provoke other powers. Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the
‘Chinese economic miracle,’ said China should play an inconspicuous
role in the international arena and never seek leading parts. The
current Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, stresses that the government
will continue focusing on internal development for the next two

What Does
THE Chinese Path Offer to Russia?

continues to drift away from the West under political pressure from
the U.S., which is not ready for compromises with the Russian
capital. Meanwhile, advocates of the ‘Chinese model’ of relations
with the U.S. have begun to appear in Russia. But before we make
any sort of final choice, it is worth thinking once again about the
costs that model implies.

Depending on its
choice, Russia should be ready to give up substantial dialog with
the West in various formats, including the G8, the Council for
Partnership and Cooperation with the European Union, the
Russia-NATO Council, as well as in multilateral structures like the
Council of Europe and the OSCE. Quite possibly, it would have to
abandon those international clubs of its own accord, thus
demonstrating the level of its self-confidence and independence
from the West.

Moscow has
already begun to revoke some of its agreements with the West. It
has imposed a moratorium on the 1990 Treaty for Conventional Armed
Forces in Europe, and it may pull out of the 1987 Intermediate
Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. But these measures concern the arms
control regimes only. As for institutions that ensure political
dialog with the West, the Russian leadership still treasures
membership in them. Would it be wise for Russia to dramatically cut
back its presence in these institutions?

accession to the G8, together with the establishment of
institutions for greater interaction with the EU and NATO, is
viewed, at least in Russia, as a major political victory of the
past decade; in this sense, Vladimir Putin reveals a similarity
with his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. The two shared the same
willingness to sit at the table with their Western partners in the
capacity of permanent participants in the dialog, not as
individuals who are invitees on separate occasions only (like China
at the summits with the EU, or on the sidelines of the G8). Russian
leaders give much value to the trust that Western partners have in
them. Regardless of the problems with NATO, Russia’s partners in
the Russia-NATO Council show much more credibility toward Russian
leaders than toward the Chinese in strategic areas like nuclear
nonproliferation, the development of defense systems and doctrines
concerning the use of Armed Forces. Against this background, even a
cursory glance of China’s documents on foreign policy and military
strategy enforces the belief that Chinese officials act strictly in
line with the proverb that says, “Man has a tongue to conceal his

A decade has
passed since the establishment of Russia-NATO communications
agencies and Russia’s accession to the G8 and the Council of
Europe. Moscow has done a huge (and often underestimated) amount of
work to adapt itself with its Western partners. It has managed to
establish itself in the same institutions with the West and has
learned how to show initiative at Western forums. Russia’s
presidency in the G8 fairly matched the intellectual and
organizational standards accepted by the other seven member-states.
Russian diplomats have obviously found the experience of building
interaction among NATO allies in the North-Atlantic Council quite
convenient for strengthening integrated unions on the post-Soviet
space. Russia has learned to produce weighty arguments and to
defend its positions even during contacts with human rights
fundamentalists who set the tune at the Council of Europe. It would
be highly irrational to throw away the obligations that Russia has
successfully adapted itself to over the past decade, in the course
of which it gained additional levers of influencing its Western

It is true that
complaints about the liberalization of economic and political life
in Russia, which the West frequently transmits through the
institutions it shares with Russia, are often irritating. But let
us keep it in mind that Western countries put forward the same
demands for themselves, as well (consider ecological standards, for
example). Nor do they avoid self-criticism when they are called out
on violations of human rights. Western politicians and media do not
have a tradition of bowing to the powers that be. They have often
pushed hard on the touchiest issues, like the U.S. base in
Guantanamo, CIA jails in Europe and the tapping of telephone
conversations inside America. Beyond the United States, they report
how the police in Britain observe potentially disloyal descendants
from Moslem countries.

It is this
permanent move forward and unwillingness to stop at what has been
accomplished that provides a criterion for judging whether or not a
country will be accepted into Western clubs, a membership that
Russia praises highly. However, Moscow sometimes looks at its
affiliation only from the angle of its own status and ability to
gain concessions, not from the angle of growing responsibility or
search for compromises.

Also, U.S.
criticism that is aimed at a particular country does not
necessarily mean an innate hostility toward it, or a desire to
weaken it as an adversary. On the contrary, it may stand for
recognition of basic community. As regards the absence of polemics
between the U.S. and another country, this may indicate the absence
of shared views and the irrationality of discussions on political
principles, simply because the differences between the two
countries may be too big.

Washington and
Beijing do not criticize each other in a harsh manner, but there
are good chances that they are moving toward a real mutual
containment. The upcoming elections in the U.S. may conceal
evidence of this tendency for the present time, as aggressive
anti-Chinese rhetoric usually does not help presidential or
congressional candidates win votes. But the military and
intelligence community, where the planning period is longer than
four years and is void of electoral pressures, are developing a far
greater concern over Chinese policies.

China belongs
to a group of countries that can afford to disregard compliance
with the increasingly complicated criteria of the ‘Western clubs’
and maintain dialog with them at the same time. The West envisions
those countries as capable of being equal and strong but alien all
the same. Beijing, for its part, does not seek to formalize
political dialog with the West at the institutional level. One
example is the conflict that erupted over the return of a U.S. spy
plane and its crew that made a forced landing on the island of
Hainan in April 2001. The Chinese were able to demonstrate a tough
attitude during the conflict since they had no formal obligations
to discuss problems of that kind in institutions comparable to the
Russia-NATO Council. China also finds it easy to repel U.S.
pressure to revalue the yuan, as the two countries do not have
common institutions that would enforce a compromise.

Finally, if one
assumes that America’s ability to reach its objectives in global
politics is really losing strength, Russia will not stand to
benefit from such a scenario. In such an event, the U.S. would be
forced to loosen its geopolitical grip in neighboring regions and
the issue of admitting the post-Soviet countries into NATO will be
put aside. But whether or not Russia will get any extra dividends
from America’s weakening and isolationism is not immediately clear.
The medal has the other side, too, as proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction and the spread of extremist movements in the
Middle East – and possibly Central Asia – would increase. Russia
will run especially high risks if the situation in Afghanistan gets
out of hand. The pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq will call into
question the rationality of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and
Moscow’s vital interests in maintaining stability in Central Asia
will become jeopardized. Given such a scenario, Japan will stop
relying on U.S. protection as in the past and start increasing its
military potential, prompting China to act correspondingly. These
factors will negatively affect security along the entire perimeter
of Russia’s borders and will compel it to increase its own military

As for China, the
decrease of American global influence will have dramatically
opposite consequences and will bring Beijing doubtless benefits.
New opportunities will open up for the solution of its main
objective – reunification with Taiwan on Beijing’s terms. China
will be able to act much more forcefully in defending its energy
security, as well as in solving its territorial disputes in South
Asia. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, the main deterring
force in Northeast Asia, allowed Beijing to sign lucrative
agreements on the state border with its western neighbors –
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – and take control over
formerly disputed land areas. Goals that had been unattainable
during the presence of the Soviet Union on the geopolitical map
became easy targets after it disappeared.

Finally, China
has both the ambition and chances to acquire world leadership, and
a weakening of the U.S. would only speed up the process. Meanwhile,
Russia has overcome the temptation to lead a “global foreign
policy” in discrepancy with its internal development. We are facing
international objectives of a different kind now: a secure
transformation into a leading and efficient global economy – one
that is capable of providing its people with the conditions for a
comfortable existence. A rapid revision of the international status
quo will significantly impede the ability to reach this

Being and
Looking Like

In spite of
growing contradictions with the West, the Russian leadership still
wants to harmonize Russian norms and practices with Western
varieties. Vladimir Putin’s confident declaration that “Russia will
develop on the same general principles with all other civilized
nations” came as a response to a provocation from radical
oppositionists during the June 2007 summit of the G8 in Germany,
and the West could not fail to notice it. The problem is that such
statements are necessary, but insufficient for full-scale
partnership with Washington. The U.S. demands that Moscow be an
affiliated country in terms of foreign policy, which means that
Russia should agree to the role of a junior partner and recognize
the logic of interests of the leading partner. But this is exactly
the role that Russia vehemently rejects today, as it tries to
influence the U.S. in a way that makes it seem that Russia wants to
change the rules of the game in the international
Russia’s sharp and unbending foreign policy rhetoric provokes a
reaction on the part of the U.S. that is disproportionate to the
scope of contradictions between the two countries. The architects
of Russia’s foreign policy enjoy the image of a strong, brash
player who is not dismayed by the fact that his self-assertion does
not always convince partners and win them over to his

It seems that the
U.S. has no plans of heeding Russia’s arguments in earnest. Like
Moscow, Washington too is confident of its rightfulness and moral
superiority. It has been meting out inordinately harsh criticism
over ‘infringements on democratic norms’ in response to Moscow’s
words and actions over the past two years. The U.S. gives overt
support to anti-Russian movements and leaders on the post-Soviet
space; it is not difficult to sense a reluctance to make Russia a
“responsible stakeholder” in the international order.

China successfully maintains the profile of a country that is on a
‘peaceful rise’ in the format of the existing order, although the
U.S. has never regarded it as an allied country and the Chinese
have never sought full-blown partnership with the U.S. in global
politics. This explains why Washington finds it much more
problematic to find grounds for and implement an uncompromising
course at China’s containment than in Russia’s case, even in the
presence of concerns over the astounding rise of China’s

Russia could
learn from the Chinese the intricate overtones of public diplomacy,
even though it recognizes its own difference as a political player.
It is no accident that opinion polls taken by the Pew Research
Center in 47 countries in 2007 showed that China had a generally
favorable image in 27 countries, while the number for Russia stood
at 14 countries. Beijing skillfully lifts its partners’ concerns
over the growth of China’s economic and military capability, and
persistently profiles itself as a friendly country that is trying
to build a harmonious world.

Joseph Nye, a
leading U.S. political scientist and the author of the ‘soft power’
concept, said that China has learned the skill of attracting other
international players by stressing its economic and cultural
achievements and a desire to live in peace. The country has serious
social and economic problems, but on the international plane it
emanates calm and assuredness that time is playing into its hands.
In contrast, Russia, with its sharp rhetoric, occasionally produces
an impression (at least in the U.S.) of a player that is in a hurry
to sense its growing might, but still not quite certain about its
prospects, and still searching for a concept of national

Russia has more
opportunities than China to build partner relations with the U.S.
and the West in general without damaging its self-identity and
independence. Even though China has greater achievements in that
sphere, Russia could win the race if it finds an authentic path
between the Chinese model and the plight of being America’s junior
partner, subjugating its own security interests to American
interests. There is much broader room for maneuver between the two
options than one might think.