Russia and the U.S. in Need of Trust and Cooperation
No. 1 2006 January/March
Yevgeny Primakov


Full Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, President of the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce and Industry, member of the Editorial Board of Russia in Global Affairs, former prime minister of Russia (1998-1999).

The United States has markedly reduced its interest in Russia as
a major actor on the international stage, shifting its attention
instead to rapidly developing China. Washington now portrays
Russia’s contribution to the global economy in an unfavorable
light, comparing it with the contributions of many other
post-industrial countries. Naturally, the Russian Federation cannot
be compared with the Soviet Union, which played a much more
significant role in world politics.

There is also a psychological factor: still alive and active are
generations of people, whose global outlook took shape under the
impact of the confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The present suspicions toward Russia – often groundless – are
coupled with relics of the Cold War. Today, the subjective factor
also plays a part in building Russian public opinion.

Today, the United States is the most influential and strongest
state in all respects. Only shortsighted politicians can ignore
this fact. At the same time, however, there are other shortsighted
politicians who have excluded Russia from the list of great powers
and underestimate the dynamics and prospects of its development.
Even after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation
remains the world’s largest country, boasting half of the world’s
extractable natural resources. Russia has a high intellectual
potential, while its nuclear missile arsenal remains comparable
with that of the U.S.


It is possible for Russia and the U.S. to develop a partner
relationship in specific areas where their interests overlap. The
shortage of energy resources in the United States, for example,
together with the instability in the Middle East, make Russia a
major potential source of oil and gas supplies to the U.S.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Gazprom is completing negotiations with several
foreign companies for the joint development of the giant Stockman
gas-condensate field. There are plans for the supply of Stockman
gas to the American market. Another plan taking shape is the
construction of an oil pipeline to the coast of the Arctic Ocean,
which will enable Russia to step up its oil supplies to

The threat of international terrorism leaves no alternative but
for Moscow and Washington to cooperate in the security sphere.
Russia, for example, played an important role in the antiterrorist
operation in Afghanistan by supplying armaments to the Northern
Alliance. For a long time, this group opposed the Taliban movement
– al-Qaeda’s only ally in the world; this helped liberate Kabul,
thus ensuring the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Also, Russia
encouraged the Central Asian states to provide intermediate
military bases to the U.S. for the duration of military actions in

Despite its disagreement with the U.S. unilateral operation in
Iraq, Russia is making efforts to prevent manifestations of
anti-Americanism in its own policy, as well as in the policies of
other European countries. At the same time, Moscow resolutely and
effectively opposes Islamic extremism, which is now targeted
against the United States. During the Cold War years, Washington
supported the struggle of Islamic extremists against the Soviet
military in Afghanistan, and it was at this time that Osama bin
Laden emerged in the foreground of that struggle. When the Soviet
Union saw that its military actions were senseless and ineffective,
it withdrew from Afghanistan, while the al-Qaeda phenomenon has
become a burden to the world. Soviet policy was not developed by
white gloves, of course; yet, aware of the very real danger posed
by Islamic extremism, Moscow never used it as a factor of force
against the U.S., even in the Cold War years.

Political cooperation must be aimed at encouraging those
countries with Moslem populations to lead the antiterrorist
struggle and to change the sentiments of the average Moslem man on
the street. This goal can be achieved by settling the Arab-Israeli
conflict, which has become an incubator of terrorism. In the
military and political planes, the intelligence communities of
Russia and the U.S. should not only exchange information (as they
do now), but also provide a joint analysis of this data in order to
prevent future terrorist attacks. It would be very useful to
involve in these efforts the special services of other states as
well, most importantly, Great Britain, France, Germany, China,
Israel and Egypt. A retrospective analysis of events that preceded
the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 shows that
international cooperation among various special services could have
helped prevent that tragedy.

The United States, Russia and China are among the major
international actors that are capable of checking the proliferation
of nuclear weapons. Not long ago, they achieved some success in a
years-long negotiation process with North Korea for the termination
of its military nuclear program. This semi-breakthrough became
possible thanks to two circumstances. First, North Korea was
actually offered guarantees that, like other states, it would have
the right to develop peaceful nuclear programs – naturally under
the strict control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Second, the U.S. pledged not to undertake military actions against
Pyongyang. A similar model should be applied to Iran as well. It is
necessary to set up a group for organizing negotiations involving
Iran, Russia, the U.S., the European Union and, possibly, China and
India, which would propose to Teheran the same terms that were
given to North Korea.

So, there is every reason to believe that Russian-U.S. ties can
evolve into relations of partners as regards their content.


Despite the bright spots, several factors obviously undermine
the relations between Russia and the United States.
Most importantly, these include different visions of the world
order that must replace the confrontational bipolar system. Russia
believes that since the end of the Cold War an objective process
toward the formation of a multipolar world has been unfolding.
First, one should not underestimate such a pole as China, with its
nearly 10-percent economic growth and constantly increasing share
in the world’s GDP.

Second, one should also not ignore such a center of economic
strength as the European Union. Despite the uncertainty of the EU’s
military and political prospects, which have worsened after the
failure of referendums on the European Constitution, it is obvious
that the economic integration process in the European Union has
become irreversible. One way or another, the development of the
European Union as one of the world’s poles will continue.

Russia, while overcoming many difficulties, is also moving
toward the strengthening of its economic potential. The Russian
economy now demonstrates high growth rates, and in 2005 it is
expected to reach 6 percent of the GDP, while the federal budget
surplus will produce 7 percent of the GDP. At the same time, the
country’s gold and hard currency reserves have been increasing
fast, while Moscow has been faithfully paying off its debt to the
Paris Club ahead of schedule. Russia’s credit rating has risen to
an investment grade.

Considering Russia’s history, intellectual resources, size, huge
natural resources and, finally, the level of development of its
Armed Forces, this country will not agree to the status of a state
that is “led;” it will seek to establish itself as an independent
center of a multipolar world.

Some analysts view the establishment of a multipolar system as a
return, albeit on a new level, to a world order that existed before
World War II. That order, of course, culminated in the emergence of
hostile alliances. Meanwhile, the present multipolar world is being
formed in completely different conditions: amidst the globalization
processes, economic interdependence of countries integrated into
the global economy, and the departure from confrontation on a
worldwide level. These factors prevent the establishment of
coalition-type military and political alliances between different
world poles, together with the reduction of the system to several
competing centers.

Washington, relying on its present superiority, proceeds from
the assumption that the United States will hold the central
position in a future world system, while the rest of the world will
have to follow the “rules of behavior” dictated by the

Washington’s vision of the world order is already introducing
dangerous levels of disorganization onto the international scene.
These steps include, first of all, the decision to implement
unilateral force, as was the case with the military operation
against Iraq. The idea of the forced propagation of democracy – one
of the main elements of President Bush’s doctrine – has failed in
Iraq. Yet, apart from the Middle East, the U.S. is trying to
implement this concept in the post-Soviet space, as well. Various
U.S. foundations and diplomats were involved, quite openly, in the
so-called ‘colored revolutions’ in Ukraine and Georgia. This fact
cannot but cause worry. The aftermath of the Ukrainian ‘orange
revolution,’ for example, calls into question the expediency of
such tactics.

The building of democracy in Iraq has proven to be a much more
difficult task than simply the swift overthrow of a dictatorial
regime. Few observers now fail to see the extremely negative
consequences of the U.S. military operation there.

These include, first of all, the destabilization of the
situation in one of the key countries of the Middle East region.
The settlement of problems in Iraq is hardly possible in the
foreseeable future; some believe stability can only be achieved if
Iraq is turned into a federation. Yet, such a solution will do
little to remove the hostility of the Sunnis – who comprise a
substantial part of the Iraqi population – because Iraq’s oil
resources are concentrated on the territory of the potential Shia
and Kurd autonomous regions in the south and north of the

Second, although Washington has proclaimed the democratization
of Iraq as its main goal, this state is steadily losing its secular
nature. The prospect for Iraq’s Islamization is quite real, at
least in the Shia part of the future federation that borders
Shia-dominated Iran. Teheran, for its part, has given up the
practice of exporting the Islamic revolution, and the country has
seen positive, although contradictory, changes. Is it possible for
the pendulum in Iran to swing in the opposite direction?
Symptomatically, Iraqi Shias demanded that the draft of the new
Constitution of Iraq includes the provision stating: “Iraq is part
of the Islamic world.” Meanwhile, the Sunnis proposed their own
wording, saying: “Iraq is part of the Arab world,” but their
request was ignored.

Third, there is the danger of “internationalization” of the
Kurdish problem, which may bring about one more seat of tension.
Turkey has already declared that it will not remain on the
sidelines if the city of Kirkuk is figured into the autonomy of
Kurds, as has been demanded.

Fourth, the U.S. military operation in Iraq has made the country
a major bridgehead of international terrorism. Acting according to
the principle of “communicating vessels,” al-Qaeda has moved its
main forces from the so-called ‘tribal zone’ on the
Pakistani-Afghan border to Iraq.

The United States, meanwhile, is debating the passage of a
doctrine, now widely discussed by American political scientists,
that supports the preventive application of nuclear weapons; this
may negatively affect the development of Russian-U.S. relations.
The question arises: Who will be the target of such preventive
nuclear strikes? The terrorists? Or countries like Iran? Once this
doctrine is legislatively endorsed, we may not be far away from a
new policy of ‘containment’ which could involve Russia in a new
arms race, although on an asymmetrical level.

Under the circumstances, confidence building between the two
states assumes special importance. The establishment of
confidential relations is impeded, however, as the U.S. leadership
receives information on the situation in Russia mainly from sources
in opposition to the Russian president. The toughening of the U.S.
approach is largely explained by the fact that this information (on
the “universal suppression of the freedom of speech,” “the
renunciation of the democratic principles,” and so on) is lop-sided
and often does not correspond to reality. Confidence building
presupposes the relinquishment of double standards in assessing
one’s own steps, as well as the actions of the opposite side.

Russia and the U.S. should develop their mutual economic
relations in every way possible; U.S. investment in the Russian
economy is of much importance in this respect. Russia should
increase its investment attractiveness, which requires improving
Russian legislation and law enforcement practices. Finally, Russian
laws must fully apply to areas of economic security and the
settlement of economic disputes.

Confidence and cooperation are areas that can ensure the normal
development of Russian-U.S. relations in the interests of both
countries, as well as in the interests of the entire world.