The U.S. and Russia – Alone Together
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

Analysts have long talked of Russia’s international political
isolation, an isolation that only increased following the Georgia
war in August 2008. The conflict and Moscow’s decision to recognize
the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia demonstrated that
Russia has few resources to enlist the political support of other
countries. Russia has changed course in recent years in hope of
building alliances, but so far the results have been the opposite
of those intended.

Russia, however, is not alone in being alone. As strange as it
might sound, the United States is in a similar position. Of course,
the United States has incomparably greater clout than other
countries in international affairs. But even with its numerous
formal allies around the world, Washington does not have even a
single country on which it can seriously rely for strategic

Take, for example, the greater Middle East, a region that has
largely determined global politics during the first decade of the
21st century. Countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Israel and Saudi
Arabia that were once steadfast allies of the United States are now
more a source of problems for Washington than partners in solving
them. The scale and nature of those problems differ according to
the country, but each one expects more from Washington than it can
deliver, and each is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with what
it receives.

U.S. relations with the European Union are a separate case. The
global economic crisis exacerbated trans-Atlantic tensions. Both
sides held diverging views on the strategic goals for financial
development long before the economic shockwaves hit. With the
possible exception of Britain, EU countries are not ready to take
major risks to help the United States strengthen its global
position. And judging from the events in Afghanistan, NATO will
probably not be able to restructure itself to deal with global
military challenges.

The two sides also hold differing approaches to overcoming the
crisis. The United States plans to stimulate demand, while the EU
is working to enforce stricter regulation of financial markets and
to cap executive salaries.

Then there is the trend toward mutual protectionist measures, as
well as tensions over reforms to global financial institutions.
Major developing countries — primarily China and India — are
calling for a redistribution of quotas in the International
Monetary Fund and World Bank. The United States, endeavoring to
establish positive relations with the Asian giants, would like to
meet them halfway, but mainly by adjusting the quotas for European
countries to more accurately reflect their current economic

As the focus of global strategic interest shifts to the
Asian-Pacific region, the United States must decide how it will act
in relation to Europe. The administration of U.S. President Barack
Obama has not yet defined its approach to the countries of Central
and Eastern Europe, states that have traditionally served as
conduits of U.S. influence in the Old World. The region has become
less of a U.S. foreign policy priority, partly because of heavy
opposition from Russia, and partly because of problems stemming
from the region’s Communist past.

The greatest challenge facing U.S. policy lies in formulating a
model for relations with China. The economic crisis did not bypass
China, but the country has retained its position as the
fastest-growing major power in the world. The global recession has
underscored the degree to which the economies of the United States
and China are interdependent — something both countries would like
to decrease, if not eliminate completely.

In any case, the idea of forming a “Big Two,” as the United
States and China discussed this past year, has proven to be nothing
but a fleeting fancy. Beijing will be very cautious about
everything concerning the United States. Beijing’s entire frame of
reference concerning China’s own development, and the world as a
whole, differs so much from Washington’s that any talk of a
strategic alliance between the two is inconceivable. A mutual
security pact is even less likely because China never enters into
such arrangements with other countries.

Of course, the United States already has solid relations in the
Asian-Pacific region, primarily with its allies Japan, South Korea
and Australia. But all of those countries are becoming increasingly
dependent on China economically, and they provide little muscle of
their own even though they enjoy security guarantees from

As a whole, the global economic crisis has intensified trends
that began in the opening years of this century. This has forced
Washington to step up its search for new approaches, including in
its relations with Moscow.

The global recession demonstrated just how vulnerable the
Russian economy is to external factors but, contrary to hopes, the
crisis has had little positive effect on the country’s foreign
policy. To the contrary, the Kremlin has been actively pursuing its
foreign policy goals, hoping to use the general confusion resulting
from the crisis to strengthen its own position. Russia’s
socio-political system gives it a peculiar competitive advantage.
In the midst of a deep recession, the Kremlin could not have funded
its various geopolitical initiatives in other countries if Russia
were governed by purely democratic principles. But an authoritarian
government can allow itself that luxury. It is limited only by the
amount of available funds in state reserves.

Given that the United States is experiencing serious setbacks
with its allies, Washington must make a sober evaluation of how
much it can rely on Moscow for support in resolving a range of
problems. Despite the numerous weaknesses that threaten the
Russia’s future development, the country is one of only a few
remaining in the world that possesses strategic thinking, strategic
potential and the ability to apply force. Europe has lost those
capacities, and China has concentrated them on its own development
— at least for now. That makes Moscow either a probable opponent of
Washington or a possible important partner. True, to become
partners both countries would have to move beyond the ideologies of
the past — something that has yet to occur. However, the
recognition that they are “alone together” might influence their
strategic thinking. Only at that point could we expect to see a
qualitative “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations — one that would
hopefully include new operational software as well.

The Moscow Times