12.07.2006
U.S.-Russia Relations Through the Prism of Ideology
№3 2006 July/September

Charles de Gaulle once remarked that countries have no friends,
only interests. He failed to specify, however, that those are
interests interpreted by the elites (in authoritarian regimes) or,
if we speak of democracies, by the elites and public opinion.

In turn, the interpretation of national interests stems from the
ruling ideology, that is, the nations’ leaders’ view about how
their country should live and what it should aspire to. This is why
relations between countries, as a rule, reflect the very essence
and internal political priorities of the regime and the place of
other countries within these coordinates.

The present ties between the United States and Russia are no
exception. The current deterioration of their mutual relations,
which stems from their policies and which is likely to persist at
least for the next three years, is not a result of a conspiracy or
someone’s ill will. The roots and dynamics of this process lie in
the way the regimes in Moscow and Washington implement their
strategic agendas, based on their ideologies, and in how they view
– again through the prism of ideology – their partner’s responses
to their actions.

BROKEN AXIOMS

Washington’s present ideology is based on two premises, two
overlapping leitmotifs. First is the 9/11 tragedy. Since that
fateful day, the White House has been gripped by anxiety about the
threat of Islamic extremism, the likelihood of a new terrorist act,
and the possible transfer of weapons of mass destruction (above
all, nuclear weapons) to terrorists by unstable, fundamentalist, or
Anti-American states.

Another “birthmark” of this administration is its
neo-conservatism. There is much nonsense in the present talk about
the almost conspiratorial, Bolshevik-like unanimity of the neocons,
and their “puppeteering” control over the White House. The
institute where the author of this article works is often called
the “brain trust of neo-conservatism,” and from the inside these
conjectures look very far from the reality, to put it mildly.

Yet if there are any postulates of “neo-conservative ideology”
in foreign policy, two are central. First, the interests and
security of the United States are much easier to defend in a world
of political freedom. Hence, the adoption, at least as an ideal, of
President John Kennedy’s inaugural address of 1961, long forgotten
by his own party, the Democrats: “Let every nation know, whether it
wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any
burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in
order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” From this
follows the second principle: for neo-conservatives, the link
between the domestic and the foreign policies of states is of
fundamental importance.

The evolution of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is
very indicative in this respect. Her doctoral thesis was on the
Soviet Army’s suppression of the “Prague Spring” in 1968. Since
then, military aspects of the U.S.-Soviet relations and arms
control were among her main scholarly interests. Rice became a
protОgО of General Brent Scowcroft, a leading Washington “realist”
and National Security Adviser to George Bush Sr., who eventually
appointed Rice as his assistant on Soviet affairs. In August 1991,
in response to Russia’s national-liberation movements and the
democratic revolution, Bush solemnly cautioned the Ukrainian people
against “suicidal nationalism.” Neo-conservative critics have since
used his speech, which became known in political circles as
“Chicken Kiev,” as an example of the narrow-mindedness of the
“realists” and their political and historical deafness. 

Scowcroft personified the idea of stability as a basic value and
an objective of American foreign policy. And when in 1998, Rice
began to advise the then governor of Texas, George W. Bush, on
foreign policy, judging by Bush’s speeches during the presidential
campaign and signals from the White House in the first nine months
of the new administration, a realist policy clearly prevailed. It
did not really matter what kind of state Russia was: Soviet
totalitarian, new democratic, authoritarian China-style, or even
“failed,” to use Rice’s term. Sorting it all out would take too
long and was unnecessary. The important thing was how many
nuclear-tipped strategic missiles the Russians had. This seemed to
be the only subject on the bilateral agenda. (Shortly after George
W. Bush came to power, one of the architects of U.S.-Russian
relations in the Bill Clinton administration complained with
unconcealed irritation in a narrow circle of people that in the
course of the transfer of power from Clinton to Bush, Rice
demonstrated a pronounced disregard for Russia’s domestic
problems.)

September 11, 2001 blew up the axioms of realism. The
maintenance of the status quo suddenly turned out to be an
unacceptable risk. What happened was a change of paradigms.
President Bush and his National Security Advisor became, rather
unexpectedly, neo-conservatives.

America, the strongest and most self-sufficient power, which a
year, a month or even a week before that terrible day had rested on
the laurels of victory in the Cold War, fell from Olympus onto hard
cold earth – injured, frightened, alone and searching for friends.
Yes, friends, as opposed to mere business partners, like Saudi
Arabia, which had nurtured 15 out of the 19 terrorists that
attacked the U.S.

It was then that Russia burst upon the stage, crisply and
competently, as if it had been waiting for that moment, and had
done all the “homework.” Vladimir Putin called George Bush minutes
after the attack. Moscow consented  to the use of Russian
airspace by U.S. and NATO aircraft and the deployment of their
bases in Central Asia; cooperation between Russian and Western
special services; the sharing of Russian intelligence on
Afghanistan and Russia’s extensive ties to the anti-Taliban
Northern Alliance. Moscow offered all of this without any
preconditions, bargaining or demanding anything in return. (On top
of this, Russia closed its naval base in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh and
shut down an eavesdropping station in Lourdes, Cuba.)

When the essence of particular regimes and their ideology
suddenly became important for the newly fledged neo-conservatives
from the White House (hence the slogan “If necessary, we will
change regimes”), the situation in Russia also acquired new
significance. The number of its missiles became a third-rate issue.
It turned out that the Russia of the autumn of 2001 was not at all
a China; Russia enjoyed political freedoms, the freedom of
conscience, a multi-party system, a real (at that time) opposition,
free press, and uncensored culture. Also, liberal reforms in the
economy were conducted in earnest, competently and on a large
scale.

It was this concurrence of basic values and many vital national
interests (although far from all) that laid the grounds for a
long-term, strategic alliance between Russia and the United
States.

However, following a paradox, so liked by History (and Friedrich
Engels), this triumph already contained the seeds of defeat. The
same neo-conservative approach to defining U.S. national interests
that earlier had brought about the closest rapprochement between
Moscow and Washington since the end of WWII and President Putin’s
visit to the Bush’s family ranch in Crawford, Texas, became the
cause of strain in the relations between the two powers, when the
Kremlin changed its domestic and, as a result, foreign policy
priorities.

MOSCOW’S NEW LINE

In the second half of 2003, it became more and more obvious that
Putin was not set upon mending the “mistakes” of the 1990s, while
continuing with Boris Yeltsin’s strategic line, albeit in a more
consistent, “cleaner” and “more civilized” way. On the contrary,
one had the impression that the dominant ideology was informed by
the shame for the “chaos” of the 1990s, above all, in the weakening
of the state. The simple wisdom that chaos and weakened statehood
accompany all great revolutions was either unknown to or dismissed
by the authorities.

In this perspective, domestic and foreign policy was viewed as a
result of a conspiracy, as a product of refined political
technologies paid for by the oligarchs, as opposed to being the
result of conscious and free choice by the majority of the
Russians. The choice, although not perhaps implemented in the best
way, was confirmed by the election of Yeltsin as president of the
then Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) in June
1991; by the April 25, 1993 referendum; by the crucial presidential
election of 1996; and by the still free election campaign of 1999,
when the leftist “popular-patriotic” majority in the State Duma was
buried for good. Returning in force were the traditional maxims of
the Russian statehood: the state equals society; everything that is
good for the state is a priori good for the country; the
strengthening of the state is the strengthening of society. Only
two leaders in Russian history, Alexander II and Boris Yeltsin,
realized that a weaker state could – in certain circumstances and
only in the long term – strengthen society. Peter the Great and
Joseph Stalin brought the opposite tendency to the extreme.

Ergo, the bureaucracy (naturally, educated, intelligent
hard-working and, of course, incorruptible) is a much more
effective and reliable agent of progress than the free press
(corruptible, focused on sensations and caring only for profits,
instead of state interests), the average voter (so naХve,
uneducated and unpredictable), independent judges (such
bribe-takers) or, God forbid, private businessmen.

If so, the Kremlin must have concluded, the decentralization of
state policy and economy, carried out in the 1990s, was inadequate
in principle and in many respects even harmful. Thus, the state
must reanimate its role, seize the “commanding heights” in the
economy, and return the “diamonds” of the country’s economic crown
to the rightful owner: the state. Most importantly, it was deemed
necessary to establish the executive’s control over the other
branches of government and reassert the Kremlin’s dominant role in
politics.

Changes in foreign policy followed logically. The Kremlin no
longer viewed the generally pro-Western policy of the previous
regime as the consequence of a commonality of interests, as a
search for ways toward “universal values” and the “European home”
or for a place in the union of “civilized” states.

These ideals, designed by Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Yakovlev,
Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin and rooted in the era of
glasnost, were now subject to an ideological revision. The breakup
of the Soviet Union was described as the biggest geopolitical
disaster of the 20th century. Hence, the new imperatives in
Russia’s foreign policy: not to speed up the pace of the
integration into “the West” and  make no sacrifices for its
sake (for instance, with regard to political freedoms inside the
country, or relations with pro-Russian dictatorships in the
Commonwealth of Independent States). Wherever possible, Russia will
seek to restore and strengthen its former ties on the territory of
the former Soviet Union. Those new states that assist this process
will be rewarded, while those standing in the way will be
punished.

Of course, this is not a return to the policy of the Soviet
Union. After all, stability of borders and friendly, or better yet,
vassal regimes along the perimeter was an imperative of national
security of all great continental powers, from ancient Babylon,
Persia, China and Rome to the U.S., at least through the 1970s.
This objective naturally fits into the meta-goal of restoring the
unity of the post-Soviet space (and Russia’s superpower hegemony in
the region). Hence the Russian equivalent of support for “our sons
of a bitch” – a phrase taken from the pages of U.S. foreign-policy
vocabulary [former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when
speaking of Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza, said, “Somoza
may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” – Ed.]. The
Kremlin’s support for the “last dictator in Europe,” Alexander
Lukashenko, evokes irritation and incomprehension in the White
House. Moscow knows much better than Washington the odious nature
of the Belarusian regime, let alone the personal qualities of its
leader; yet apparently it considers the worsening of its relations
with the West an acceptable price to pay for the advancement toward
the goal.

Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia’s foreign policy shows obvious
signs of pragmatism, that is, the wish to have its hands free and
be above the fight, as well as a striving for classical
Realpolitik. In other words, it does not want to bind itself by
abstract principles (e.g., “Western civilization,” “freedom” and
“human rights”) but to have the freedom to maneuver; not to enter
ideological alliances but to work with countries mainly on a
bilateral basis. Long-term results are less important than the
nation’s role today and the dividends it yields now. As Leon
Trotsky used to say, “The end is nothing; the movement is
everything.”

Russia resorts to tactics known in business as ‘asset
leveraging,’ that is, the most effective placement of assets. The
emphasis is made on areas of “comparative advantages,” be it
nuclear technologies, advanced conventional arms systems or, most
importantly, energy. Another integral part of the new Russian
foreign policy is the diplomatic equivalent of arbitrage, i.e.
attempts to earn a profit from structural defects of the pricing
mechanism responsible for the difference in prices on the same
products on different markets. In other words, maneuvering on the
knife blade (and the sharper, the better).

The use of comparative advantage is behind, for example, the
arms supplies to China, which represents the largest market for
Russian military technologies: new aircraft (including the giant
IL-76 cargo plane and the IL-78 refueling aircraft), ships and
submarines. In August 2005, Russia and China held their first-ever
joint military exercise, which involved over 10,000 troops. There
is irritation in Washington, which has de-facto pledged to defend
Taiwan from an attack by Beijing. There is also the danger of
selling weapons to Russia’s geopolitical rival (which has never
recognized the “unequal treaties” of 1858 and 1860, under which
Russia acquired huge areas in Siberia); and the possibility that
China will achieve nuclear parity with Russia within the next
decade.  Yet Russia seems to believe the risk is outweighed by
her eliminating the mistakes of the 1990s: acquiring “independence”
on the global scene, prestige and billions of dollars.

Another example can be found in Russia’s deal with Syria, a
totalitarian regime supporting terrorism, to supply it with SA-18
tactical air defense systems. To Russia, this agreement is a way to
restore its former positions in the Middle East, which it lost
after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The invitation of Hamas leaders to Moscow was, among other
things, an attempt at arbitrage in the hope of achieving important
concessions (for example, renunciation of the permanent war against
Israel) and, as a consequence, establishing Russia’s reputation as
an indispensable mediator in conflicts between the East and the
West. As Napoleon (and later Lenin) used to say, “On s’engage et
puis on voit!” (First engage in a serious battle and then see what
happens).

Perhaps the best example of the “New Line” in Moscow’s foreign
policy is its relations with Iran, which have caused the most
serious Moscow-Washington conflict to date. Since the resumption
last December of conventional arms supplies to Teheran, suspended
by the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission at Washington’s insistence in
the summer of 1995 (over five years before that, Russia had sold to
Iran aircraft, battle tanks and submarines worth about $2 billion),
Moscow has supplied Iran with the Tor-1 mobile air defense missile
systems, MIG-29 fighter aircraft, and coast guard ships; in total,
these purchases cost about one billion dollars. As Russia’s gold
and hard currency reserves now stand at about 300 billion dollars,
profits are certainly not its main objective here. Rather, it is
using the situation with Iran as a way for achieving the same
meta-goal. According to Moscow expert Radzhab Safarov (and as the
Kremlin architects of this policy seem to see it), Iran offers
Moscow a “unique and historic chance to return to the world scene
as a key actor and as a superpower reborn. If Russia firmly upholds
Iran’s interests in this conflict, it will immediately regain
prestige in the Moslem world and globally. And no financial offers
by the United States will be able to change its strategy.”

Hence the tactics used by Russia in the negotiations between the
five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, Russia,
China, the U.S. and France) plus Germany and Iran: postponing “the
moment of truth” as long as possible, while defending the status
quo and delaying the sale of the “goods” (Russia’s support) in
order to raise their price. As for public statements by Iran’s
leader that he believes the 12th imam will appear after a global
catastrophe (that is, nuclear war), and that Israel must be wiped
off the face of the Earth, these statements seem to be interpreted
in the Kremlin as daydreams, out of sync with the reality of our
times.

UNRELIABLE ANCHORS

In a different time, Moscow’s present policy would probably not
cause serious problems in its relations with Washington. After all,
the U.S. has become accustomed (although, not without irritation,
of course) to the diplomacy of France, which, after the loss of its
status as a great power after WWII, also practiced pragmatism and
diplomatic arbitrage in its relations with the main blocs in the
Cold War. But times – and values – have changed. Even with America
bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, such an approach is anathema to
the American foreign-policy establishment (except for the fringe
isolationists on both flanks of the political field). The U.S.
“post-September 11” activism – with the emphasis made on freedom
and democracy as central elements of national security and on the
“proliferation of democracy” as a major way to ensure it – has
bumped up hard against the post-Soviet and post-imperial
restoration of Russia, whose essence is economic and political
re-centralization and Realpolitik abroad.

Due to their difference in values, Russia and America have
started to drift in opposite directions; the great ships have begun
moving away from each other. But they have not yet lost visual
contact. This is due to special “anchors” – the main assets of one
side that meet the strategic interests of the other.Russia’s assets
are of major importance for the fulfillment of four long-term and
strategic tasks facing Washington: achieving victory in the global
war against terrorism; preventing nuclear proliferation; ensuring
energy security; and developing commonality of interests vis-И-vis
China, a future conflict with which seems inevitable to many among
the U.S. foreign-policy elites.

Incidentally, it is the conflicting estimations of the
importance of these Russian assets as compared to the “liabilities”
of the Kremlin’s domestic policy that cause frictions inside the
U.S. administration, as well as Washington’s inconsistency
concerning its Russia policy, which so often irritates Moscow, –
not the personalities: for example, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice
and Eric Edelman, on the one hand, and George Bush and Thomas
Graham, on the other. In this inevitable ambivalence of Russia’s
image in Washington, one of the two positions prevail: the
geopolitical, which is centered around interests (“anchors”), or
the neo-conservative, which attaches particular importance to
etatist tendencies inside Russia. In Moscow’s first-priority
strategic interests, America is primarily viewed as an ally in the
struggle against Moslem terrorism, including Chechen militants.
Second, Moscow expected from the United States understanding of its
“special role” (and hence special interests) in the post-Soviet
space, which is populated by 25 million ethnic Russians and
supplied (until recently essentially on credit) with Russian gas,
oil and electricity. Third, Russia hoped for support for its
integration into the global economic system, starting with the
WTO.

But perhaps the most important American asset, the most valuable
thing that the United States can give Russia, is respect and
equality. However much semi-official propagandists may denounce
America in pro-Kremlin newspapers and TV channels, and however much
they may speak of a “change of guidelines” – Europe, Asia or
Eurasia – to ordinary Russian people and the elites alike parity
with America (no matter in what area: in armies, continental
missiles, satellites, meat, corn, democracy or economic growth
rates) and its respect for Russia has always been one of the main
legitimizing factors in its domestic policy. This was equally
applicable during the rule of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev,
Gorbachev and Yeltsin. No other country or region – Europe, Asia,
Germany, China, France or Japan – come ever close to America.

This list of vital mutual interests is nothing new, of course.
What is new is that in the last few years, these assets have no
longer been sustained or burnished by ideological commonalities
and, as a result, have begun to rapidly depreciate. The anchors’
chains are beginning to rust. What formerly would be an easily
solvable technical problem is becoming a source for deep and
persisting resentment and serious conflict. The number of such
problems is growing with every new round of this vicious
circle.

In particular, from Washington’s point of view (together with
American public opinion, which is much more important in the long
term), Russia’s image as an ally in the counterterrorist struggle
has been seriously compromised over the last year by Moscow’s
efforts to establish special relations with the Hamas movement, as
well as by the shipments of missiles to Syria and MIG-29 fighters
and Mi-24 helicopters to Sudan, a nation which uses terror and even
genocide (in the Darfur region) against its citizens.

As regards the non-proliferation of nuclear weapon, the hopes
that Russia would be able to assist the settlement of the North
Korean crisis by influencing its former client, Pyongyang, have not
materialized. This disappointment, however, pales in comparison
with the consequences of Moscow’s position on the Iranian issue.
One gets the impression that Moscow underestimates the risks
involved in its relations with the U.S. (and, by now, with Europe
as well) as it plays the role of a diplomatic advocate and supplier
of advanced conventional armaments and civil nuclear technologies
to a regime that openly calls for attacks against the United
States. Furthermore, this is a government that finances, arms and
trains terrorists, and one that publicly declared its plans to
start enriching uranium, the primary component for nuclear arms
production.

Perhaps Russia has already passed the “no-return point” and, to
borrow language from the world of business, no amount of hedging
can save it from serious losses from the liquidation of the market
positions it staked out. In the long run, in order not to
jeopardize the Group of Eight summit, Russia is likely to vote in
the UN Security Council for sanctions against Iran (or at least to
abstain). The latter will almost certainly respond by a withdrawal
from the non-proliferation regime, thus provoking further sanctions
against it. These sanctions may include a ban on cooperation with
Teheran not only in civil nuclear engineering but also in spheres
related to conventional armaments, finance, and investment in
non-nuclear engineering (gas). Russia has invested in all these
areas more than any other country, including in the construction of
a nuclear reactor in Bushehr, at a price tag of over one billion
dollars. Whatever actions Moscow decides to take in this crisis, it
will hardly avoid long-term losses of prestige (not to mention
material losses).

Next is the issue of America’s energy security. When the Kremlin
vetoed the construction of a private pipeline from Western Siberia
to Murmansk, even despite heavy lobbying at the Cabinet level,
Washington’s hopes for a partial substitute of oil imports from the
Persian Gulf with direct supplies from Russia vanished. Anxiety
over the reliability and, most importantly, stability, of the
growth of Russian oil exports increased after the YUKOS and Sibneft
oil companies fell under state control. The move resulted in a
decrease in output growth rates from eight percent on average in
the previous seven years to two percent in 2005. For the first time
since 1999, the volume of Russian oil supplies to the world market
decreased in absolute figures.

No sooner had the West “digested” the short-term suspension of
gas supplies to Ukraine, accompanied by a drop in pressure (due to
gas siphoning by Ukraine) in pipelines transporting gas to the
European Union, than in April 2006 Moscow made a series of menacing
statements that reverberated in the West like machine gun volleys
from the strategic heights of Russia’s energy and political
sectors. Thus, Moscow said it might cut oil and gas supplies to
Western Europe in favor of Asian customers if the EU barred Gazprom
and Russian oil companies from entering the European retail market.
Statements to this effect were made in Moscow by the CEOs of
Gazprom and Transneft, Alexei Miller and Simon Vainshtock
respectively, and two days later by Vladimir Putin in Tomsk.
(Vainshtock even mentioned the amount of oil – 30 million tons a
year – which could be exported to the East instead of the
West.)

In response, Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to Turkey,
expressed fears over Russia’s gas monopoly and called for the
construction of a gas pipeline bypassing Russia and running
parallel to the Baku-Supsa-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Setting aside the
neo-conservative principles, the White House received Ilham Aliyev,
who has inherited the “throne” in Azerbaijan, while Vice President
Dick Cheney, on a visit to Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, extolled
the bilateral “strategic partnership,” while addressing the
country’s seemingly president for life, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who
received 91 percent of the votes in the latest elections. (After
the elections, agents of the Kazakh special services killed one of
Nazarbayev’s main political rivals, and another was arrested.) Yet,
despite Washington’s advances, Astana still does not transport oil
by the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and, like Ashgabat, has displayed no
interest in a gas pipeline that would serve as an alternative to
Gazprom’s.

Finally, as Russian policy toward China continues to emphasize
arms sales and priority energy supplies, American-Russian
cooperation in restraining the ‘Celestial Empire’ looks illusory,
even if one takes with a big grain of salt Moscow’s and Bejing’s
declarations of eternal friendship and joint opposition to a
unipolar world.

The erosion of American assets in Russia has been just as
obvious. Moscow has the impression that Russia’s special interests
in the post-Soviet space are deliberately ignored, instead of being
met with a degree of understanding. The Kremlin perceives
anti-authoritarian “colored revolutions” in the Commonwealth of
Independent States as being directed against Russia, and blames
Washington for these activities. Following the rapid granting of
NATO membership to the Baltic States, plans to speed up NATO
membership to Ukraine and Georgia are viewed by Moscow as a frontal
attack on its interests. It is as if the Kremlin has completely
forgotten the recent history of its country and is unable to
imagine true popular protest, not one that is conspired and paid
for from abroad. Such political cynicism is characteristic of all
restorations, be it the epoch of Charles II of England or Napoleon
III of France.
Moscow’s hopes for at least moral support from the U.S. in the
counterterrorist struggle on Russian territory have been
disappointed as well. Instead of providing assistance or at least
keeping silent on the issue, the Department of State,
nongovernmental organizations and the mass media continue to
criticize human rights violations in Chechnya and refuse (like the
majority of Russians) to view the policy of “Chechenization”
(“Kadyrovization”) of the conflict as a reliable way out of the
impasse. Besides, following the example of Great Britain, the
United States has clearly shown its unwillingness to cooperate with
Moscow in extradition of people accused by Russia of aiding and
abetting the Chechen terrorists.

The third strategic asset of the U.S. – providing assistance to
Russia with integrating into the global economy – has proven to be
an even less reliable factor in Moscow’s eyes. Moreover, America
has turned out to be, perhaps, the largest roadblock on Russia’s
way to WTO membership. Moscow blames Washington for this
predicament, although the Bush administration does not set the tone
here but obviously follows in the footsteps of powerful business
interests. American companies demand effective measures to be taken
to combat the large-scale theft of intellectual property,
especially music, films and computer programs. In 2005 alone, this
piracy cost U.S. copyright owners about two billion dollars.
Furthermore, banks want to be given the right to open not only
affiliate offices but also branch offices.

The ongoing problems with admission to the WTO have reopened
Moscow’s old wound inflicted by the Jackson-Vanik amendment which
has been aggravating relations between post-Soviet Russia and the
United States for almost 14 years now. The amendment forbids the
granting of “most favored nation” treatment to countries with a
non-market economy which restrict the right of their citizens to
emigrate. Although post-Soviet Russia has lifted all restrictions
on trips abroad and emigration and has for at least ten years
produced most of its gross domestic product in the non-governmental
sector (unlike China, which was granted this status in 2000 despite
obvious violations of both conditions), this affront to Russia’s
national dignity continues, in essence in violation of America’s
own laws.

All of these unfulfilled expectations are undermining an asset
that is the most important for Moscow: the realization of parity
with America and respect on its part. And now even Russian liberals
are calling for the accelerated development and deployment of
Topol-M (SS-25) strategic nuclear missiles with multiple re-entry
vehicles – mainly in order to make America resume negotiations for
mutual reductions of nuclear potentials! Commenting on this
position, one of its main advocates, expert Alexei Arbatov, said
frankly: “Of course, no one is planning to attack Russia, yet no
one wants to negotiate with it, either.” After the Russian
president delivered his address to the Federal Assembly two months
later, this approach seemed to have become part of official state
policy.

A STORM AHEAD?

The alienation between Washington and Moscow will most likely
continue to increase until at least 2009 when new administrations
will come to power in both countries. But even then the dynamics is
not likely to change in less than a year or two.

This flare-up of tensions is connected to the political
calendar: both the United States and Russia will almost
simultaneously launch presidential campaigns in which foreign
policy, as a rule, ceases to be an esoteric area dominated by the
highbrows and breaks out into a political fist fight.

In America, which “loses” Russia every four years since 1996
(later, after the presidential elections, it is “found” again), the
attack on the incumbent White House will start earlier than usual:
the United States will scrutinize the elections to Russia’s State
Duma in December 2007 under the microscope. It is difficult to
imagine a situation where there will not emerge numerous unpleasant
instances from the point of view of democratic procedures.

Besides, Moscow is very unlucky as far as the personalities are
concerned. The most popular Republican candidate for the U.S.
presidency today is Senator John McCain, who made the issue of the
“lost Russia” a catchphrase of his election campaign in 1999-2000
and whose critical ardor has since been only growing. McCain (like
all the other candidates) needs Russia in order to demonstrate his
knowledge of foreign-policy matters, as well as the attachment to
the moral component of the U.S. behavior in the world. The latter
factor has been an indispensable condition of all successful
presidential campaigns over the last 25 years, from Ronald Reagan
to Bill Clinton to George Bush Jr. (The underestimation of this
factor in 1992 was one of the main reasons for the defeat of George
Bush Sr, who was accused by Clinton of “coddling the butchers of
Tiananmen Square.”) In this context, Cheney’s provocative comments
on May 4, 2005 in Vilnius can be interpreted, at least partially,
as internal political tactics: a preventive attack intended to let
off steam as well as serve as a lightning rod. In other words:
Better we attack two months before the G8 summit in St. Petersburg
than let John McCain do it two days before it.

But criticism by McCain, who will have to “hold his horses”
because of party loyalty, will hardly compare with the storm that
will be brought down on the “pro-Russian” White House by the
Democrats (most likely by ex-Virginia governor Mark Warner and
certainly Hillary Clinton). This will be done in the same way the
Republicans did it in 1998-2000, when the subject of Russia was
used as a cudgel against Clinton. The refrain of the future
Democratic attack is easy to predict: in the 1990s, under Bill and
Boris, Russia followed the right path and we were friends, but then
along came the neo-conservative Republicans and spoiled everything;
now Russia is “lost” as it has come off the democratic rails and
instead of warm friendship we now have, at best, “Cold Peace.”

For his part, the Kremlin’s official nominee for the presidency
(as well as other candidates) will have to return fire by adding to
the dose of anti-Americanism that will be initially prescribed by
political consultants for his campaign.

Yet, a head-on confrontation and a new Cold War are highly
unlikely, at least for four reasons.

First, despite their erosion, the
aforementioned geo-strategic “assets” are far from being depleted
and continue to serve as a kind of frame outlining the basic
relations between the two countries.

Second, the objectives of Russia’s foreign and
defense policies, set in 1992-1993, remain unchanged. They are:
Russia as a regional superpower; Russia as a global nuclear
superpower; and, most importantly for America, Russia as one of
great powers (but not a superpower that would politically compete
with the United States worldwide). Although these objectives may
irritate Washington now and again, they will hardly evoke its deep
anxiety about America’s vital interests.

Third, despite the Kremlin’s inclination to
flex its muscles, Russia, unlike the Soviet Union and contemporary
China, is not a “revisionist” power that constantly seeks to change
the global balance of forces in its own favor. Such efforts require
an ideology and, as a result, a system of priorities, which Moscow
does not have today and will hardly have in the future. What
ideology can we speak of when Russia, while passionately defending
Iran’s right to the “peaceful development of nuclear energy” and a
resistance to “pressure through force,” simultaneously launches a
rocket from its Far Eastern space launch site Svobodny that is
carrying an Israeli spy satellite intended to monitor Iran’s
efforts to develop a nuclear bomb!

The share of the GDP spent by Russia, now rolling in
petrodollars, on defense (3 percent) is even less than it did in
1992-1997, after the Russian Federation had inherited an absolutely
empty treasury from the Soviet Union, and at least ten times less
than the Soviet Union did in 1985. On the basis of its purchasing
power parity (in absolute figures estimated for 2005), Russia’s
defense spending ($47.77 billion) is more than eleven times less
than the outlays on defense in the U.S. ($522 billion).

Yet, the most important factor of counteraction
to a new Cold War is the one that the Kremlin strategists have long
dismissed with contempt – namely, public opinion. Neither Americans
nor Russians will support any confrontation plans of their elites,
as they will not view them as necessary.

What did Americans know about the Soviet Union? They knew that
it was not allowed (or dangerous) to believe in God and go to
church there; that a person making “seditious” speeches or reading
banned books could be imprisoned; that this country was a
dictatorship in which people could not vote the way they wanted,
could not organize a political party, stage public protests, go on
strike or go abroad; that Moscow occupied Eastern Europe and was
preparing for war against the West. This knowledge was enough for
the elites to receive a mandate to wage the Cold War and sacrifice
billions of dollars and even the lives of Americans and their
allies. Ordinary people did not go to the root of the matter,
content to leave that for the elites.

In the late 1980s-early 1990s, ordinary Americans learned that
the situation in the Soviet Union had changed. Today, contrary to
Russia’s inexplicable qualification in various kinds of “freedom
indices” (for example, in frequently quoted annual reports by
Freedom House, Russia, since 1994, has been assigned the same
category as North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya), Americans
know that it is still a long way before Russia would turn into an
enemy. They know that Russians can go to church or synagogue;
travel abroad; write, publish, read and say anything they like.
They can participate in demonstrations, go on strike, and vote for
anyone they like; no one threatens Eastern Europe, while former
members of the Warsaw Pact and even former Soviet republics have
entered or are about to enter NATO. The remaining issues are for
the elites and have not yet formed a critical mass necessary to
change the post-Soviet stereotypes that shaped public attitudes
toward Russia almost 15 years ago. According to a February 2006
public opinion poll in the U.S., Russia ranks tenth among 22 most
popular countries: 54 percent of Americans had a positive attitude
toward the country (France received as many votes), while China
received 10 percent less votes. Last year’s poll conducted by the
Harris firm showed that only 8 percent of Americans considered
Russia an “enemy.”

In Russia, the situation is actually the same, despite recurrent
upsurges of anti-Americanism brought about by the developments in
Iraq, the Olympic Games, or various colored revolutions. While
Russians continue to be very critical of U.S. foreign policy,
according to a March 2006 poll by the Levada Center, 66 percent of
Russians expressed a good or very good attitude toward the U.S.
(against 17 percent whose opinion was bad or very bad). This
proportion has not changed since December 2001. (In America, the
number of people who have a very good perception of Russia has been
exceeding 80 percent since February 2000.)

So the ship will not sink. Yet be prepared for some heavy
rolling, pitching, rocking and seasickness. Put on your life
jackets and try to stay calm.