United States Lost Russia and Everything Else
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

The financial crisis has pushed the Russia question to the back
burner during the U.S. presidential election campaign. No matter
what might have happened in Georgia — or any other former Soviet
republic — U.S. citizens are far more worried about the safety of
their bank accounts and retirement savings. And however hard
today’s Russia might try, it can never become the looming threat to
the United States that the Soviet Union had been.

It is impossible to glean enough information from the
candidates’ speeches to determine what their respective policies
toward Russia would be as president. Their overriding priority is
to win supporters by saying exactly what voters want to hear. It is
thus far more important for them to win over voters of East
European ancestry in the swing states than to formulate a realistic
policy on Russia. You cannot win votes with moderate statements.
But that does not mean the heated rhetoric the candidates use on
the campaign trail will necessarily translate into actual foreign
policy later.

It is therefore less important to study the statements Senators
John McCain and Barack Obama make regarding Russia, which are
practically identical and lacking in substance, than to take a look
at the problems that the winning candidate will inherit from
outgoing President George W. Bush.

If we distance ourselves from the strong emotions that have
characterized recent U.S.-Russian relations, we can see that Bush’s
role in them over the past eight years has been, if not positive,
then at least restrained. Nowadays, only the laziest political
commentators miss a chance to ridicule Bush’s comment about looking
into then-President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and seeing his soul
during the 2001 U.S.-Russia summit in Ljubljana, Slovenia. And for
some inexplicable reason, Bush retained his desire to have friendly
relations with his Russian counterpart until the very end of
Putin’s presidency.

Of course, it would be valid to ask what good that did if
U.S.-Russian relations have fallen so low as to threaten a new Cold
War. I will go on a limb and suggest that if Bush had not had such
a strange predilection, the relationship between the two countries
would have worsened much earlier and could have become more
dangerous. For his part, Bush tried to accommodate the feelings of
his «friend Vladimir» and made a greater effort to smooth over the
rough edges of their relationship than he did for others. Further,
Bush was less hawkish on Russia than other members of his

Bush’s ambitious foreign policy goals to reshape the world
following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks combined with a strong
ideological bias led to an inability to cope with a range of
subsequent challenges. Bush’s excessively self-assured belief that
he could achieve his objectives regardless of all other
considerations turned into an arrogant attitude toward his global
partners. In addition, his open disregard for international law and
his reliance on military made a bad situation even worse. Although
the Bush administration spent its second term trying to correct the
mistakes of the first, the severe damage had already been done.

Moscow policymakers customarily viewed Bush administration
policies as having been openly anti-Russian. I’m afraid it was
worse than that. They were not intentionally anti-Russian, but they
seemed so because in carrying out their plans, Washington did not
see the need to take Russia’s views into consideration — or those
of many other international players. Those plans were at times part
of a larger strategy only indirectly connected with Russia, such as
expanding NATO membership and democracy throughout the former
Soviet republics or creating a universal missile-defense shield
with installations in Central Europe.

That neglect caused the relationship between Moscow and
Washington to worsen rapidly. The U.S. position in world politics
simultaneously deteriorated because of the same policies on a
global scale. It would take hours to list all the major and minor
U.S. foreign policy failures that accrued during Bush’s presidency.
With no states holding power or influence comparable to that of the
United States — and with none likely to appear in the near future
— Washington has only itself to blame for its failures. It follows
that the relative strengthening of countries hostile to the United
States — including Russia — is largely a result of the rapid
decline of U.S. leadership, which probably reached its peak in the
second half of the 1990s.

The favorite question of this election campaign — «Who lost
Russia?» — misses the point. The better question would be, «Who
lost everything?»

Much has been said in support of globalization. But when the
talk turns to global politics, people focus on individual colors of
the global palette and draw conflicting distinctions between them.
It is impossible to pursue a separate policy for a single state
that is detached from the overall context. The United States cannot
dream up an underhanded policy for Russia without having to change
the rest of its foreign policy as well.

Both U.S. presidential candidates have spoken of their intention
to seriously reconsider Bush’s failed foreign policy model. They
have promised to restore good relations with U.S. allies and to
work with them on an equal basis in solving global problems. In
addition, they vowed to treat international institutions more
seriously, although this is somewhat problematic since few of them
work effectively. Nonetheless, the candidates’ good intentions are

The key to solving many global problems would be if Washington
were to demonstrate a willingness to make a serious compromise with
anyone and on any issue. In other words, when the United States
sees that its plans elicit well-founded and logical objections from
its foreign partners, it should be willing to step back and
reconsider its course. Today, the United States gives the
impression that it is opposed to any compromise and that it is
prepared to achieve its objectives at any price.

As many have already said, the next administration will inherit
the most difficult state of affairs in the country’s foreign policy
since 1968. That is when Richard Nixon became president against the
backdrop of a failing war in Vietnam, worldwide indignation over
U.S. actions, flaring tensions in the Middle East and an increase
in Soviet power following the suppression of Prague Spring. During
his 1 1/2 terms as president before being forced to resign over the
Watergate affair, Nixon managed to untangle many of the policy
knots created by his predecessor. Whether it be McCain or Obama,
the person who takes the presidential oath in January will have to
be prepared to tackle some very tough foreign policy

| The Moscow