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memri
March 9, 2017 No.
6821

Renowned Russian Intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov: 'Rapprochement And Interaction With Iran, China, And India Are Not Intrinsically Valuable for Russia But Are A Tool… To Influence The West'

On February 9, 2017, Russian intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov published in the Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru an article, titled 'The Danger Of A Grand Bargain.' In the article, Lukyanov assessed that Iran has become a bartering coin in the Russian-American bargaining. Lukyanov wrote that Russia is tempted by a deal with the U.S., since "rapprochement and interaction with Iran, China, and India are not intrinsically valuable for Russia but are [merely] a tool, a means to influence the West or send it some message." He added: "As soon as the Kremlin manages to attract the serious attention of its European and especially American partners, they are immediately given priority over the non-Western countries."

However, Lukyanov warned that making any deal with U.S. President Donald Trump can be risky. First of all, Lukyanov reminded his readers that Trump is a president "who has almost the entire establishment and half the society set against him", and therefore it is necessary to factor in "the extreme shakiness" of such agreements with the Trump administration. Furthermore, Moscow could forfeit its reputation by such dealing. Lukyanov explained: "Discussions on how Russia can reach some agreement with the U.S. by pushing into the background those with whom it has managed to raise the level of trust over the past years, can only lead to weakening Russia’s position both in the East and the West. There is nothing worse than changing direction all the time. Trumps come and go, but reputation remains."

Following are excerpts from Lukyanov's article:[1]

https://img.gazeta.ru/files3/809/7890809/upload-lukyanov-pic305-305x175-42211.png
Fyodor Lukyanov (Source: Gazeta.ru)

'The Problem Lies In The Feeling That Iran Has Become… A Bargaining Chip In Russian-American Negotiating

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported,[2] citing a source with links to the U.S. president’s administration that Washington would try to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran. This news produced a wave of speculations on the subject of what the U.S. can offer Moscow for parting ways with some of its partners. Beijing is, of course, mentioned side by side with Teheran; these two capitals constitute the 'direction of  the major strike' for Donald Trump and like-minded people.

"The subject of a 'grand bargain' or a series of deals between the U.S. and Russia, which may give rise to a new configuration not only between the two but in the world as a whole, is on everyone’s lips. Trump’s own rhetoric has contributed to this; he constantly emphasizes his business background and readiness to make 'more profitable deals' than Obama or anybody else.

"Whether this 'trade and purchase approach is applicable to such a complex area as international relations is a separate question. Yalta (the Allies’ accords following the victory over Germany and Japan), so beloved by his followers, is maybe not a unique case, but definitely inapplicable here.


The Yalta Conference of 1945 – No way back (Wikipedia.org)

"Rather straightforward trade-offs between the powers, accompanied by distribution of spheres of influence, were then feasible because the areas themselves had already been established by force of arms in the course of the cruel world war. The existence of a balance and a clearly delineated area of contention (Europe and adjacent territories, such as Iran) made those talks very specific. The deal was no longer relevant beyond the area of combat activity – a fact that predetermined the bitter rivalry in the rest of the world in 1950–1980s, which at times escalated to proxy conflicts.

"Now similar conditions are absent; accordingly, the proverbial deal, if it is at all possible, will not be a straightforward partition and exchange of interests, but something like Obama's 'reset', so disliked today by both sides. The latter, if you remove all the verbal rigmarole, was a model of packaging together several subjects, which were not directly related to each other and had different weight for each of the parties. The linchpin of the deal was the agreement on the reduction of nuclear weapons, and attached to it were Iran (sanctions), anti-missile defense (suspension of deployment in Europe), Russia’s membership in WTO and the US administration’s informal agreement to dial down its activity in the post-Soviet space [the former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries].

It is noteworthy that Trump, resolutely rejecting all that his predecessor did, especially in foreign affairs, and in particular where Russia is concerned, recently started talking, either instinctively or at random, about reproducing the same model.

"In an interview to the London Times,[3] he suddenly suggested that the removal of sanctions could be tied to the continuation of the process of nuclear disarmament. The absurdity of formulating the issue this way is clear to any international relations expert (sanctions against Russian individuals and economic agents, which the American Congress is ready to introduce endlessly, and the subject of global strategic stability are two categories simply incompatible in their weight), but it is characteristic that Trump started speaking about this set-up again.

"One impact of the 2010–2011 'reset' was the crisis in Russia-Iran relations. Teheran still feels hurt enough to remind every Russian visitor that then Moscow not only supported the harsh UN-introduced sanctions but, in fact, joined Washington’s unilateral measures by abandoning the idea of supplying the S-300 systems. But even that is not the problem; the problem is in the feeling that Iran has become (not for the first time so it believes) a bargaining chip in Russian-American negotiating. Here lies the main problem related to the discussions around 'the grand bargain.' Some of Russia’s non-Western partners believe that Moscow, despite all the zigzags and flare-ups, remains exclusively Western-centric in its policy.

'There Is Nothing Worse Than Changing Direction All The Time. Trumps Come And Go, But Reputation Remains'

"In other words, rapprochement and collaboration with Iran, China, and India are not intrinsically valuable for Russia but are a tool, a means of influencing the West or sending it some message. But as soon as the Kremlin manages to attract the serious attention of its European and especially American partners, they are immediately given priority over the non-Western countries.

"It is arguable whether this interpretation is justified and appropriate. But it’s hard to deny that there is a heightened sensitivity towards relations with the West, which at times develops into a sort of obsession (expressed either as the desire to hug and kiss or, in the opposite [extreme], as confrontational fervor). At least for the past two and a half centuries, West-centrism has been the determining factor of the Russian politics. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia at first sharply jerked the steering wheel in the direction of the West, sincerely assuming that everything else was secondary, and then fought for a long time to be recognized by the USA and Europe as an equal and significant player. This fully formed the above-described image of a country for which the sun rises in the West.

For the last couple of years, especially since 2014, this perception underwent a correction– after Moscow quite resolutely opposed the Western line in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

But the appearance of Trump has revived the old suspicions: 'The Russians, they say, will reach yet another agreement with the Americans at our expense.'

"Maybe it would have been flattering to return to the world of the second half of the 20th century, when Moscow and Washington were able, between the two of them, to control practically the entire world. But one can’t turn back the clock. Russia is not the Soviet Union, and even the U.S., it seems, has realized it has overextended itself and is beginning to abandon the idea of global domination.

"A straightforward attempt at a 'grand bargain' with the U.S. will not only fail to lead to a clear demarcation (it is objectively impossible); it also threatens to fatally undermine Russia’s reputation in the eyes of its partners whose role on the global stage is appreciating. Leave out the fact that in making any 'deals' with a president who has almost the entire establishment and half of society set against him, one must be aware of the extreme shakiness of such agreements.

"All the above does not mean that we should not seek points of convergence or interests that we could balance or exchange with the new administration. It is a necessary condition for exiting the current impasse in Russian-American relations –an impasse that narrows Russia’s general possibilities on the global stage. And, of course, the eggs and baskets rule is still relevant: China, India, Iran, and other non-Western partners of Moscow are themselves attempting to diversify their relations as much as possible, including reinforcing their ties with the U.S.

"It is always useful to remind even your most important partner that there are other fish in the sea. However, discussions on how Russia can reach some agreement with the U.S. by relegating to the background those with whom it has managed to raise the level of [mutual] trust over the past years, can only lead to weakening Russia’s position both in the East and the West. There is nothing worse than changing direction all the time. Trumps come and go, but reputation remains."