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memri
May 21, 2019 No.
8075

Russian Expert Lukyanov: Russia-US Relations Are Characterized Not By One Systemic Conflict As During The Cold War, But By A Series Of Non-Systemic Conflicts

On May 14, 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Russia.[1] During his trip to Russia, Pompeo met with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. This was the second time in a month that Lavrov met with Pompeo. In the joint press conference, Lavrov commented on Russia-US relations:

"It is clear that our relations with the United States are going through a rough patch, and the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation remains largely untapped. This is due in no small part to the anti-Russia sanctions policy inherited by the current US administration from its predecessors.

"Since Russia and the United States are the two biggest nuclear powers, tension between them inevitably affects the overall state of global affairs. It is for this reason that Mike Pompeo and I agreed on the need to come up with practical steps to get the current situation back on the right track.

"Russia is interested in normalizing our dialogue. We strongly believe in the possibility and reality of achieving this by working in the spirit of mutual respect and taking into consideration each other's interests."[2]

After the press conference, the two diplomats shared the moment with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the meeting, Putin stressed the "exotic" character of the Mueller investigation and the fact that no trace of collusion was found between Russia and the Trump administration. Putin said: "I got the impression that the President [Trump] is in favor of restoring Russia-US ties and contacts and resolving issues of mutual interest.

"For our part, we have said many times that we would also like to restore relations on a full scale. I hope that the necessary conditions for this are being created now since, despite the exotic character of Mr Mueller's work, he should be given credit for conducting what is generally an objective inquiry. He reaffirmed the lack of any trace or collusion between Russia and the current administration, which we described as sheer nonsense from the very start. There was no, nor could there be any interference on our part in the US election at the government level. Nevertheless, regrettably, these allegations have served as a reason for the deterioration of our interstate ties."[3]

Commenting on the meeting, Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Rossiya-1 TV channel: "The joint press conference [after bilateral talks] also showed that there is a desire and striving to finally launch the process of restoring bilateral relations. Moscow, at least, has been saying that for a long time, but I believe that today the American side said the same in a very positive manner."[4]

Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov also commented on the Russia-US relations: "There is no breakthrough yet, but the US side demonstrated a constructive approach."[5]

After the meeting, Russian expert Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, wrote an article in the Russian government's newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta analyzing what is likely to follow Pompeo's visit to Russia.[6]

Lukyanov said that Russian–American contacts during the Trump administration era are cyclical in nature. "Revival comes with comparably positive declarations regarding good intentions, and then the revival is being replaced by a stormy cold, which is accompanied by threats and active actions to implement those threats," Lukyanov wrote. He then added that Russia-US relations are not characterized by a systemic conflict as it was during the Cold War, but by a series of non-systemic conflicts, alternated by rapprochement intentions.[7]

Below is Lukyanov's article:[8]


Russian President Vladimir Putin with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Source: Kremlin.ru, May 14, 2019)


Meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Source: Kremlin.ru, May 14, 2019)

Russia-US Contacts Under The Trump Administration Are Of A Cyclical Nature

"Russian–American contacts during the Trump administration era are of a peculiarly cyclical nature. Revival stages attended by comparably positive declarations regarding [good] intentions then give way to a stormy chill, which is accompanied by threats and their implementation into action.

"An experienced observer will notice that there is nothing fundamentally new. Such a trajectory has been inherent to Moscow-Washington relations for decades, since the Cold War. Yet, the current stage has its own quite specific manifestation. Unfortunately, it transforms the usual fluctuations, which have previously produced some result nevertheless, into an imitation of dialogue.

"Putatively positive phases (epitomized by Trump's constant refrain of his intention to 'get along' with both Putin and Russia) are limited to tortuous agreement on summit meetings and an acceptable agenda. Afterwards, the meeting either does not take place, which occurred repeatedly, or leads to a new unconditionally negative phase, that is not rhetorical but with applications characterized by the imposition of new political and economic limitations against Russia. Then, everything repeats itself…

"The US is going through a transformation, seeking its role in a world totally different from what it was 20, 40 and [even] 5 years ago. For a superpower, which is used to its role of a hegemon, this is painfully damaging..

"Trump entered the White House with a mandate from his voters: abandon the global role and address the solution of internal issues. The global leader function has run its course– the costs exceed the tolerable… The majority of the American population ceased to understand why they needed the 'America without borders' concept (figuratively and literally) –and began viewing it as harmful to them.part came to an understanding that this concept is harmful for its interests. Trump became the appointee of this part of the population…

"By inertia, [US-Russia relations] are surrounded by an aura of paramount importance, as in former decades the Moscow-Washington axis was the strategic linchpin of world politics. With the end of the Cold War this status started to fade away, yet, the huge mutual nuclear arsenals maintained the importance of bilateral contacts. At the moment, the White House is dismantling the system of agreements in this [nuclear] sphere, as it no longer considers it necessary. But in the Trumpian 'world of trade balances' Moscow does not exist. To put it more exactly, it exists intermittently as an obstacle– for example, to the expansion of American LNG's [share] of the European market. The shirking of global leadership does not mean the US isolationism, but rather sporadic forays in areas Washington deems important for one reason or another. [That means] avoiding the assumption of responsibility for something, while demonstrating its power and influence in order to achieve concrete objectives.

"The inconstancy tied to the absence of a long run strategy is impossible in the aforementioned transformation stage. All that leads to a proliferation in clashes of interests, including with Moscow. Thus, instead of the single systemic conflict of the Cold War - we [now] have series of non-systemic conflicts, characteristic of times of transition. This also lead to the lack of an established agenda [with Russia]: on the one hand the agenda is vast, including regional tensions starting from Venezuela, DPRK and Ukraine, yet on the other - it's inadequate, since it's hard to understand what are the principles for building a conversation.

"The Sochi meeting concluded with another enumeration of those matters that need to be discussed. Alas, not for the first time."

 


[2] Mid.ru, May 14, 2019.

[3] Kremlin.ru, May 14, 2019.

[4] Tass.com, May 14, 2019.

[5] Tass.com, May 14, 2019.

[6] Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

[7] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8059, Russian Expert Sushentsov: Russia-West Phony Cold War, May 12, 2019.

[8] Rg.ru, May 15, 2019.