RUSSIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS are going through what is probably their worst phase in the last 70 years. Diplomatic contacts are at a bare minimum. Dialogue on education, science, culture, sports, and humanitarian cooperation has been almost entirely cut off by the American side. Trade and economic ties have been fatally disrupted by a wave of sanctions. The anti-Russian hysteria in the American media and political circles in effect recreates the atmosphere of the times of the struggle against the “red threat.” At the same time, readers may recall that in the USSR and the US of the early 1950s, memories of the recent alliance in the fight against the Axis countries were still alive, and the negative attitude toward the Soviet Union in American society was based on an ideological (anti-communist) foundation and did not transform into the banal and primitive Russophobia that we are witnessing today. It does not seem possible to pull the bilateral dialogue out of the steep nosedive brought on by Washington. Under the current circumstances, further decline appears almost irreversible.
Such is the sad end of the long path that our two countries have traveled over the past 30 years. Back when Russia and the US decided to reject the legacy of the Cold War and foster a full-fledged partnership, few could have predicted such an outcome. Recently, the anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s June 1992 visit, seemingly groundbreaking at the time, to the US passed almost unnoticed. Many people remember that event because of the Russian leader’s unprecedented address to Congress, but the capstone of the trip was the signing of the Charter for Russian-American Partnership and Friendship.1
It was this document that was intended to give impetus to the development of relations between the two countries for decades to come. Its premises (for example, that Russia and the US would unite in their efforts toward strengthening international peace and security, preventing and settling regional conflicts, and solving global problems) made a revolutionary impression against the backdrop of memories of bipolar confrontation. But, as it turned out, summer 1992 was the high point in the development of dialogue; ahead lay a decline that brought us to the current state.
Before answering the question of whether it is possible to get out of the current impasse, it would be worthwhile to consider why the starry-eyed dreaming of the elites (as well as the peoples) of the two countries of 30 years ago failed to translate into practical results. What lessons can we learn from the sad experience of interaction with Washington during that period? What did the two presidents fail to consider and foresee when developing the principles of “partnership and friendship” that were never implemented?
Of course, the simplest approach would be to list the turning points that have undermined mutual trust, such as NATO expansion, the bombing of Yugoslavia, the “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space, the “sanctions war” unleashed by the American side after the annexation of Crimea, etc. But those events seem to be rather the consequence of general malignant tendencies, which in any case have metastasized into the fabric of bilateral cooperation since the first days of its recent, post-Soviet history. A careful look at the nature of relations between Moscow and Washington leaves no doubt: They were doomed from the very start to dwindle to the current collapse. In a sense, it is even surprising that the collapse we are seeing today did not occur earlier. For reasons that will be described below, such an outcome seems natural and logical.
The Ideological Factor
“IT IS extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.… We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”2 These words of President Vladimir Putin concluded a New York Times article published in September 2013 at the height of discussion in the US about the possibility of launching strikes in Syria in circumvention of the UN Security Council.
From the viewpoint of common sense and values shared by almost all countries and peoples of the planet, these points made by the Russian leader sounded like a statement of immutable truths. In the American establishment, however, they caused sudden hysteria. For example, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said he was offended by what he read, and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez admitted that he almost threw up after reading the article. This reaction, delusional by the standards of outside observers, in fact reflects well the peculiarities of the American mentality, which, in fact, has obstructed the development of healthy, constructive contacts with Moscow all these years.
The obsession with the belief in one’s exceptionality and the resulting messianic longing for hegemony from the very outset jibed poorly with the principles of equality and mutual respect on which, even in the era of “Kozyrev’s diplomacy,” Russia persistently insisted. Simply owing to the incompatibility of conceptual approaches to cooperation and partnership, the belief in the possibility of establishing allied relations between Moscow and Washington was utopian from the very beginning.
Let us go back to a kind of starting point: the year 1992. While representatives of the presidents of the two countries were developing the ideas that later formed the basis of the Charter for Partnership and Friendship, a document containing completely different guidelines was already circulating in the Pentagon. The draft Defense Planning Guidance FY 1994-1999, developed by a group within the Department of Defense (mainly by the later famous diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad), clearly showed the true prevailing sentiments in the US political leadership. “Our strategy,” the text said, “must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential global competitor.” At the same time, according to the authors, the US had to consolidate its “geopolitical dominance” through the expansion of the “democratic zone” – i.e., through the notorious export of democracy. Thus, Washington must “maintain mechanisms to deter potential aggressors from aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”3
The leak of the draft to the press and the fallout provoked by the contrast between its provisions and the more peaceful campaign rhetoric of George H.W. Bush led to the revision of the final version by the Pentagon, then headed by Dick Cheney. But it was revised more in form and style, while the overall message remained the same. The intents outlined in it were implemented, one way or another, by all subsequent administrations, and the very aspiration of the US to global domination became for the country’s political elites an axiom not subject to criticism or rethinking.
Already in the early 1990s, US officials explicitly stated that “America’s status as the world’s only superpower should remain unchallenged” (Colin Powell),4 “the future of democracy and US interests can hardly be entrusted to international institutions” (James Baker),5 “[The US] should act unilaterally when that will serve our purpose” (Anthony Lake),6 etc. According to political scientist Hal Brands, since that time, the main objective of the US’s national strategy has been the indefinite preservation of global superiority and the so-called “unipolar moment.”7
According to this paradigm, the legitimate claims of post-Soviet Russia to the status of an equal power, ensuring in tandem with the US the maintenance of strategic stability and the settlement of international conflicts, could not be met with understanding. Especially since the focus on expanding influence and consolidating American leadership has been enshrined in all strategic documents issued since then by successive administrations. Even when the crisis of unipolarity became obvious to the American political community, Washington failed to abandon these mantras. In particular, the National Security Strategy of Barack Obama (2010),8 who came to power in the wake of criticism of the war in Iraq, states that the US’s national interest lies in the existence of an “international order advanced by US leadership.” In turn, the National Security Strategy of the anti-globalist Donald Trump (2017) declared: “When America does lead, however, from a position of strength and confidence and in accordance with our interests and values, all benefit.”9
Within the framework of such a worldview, Russia could only be destined for the fate of a junior partner and a diligent student, involved in solving important world problems only with Washington’s permission. The institutions that facilitated cooperation on an equal footing were rapidly losing importance for American leaders. The reluctance of the US to resolve controversial issues in the UN Security Council (whose special importance was stated in the text of the Charter for Partnership and Friendship) was fully manifested at the height of the Kosovo crisis and became ever clearer with time. The US’s interest in the CSCE (and later the OSCE), which was also assigned a special role in the Charter, was systematically and rapidly declining. Thus, when crises arose in the Balkans, and then in the post-Soviet space, Washington preferred to act unilaterally, practically without involving this organization. The US preferred not to discuss seriously the idea of inviting Russia into NATO, fearing that Moscow would receive veto power, which would undermine Washington’s leading position in the bloc. At the same time, the activities of the Russia-NATO Council were also gradually emasculated. Thomas Graham, special assistant to President George W. Bush for Russia, acknowledged that he could not recall a single Council meeting where the alliance’s position had not been agreed in advance, “which completely contradicted the spirit of the Founding Act.”10 Washington also preferred to ignore Moscow’s opinion about the prospects of integrating new members into the alliance, including Georgia and Ukraine, simply presenting it with a fait accompli.
At the same time, the US authorities doctrinally linked the future of bilateral relations with the willingness of the Russian side to move along “freedom’s path.”11 The American-style democracy imposed on Russia was also used by Washington to meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs. For example, Sergey Stepashin recalled that during a visit to Washington in the summer of 1999, his American interlocutor (Strobe Talbott) spoke “confidentially” about the former’s precarious political situation in Moscow and offered to provide “support.”12 As the possibility of exerting this kind of influence on the Russian system decreased, the US felt growing irritation, reflected in a 2006 speech in Vilnius by Cheney, who candidly said: “America and all of Europe also want to see Russia in the category of healthy, vibrant democracies.”13 At the same time, Russian citizens were basically told that their choice in favor of a model of democracy based on traditional values was “wrong”: The US reserved the right to decide which form of democracy was the right one.
While it may seem at certain stages that disagreements between representatives of various foreign policy doctrines played a significant role in Washington, these differences have largely been erased regarding the export of democracy. Adherents of political realism, associated with Henry Kissinger’s “school,” have long lost their former leading positions, while supporters of liberal interventionism and neoconservatives, who have dominated the establishment in recent years, have always been unanimous on this point. Gradually, the corresponding guidelines were adapted by politicians who had been considered pragmatists, including Robert Gates, former director of the CIA and secretary of defense, who traditionally acted as a realist far from the extremes. In one of his recent works, Gates agreed that American support for those who stand for freedom and democracy has been a source of global influence and power for the US, and therefore attempts at this kind of interference in the internal affairs of Russia and neighboring countries were not wrong.14
Hence the desire of the current administration to use the Ukraine crisis and the sanctions campaign to change the regime in Russia, where the citizens’ democratic choice did not meet America’s expectations. Remarkably, another staunch realist and pragmatist, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, literally formulated this directive in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, commenting that the US would be able to return to negotiations with Moscow only after a change in Russia’s leadership.15 Despite Joe Biden’s declarations that regime change is not among the goals of the US,16 American actions, including waging psychological warfare against the Russian population to provoke Russian citizens to demonstrate against their government, suggest the opposite.
Amid the profound polarization of sentiment in the US and the growing popularity of extreme left- and right-wing radical forces, it is tempting to assume that such a state of affairs will gradually become a thing of the past, giving way to a less active and a less expansionist model of behavior, and the potential for a revival of dialogue will emerge. But in reality, polling data show a different picture: 60% of Americans still believe that the US should remain the sole superpower. This figure has hardly changed since the mid-1990s, despite all the fluctuations in public opinion on other issues (the same goes for another indicator: 57% of respondents agree that the US should maintain its military superiority).17 Support for active US involvement in NATO activities is even higher and just as stable.18 In this context, it is not surprising that 85% of Republicans and 95% of Democrats supported the sanctions imposed on Russia by the Biden administration.19 The ideology of exceptionalism, which is perceived under the current circumstances through the lens of unipolarity, remains dominant in American society.
From Hopes to Crises
A PARAMOUNT ROLE is played by the chief proponents – one might say the priests – of this ideology: the architects of American foreign policy of the last decades who often steered it in a certain direction against the initial will of presidents. It is telling that in their first years in office, the four US leaders who occupied the White House before Joe Biden sincerely tried to establish a dialogue and seek compromise with Moscow, but finished their terms in the face of the gravest crises in bilateral relations. This is largely due to the fact that they did not have a deep understanding of international affairs before arriving in the Oval Office: Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were successful state governors but had a fuzzy understanding of foreign policy; Barack Obama’s experience at the national level was limited to four years in the Senate (of which at least half was spent on the presidential campaign); and Donald Trump won only because of his image as an outsider populist who had nothing to do with the “Washington swamp.” All of them had to rely on a cohort of advisers and consultants who were rapidly steering policy in the opposite direction of the presidents’ policy guidelines, including (and especially) with regard to Russia.
Already during his first foreign visit, Clinton held talks with his Russian counterpart, immediately indicating the priority he attached to dialogue with Moscow. The appointment of his close friend Strobe Talbott (who soon became deputy secretary of state) as the de facto curator of Russian affairs was to symbolize the intention to establish the closest possible contacts with the Russian leadership. At the time of his election, Clinton was not a strong proponent of NATO expansion and supported Russia’s increasing influence in Eurasia. During one of his meetings with Yeltsin, he even predicted that Moscow would soon be getting involved in resolving issues in areas near its borders just as the US “has been involved in Panama and Grenada.”20 Nevertheless, his national security adviser Anthony Lake, an ideologist of the doctrine of the expansion of democracy, gradually managed to persuade his boss that broadening the alliance to eventually include even post-Soviet countries was necessary. Opponents of this line were forced to either leave the administration (as did secretary of defense William Perry) or switch over to the side of the Atlanticists who had won the internal debate (as Talbott did). Toward the end of the decade, Talbott, a former skeptic, was proposing that the president not take seriously the opinions of critics of expansion, such as George Kennan, the patriarch of American diplomacy.21
Similar trends were observed in other administrations. The aspiration of George W. Bush to establish constructive cooperation and even de facto alliance with Russia after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was recorded in his National Security Strategy.22 However, at the same time, the president’s closest associates, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and a team of neoconservatives that followed his lead, began to pursue a course of ignoring Moscow’s concerns on a wide range of issues.
The Kremlin’s patient reaction to the US decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and invade Iraq in defiance of the UN Security Council was perceived by the White House as weakness, prompting the Bush administration to intensify the “export of democracy” to countries of the post-Soviet space. At the same time, the question automatically arose not only about supporting the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, but also about their joining NATO. Condoleezza Rice, who until recently supported the work of the bilateral channel for establishing cooperation, explained the need to provide Kiev and Tbilisi with guarantees of future membership in the alliance despite Russia’s objections with the phrase “Moscow needs to know that the Cold War is over and Russia lost.”23 Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia, provoked by that decision of the alliance, was used without hesitation by the “hawks” in the administration to definitively “freeze” dialogue with Moscow.
Early in his presidency, Obama indicated his intention to “reset” relations with Russia, which quickly resulted in progress in a number of areas, including the negotiation and ratification of the New START Treaty. However, as early as 2011, the president was persuaded to make unilateral decisions to the detriment of the “reset.” The US’s active involvement in the events of the “Arab Spring,” which culminated in the intervention in Libya that was carried out contrary to the position that had been previously coordinated with Moscow, was “pushed” by a group of young presidential aides (Antony Blinken, Ben Rhodes, and Samantha Power) led by US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. They managed to convince Obama that “the United States should be on the right side of history.”24 As a result, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, who advocated a more moderate approach, were forced to yield under the pressure of colleagues and adopt a new, offensive line.
The split in relations with Moscow on the Libya issue was aggravated by the actions of the US in Syria, which interventionists inside the administration also perceived in a purely ideologized way. It reached the point of absurdity: For the sake of overthrowing the Assad regime, Rhodes pushed for supplying weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, a branch of Al Qaeda in Syria, which he himself proudly describes in his memoirs.25
The “reset” atmosphere officially became a vestige of the past after active US intervention in the Ukraine crisis. As Michael McFaul recalled,26 the 2014 coup in Kiev caused real euphoria in American corridors of power. Destructive processes in bilateral relations reached a climax at the end of the Obama presidency with the introduction, contrary to international law and based on speculation, of sanctions against Russia in response to fictional “interference” in American elections.
Finally, President Trump’s desire to establish constructive relations with Russia was sabotaged almost from the very first days by his associates – in particular, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis, whom the press sarcastically dubbed “the adults in the room.” With the appointment of John Bolton as head of the National Security Council, Washington had finally set a course for confrontation and the complete destruction of the arms control system that had remained the cornerstone of dialogue since the Cold War. Trump, who came to the White House with promises to find common ground with Vladimir Putin, by the end of his term was merely passively watching the rapid demise of treaties that had survived all previous crises, including the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that the few positive impulses emanating from Biden’s team in 2021, be it the extension of New START or the intensification of dialogue on cybersecurity, were devalued overnight with the start of the active phase of a new crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, the pragmatists, who had not yet disappeared completely by that time, joined in the overall Russophobic chorus, as did, for instance, the CIA director and former ambassador to Russia William Burns.27 This process was accelerated by the fact that, ever since his time in the Senate, Biden himself has consistently adhered to an anti-Russian position; unlike his predecessors, he did not even have to adjust his stance.
Who Has the Power Here?
BUT EVEN if we were to imagine that in the circle of one of the next American leaders a “new Kissinger” would emerge who would be able to rise above opportunistic considerations and outline a more balanced course within the framework of building relations with Moscow, hopes for a new “détente” remain illusory. In all likelihood, any such effort will be hampered and undermined as much as possible by mid-level bureaucrats. Unlike in the 1970s, when the strong-willed decision of President Nixon and his closest adviser could radically reverse a destructive course, in today’s Washington, the so-called “foreign policy community” has gained enormous influence.
As a rule, this term refers to “international relations specialists” – think tank analysts, professors of elite universities, columnists of leading news agencies, consultants, activists, employees of specialized foundations, etc., whose ideas and recommendations shape discourse on global issues and who also serve as a kind of “personnel pool” for alternating administrations. In theory, this principle of “revolving doors,” in accordance with which this “community” – the executive branch (primarily the NSC, the State Department, and the Pentagon) as well as Congress – enrich each other with personnel and ideas, should strengthen the intellectual potential and variability of American foreign policy.
In practice, however, as Harvard professor Stephen Walt rightly notes, the “community” only contributes to cementing the liberal-globalist course within the frames of which the US develops its approaches to key world problems. Its representatives have vested career and financial interests in the inviolability of the course on ensuring American leadership. As a result, that course has been pursued without significant changes since the end of the Cold War.28
The stagnation and parasitic nature of this “community” became especially evident in the context of its influence on the development of Russian-American dialogue. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, working in the Russian direction ceased to be an alluring career prospect for many of the new cast of US professionals. According to political scientist Andrew Weiss,29 for the most active and ambitious members of the foreign policy community, the post-Soviet space significantly lost in appeal to the so-called Greater Middle East.
A small group of politically influential Russia experts consisted of ideologically focused personalities of a limited scale who had staked this position out for themselves during the Clinton administration. They include, for example, the “trio” of authors of the concept of NATO expansion, commissioned by Lake (Alexander Vershbow, Nicholas Burns, and Daniel Fried, who became the ideologist of the sanctions offensive against Russia under Barack Obama); Victoria Nuland, who got her start as chief of staff for Talbott; and their numerous protégés, such as Kurt Volker, who was appointed special representative for Ukraine under Trump.
Of course, at various stages, more pragmatic and realistically thinking individuals, such as the aforementioned Graham, tried to compete with them for influence, but, as a rule, they failed to win in this bureaucratic struggle in the long run. Some political scientists, such as RAND Corporation analyst Samuel Charap and of the Kennan Institute director Matthew Rojansky, remained “benched” for years and were not given any serious appointments due to their insufficiently anti-Russian position. A whole media campaign was launched against Rojansky’s appointment in the Biden administration in 2021.
Overall, according to the well-known expert Michael Kofman, by the end of the 2010s, two types of Russia experts remained inside the US government: the “missionaries” of liberal democracy and the more assertive “crusaders,” both of whom are two sides of the same coin.30 Most of them are distinguished by an extremely formulaic and primitive perception of Russia. For example, McFaul31 and Nuland32 often cited in their speeches the “positive” experience of the 1990s and contrasted Russian history and culture (for which they allegedly had warm feelings) with the Russian political system, failing to realize that it was precisely that most powerful historical and sociocultural formation that served as the foundation of the political system and its stability.
The informal club of Russia experts within the administration could not be diluted even by Trump’s team, although the latter, as was already mentioned, had been advocating for a radical improvement in relations with Moscow since his election campaign. It is telling that Michael Flynn, the main proponent of a Russia-US warming within Trump’s entourage, invited the obviously skeptical Fiona Hill to oversee Russia on the National Security Council, rather than experts who were in favor of dialogue. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a recipient of Russia’s Order of Friendship and a critic of anti-Russian sanctions (on whom, according to Hill, Trump laid the main responsibility for contacts with Moscow33), appointed the well-known Russophobic political analyst Wess Mitchell as head of European and Eurasian affairs in the State Department.
During their time in the White House and the State Department, they and their associates managed to aggravate the already deep crisis of relations through direct sabotage of presidential directives. After Biden’s inauguration, the members of the “new old” team – Nuland and her ideological associates and protégés, such as Karen Donfried at the State Department, Eric Green at the NSC, and Celeste Wallander at the Pentagon – continued this course.
Presidents and secretaries of state change, but the foreign policy community ensures the inviolability of US ideological and strategic orientations in the spirit of globalism and unipolarity. There are no chances in sight to change the situation – the entire elaborate and extensive administration, which is not subject to transformation, works to preserve this status quo. Thus, the channels for expert dialogue, which were to serve as the basis for the so-called “second track” in relations, failed to yield the desired result. The expert teams created earlier – the Boisto Group, the Working Group on the Future of US-Russia Relations, and a number of others – were characterized by the limited influence of their American participants on decision-making in Washington. The sought-after experts who had access to presidents and secretaries of state largely preferred not to join such associations but to make a career by parasitizing on Russophobia.
ONE MORE special factor that predetermined the sad outcome of the recent history of Russian-American dialogue was another characteristic feature of the US political system: the not always noticeable but critically important role of Congress that is largely controlled and guided by lobbying organizations and interest groups.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives generally arrive on Capitol Hill without significant prior foreign policy baggage and become easy prey for lobbyists seeking to manipulate and control their sentiments through information campaigns, hearings, reports, and “political action committees,” which are hugely significant for election campaigns. On one hand, these include officially registered companies operating within an impressive legislative framework, and on the other, they are a cohort of informal lobbyists who do not fall under legal restrictions and operate through NGOs, associations, foundations, coalitions, as well as leading think tanks, which in recent years have often promoted the interests of their sponsors.
All the tools available to these organizations have been successfully used by anti-Russian forces since the early 1990s. These primarily included Baltic-American, Ukrainian-American, and especially Polish-American ethnic organizations whose main task was to promote the idea of NATO expansion; organizations focused on the military-industrial complex and working to ensure that it received additional orders due to the collapse of the arms control system; and ideologically oriented liberal-interventionist and neoconservative formations with influential patrons.
In the 2010s, their combined efforts helped render the degradation of Russian-American relations irreversible. Ideological interest groups have made their contribution through the introduction of the so-called “Magnitsky Act,” whose adoption through the active lobbying of William Browder marked the final collapse of the “reset” concept and launched a chain of sanctions wars. In the future, similar organizations with ties to the Democratic Party would significantly help incite Russophobic sentiments after the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. At the time of the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, lobbyists of ethnic groups managed to give an additional impetus to the build-up of the NATO presence in the post-Soviet space and marginalize supporters of constructive dialogue with Moscow. The influential lobby of the military-industrial complex, about whose unlimited potential Dwight Eisenhower had warned, made a significant contribution to the US withdrawal from the INF and the Open Skies Treaties, as well as to the arrangement of large-scale arms supplies to Ukraine.
With the start of Russia’s special military operation [in Ukraine], those long-term efforts began to bear even more tangible fruits. Today, those same military-industrial corporations can afford to spend significantly less money on lobbying than in previous years, since cooperation with them is vital for the Biden administration as part of the implementation of the strategy to counter Moscow.34 Lobbying for the Ukrainian government has become an important component of a “positive image” and self-presentation of key players in this sector. A number of companies that previously served the interests of Russian customers (including Sovcombank and VTB-24) have terminated contracts with them and switched to working with Ukrainians, often on a pro bono basis.35 According to political analyst Ben Freeman, the current lobbying activity of the Ukrainian government is unprecedented by Washington standards, as is the unparalleled example of providing free services to customers.36 In fact, the entire American lobbying community, both official and unofficial (i.e., represented by special interest groups), is completely focused on supporting the anti-Russian direction.
Did Russia, in principle, have the opportunity to effectively promote an alternative position using similar tools? If it did, it was only in the first years after the end of the Cold War. But, first, immigrants from the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation never managed to create effective ethnic lobby structures – for the most part, they either took an apolitical position or, alas, were critical of their historical homeland, while the scarce pro-Russian associations of compatriots were lost against the general background (and were mostly gutted with the beginning of the Russophobic hysteria and “witch hunts” at the end of the last decade).
Second, Russian private businesses have historically not been interested in investments in the American system that could bring political dividends to the [Russian] state unless they were addressing narrow business tasks. This approach contrasted sharply with the behavior model of, say, Ukrainian business groups. For example, the well-known [Ukrainian] oligarch Viktor Pinchuk was a sponsor of the Washington-based Atlantic Council, which gradually became a mouthpiece of pro-Kiev propaganda.37
Third, from an ideological viewpoint, the agenda proposed by the Russian state is poorly understood by most members of Congress who are incapable of thinking outside the box. One might recall some exceptions: In particular, on the wave of interest in problems of arms control in Russia, with the support of the Obama administration and a number of organizations dealing with this issue, it was possible to overcome the resistance of lobbyists of the military-industrial complex and East European countries and achieve the ratification of the New START Treaty. But such examples are few and far between and clearly do not contribute to a change in the overall paradigm. Attempts by individual legislators in various years to create associations of members of the House of Representatives (caucuses) focused on lobbying for economic cooperation with Russia did not bring long-term results, since they were based neither on significant trade turnover, nor on a solid political and ideological foundation.
In practice, even much more dynamic economic ties, such as, for example, those between the US and China, fail to save bilateral relations from crises if they are not backed up by a long-term alliance or an ideological basis that is easily “sold” to the American public.
Finally, lobbying in favor of reviving Russian-American cooperation is inconceivable without active inter-parliamentary dialogue; meanwhile, interaction between Russian and American parliamentarians that had been intensive in the past, in the 2010s, has been reduced to zero, as it was based on personal ties between individual politicians (the Federation Council-US Senate working group “died” with the departure of Senator Ben Nelson from Congress).
By purposefully imposing sanctions on members of the Federal Assembly and breaking well-established contacts, the American side artificially destroyed almost all opportunities for mutual visits and a constructive exchange of views. In the overwhelming majority of clashes in the lobbying field, Russia was doomed to failure from the outset. Now, with the atmosphere around Moscow becoming “toxic” to both businesses and public organizations, it is impossible in principle to rebuild the infrastructure that had previously existed in this sphere.
In the Wake of the Collapse
THE NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE of the last three decades makes us wonder not only if it is possible to return to the familiar state of Russian-American relations, but if the previous model could have been considered the norm at all. Unfortunately, in the American system, at the ideological, personal, and systems levels, no potential has emerged for the constructive fleshing out of bilateral dialogue and for ensuring its sustainability. The disintegration of the entire fabric of relations observed today (in which the risk of the shuttering of diplomatic missions remains) was not a spontaneous consequence of the special military operation or prior events. At its foundation lay more serious factors: the unwillingness of the other side to see Russia as an equal partner, Russophobia deeply rooted in American elites, and the excessive dependence of Congress on interest groups. The negative baggage that has reached a critical mass this year has been accumulating for years. Isolated episodes of cooperation, be it the fight against international terrorism or the “reset,” did not affect these trends, if only because the US consistently denied Moscow the right to special interests in the long term, ignored its unwillingness to play the role of an exclusively “regional power,” and had no intention to abandon the policy of exporting democracy. Russia, in turn, as early as in the 1990s, considered unacceptable the concept of a unipolar world, agreement with which was an unofficial but necessary prerequisite for becoming an ally of the US.
Does this mean that Russian-American relations will remain in a state of crisis for at least a generation? We cannot look into the future, but such pessimism is probably not unfounded. The Ukraine conflict has become only one of the first episodes of the incipient hybrid war, which neither Russia nor the US are able to prevent from spreading. Both sides will have to get used to life in conditions of constant mutual pressure – economic, geopolitical, and informational – with a continuous struggle for the sympathies of allies, especially in the so-called “global South.” US domestic political problems certainly can also make themselves felt, negatively affecting the global positioning of the US. But it is hardly worth overestimating them – after all, the US successfully emerged from crises more severe than the current one, those of the 1930s and 1970s, and both times socioeconomic and political upheavals could not restrain but only spurred the natural desire of the US to dominate the world stage.
It would be naïve and irrational to harbor any particular hopes in light of the current vicissitudes. However, the US establishment has yet to realize the failure of Biden’s strategy to destabilize Russia through sanctions pressure and to begin to consider a new model of coexistence with our country; this reflection may take years. The bilateral dialogue will not die out completely during this time but will focus on identifying “red lines” and preventing their crossing, because today even the question of where those lines lie may be interpreted differently in the two capitals. Under these conditions, the Russian expert and political community is likely to focus on a deep reflection on the reasons why interaction between Moscow and Washington in its previous form was doomed from the start to this eventual fiasco. The window of opportunity for the slow and painstaking process of bilateral de-escalation, even in the long term, will have to open – and when it does, it will be important to avoid the emergence of new illusions and the repetition of the dangerous mistakes of the recent past.
1 Diplomatichesky vestnik, No. 13-14 (July 15-31, 1992), pp. 7-11.
2 Putin V.V. “A Plea for Caution From Russia,” The New York Times, September 11, 2013.
3 Cit.: Brand H. Making a Unipolar Moment. Cornell, 2016, p. 330.
4 The Future of US Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era: Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Affairs. House of Representatives. Washington, DC, 1992.
5 Baker J. “Summons to Leadership,” February 4, 1992, Baker Papers.
6 Lake A. “From Containment to Enlargement,” September 21, 1993, http://fas.org/news/usa/1993/usa-930921.htm.
7 Brand H., op. cit., p. 334.
8 The National Security Strategy. May 2010, p. 17.
9 Ibid., p. 3.
10 Conradi P. Who Lost Russia? Oneworld Publ., 2017, p. 132.
11 The National Security Strategy. March 2006, p. 39.
12 Stepashin S.V. Poyti v politiku i vernutsya. Moscow: Sindbad, 2022, p. 238.
13 Vice President’s Remarks at the 2006 Vilnius Conference. May 6, 2006.
14 Gates R. Exercise of Power. Knopf, 2020, p. 274.
15 Haass R. “A Ukraine Strategy for the Long Haul,” Foreign Affairs, June 10, 2022.
16 “Biden says he is not calling for regime change in Russia,” Reuters, March 28, 2022.
17 Friedman J.A. “Is US grand strategy dead?” International Affairs, No. 4 (2022), p. 1,295.
18 Ibid., p. 1,297.
19 Ibid., p. 1,298.
20 Charap S., Colton T. Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia. Routledge, 2016, p. 59.
21 Conradi P., op. cit., p. 79.
22 The National Security Strategy. September 2002, p. 27.
23 Rice C. No Higher Honor. Random House, 2011, p. 673.
24 Rhodes B. The World As It Is. Perry Merrill, 2018, p. 100.
25 Ibid., p. 178.
26 McFaul M. From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia. Mariner Books, 2018, p. 385.
27 “CIA Director William Burns decries Russia’s ‘horrific’ crimes in Ukraine, calls out China as ‘silent partner in Putin’s aggression’ ” NBC, April 14, 2022.
28 Walt S. The Hell of Good Intentions. Farrar, 2018, p. 93.
29 Gessen K. “The Quiet Americans Behind the U.S.-Russia Imbroglio,” The New York Times Magazine, May 8, 2018.
31 Strauss R. “McFaul and Putin: The Backstory,” Stanford Magazine, May 2014.
32 Remarks by Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs: Unity in Challenging Times: Building on Transatlantic Resolve. January 27, 2015.
33 Hill F. There is Nothing for You Here. HarperCollins, 2021, p. 196.
34 “Top Pentagon contractors spend less on lobbying as demand for weapons to Ukraine rises,” OpenSecrets, April 28, 2022.
35 Guyer J. “Inside Ukraine’s lobbying blitz in Washington,” Vox, July 5, 2022.
37 “The Lobbying Battle Before the War: Russian and Ukrainian Influence in the US,” Quincy Brief, July 20, 2022.