Event Recap: Russian Foreign Policy, US Elections and the Future of US-Russia Relations

By: Madina Bizhanova, MAERES 2018

On October 13, Sergey Rogov and Valery Garbuzov, experienced analysts of US politics from the Institute for the USA and Canadian Studies, shared their insights on the political mood in Russia and the nature of US-Russian relations.

Sergey Rogov outlined five major challenges in post-Soviet Russia’s political, economic and social transition, which help to understand present-day concerns in Russia.

The first two challenges laid out by Dr. Rogov consisted of Russia’s simultaneous efforts of transition to a democratic political regime and capitalist economic system. According to Dr. Rogov, since Russia lacked the historic preconditions for both, such “man-made” transitions carried negative political, economic and social consequences. Only a small fraction of Russia’s population benefited from privatization, thus causing a major weakening of the middle class and establishing a practice of rampant corruption in the country’s bureaucracy. The third challenge pointed to by Dr. Rogov was the establishment of Russia’s ideological position in the international system. He explained that, unlike in the ideology-driven Soviet Union, there is no government-established ideology in Russia. Rather, prominent ideological stereotypes regarding the Russian Orthodox Church and national identity contribute to a general confusion. The fourth challenge concerns the establishment of a new identity in Russia. Dr. Rogov argued that, unlike Eastern Europe and the Baltics, Russia cannot become a normal nation-state given that 50% of Russia’s population is composed of non-ethnic Russians, whereas 25 million ethnic Russians are no longer Russian citizens. Finally, the fifth challenge is related to Russia’s defense policy, especially its tense relations with the United States, to which Dr. Rogov referred as “Cold War 2.0.”

Dr. Sergey Rogov then compared “Cold War 1.0” with “Cold War 2.0.” According to Dr. Rogov, the new Cold War is distinct in that it is not about a clash of fundamentally different ideologies.  However, he notes that there seems to be a revival of some features of the old Cold War such as the complete demonization of state leaders through propaganda, the use of trade as a tool of punishment, and a marked lack of communication between the embassies of both countries with their host governments.  Dr. Rogov considers the crisis of nuclear arms control, which keeps both sides in “mutually assured destruction,” “the most frightening” feature of the new Cold War. Concerned about the lack of mechanisms for containment, he listed the failures of negotiations for arms control: “Almost fifteen years ago the US unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty; the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty has gone; the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was never ratified…the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty may collapse soon.  The New Strategic Arms Control Treaty will expire five years from now in the absence of negotiations.”

Dr. Rogov called on the younger generation to continue to grapple with the challenges that his generation has fought to achieve: to stabilize the situation, establish the rules of the game, and build more cooperative relationships. Arguing that such a relationship between Russia and the US could indeed be possible, he offered the example of historic hostility between the UK and France, which never threatened to spill into nuclear war because the two countries upheld close economic and political ties. Valery Garbuzov added that such an approach is called “selective cooperation,” whereby two hostile countries establish a cooperative atmosphere through dialogue on less political issues of culture and economy.