RUSSIA THREAT – President Joe Biden came to office as a fierce Kremlin critic after years bashing former President Trump as a Putin ‘stooge,’ and blaming Russia for just about everything. Now, after calling Russian leader Vladimir Putin a ‘killer,” and escalating tensions dramatically, Team Biden is facing a much more dangerous Russia situation.
Putin, facing growing domestic unrest, now has amassed upwards of 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine. Meanwhile, he has signaled increasing willingness to cooperate militarily with China.
None of this enhances U.S. national security.
So, is it time for yet another new Russia ‘Reset?’ Doubtful. But can the U.S. and Russia at least ‘just get along?’
One expert says this is still possible. Daniel R. DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist at Newsweek believes that despite the dangerous brinkmanship and tension, it is still possible and necessary for the U.S. to find some common ground with Russia.
In Defense One he notes, that despite Putin’s personality, Russian strategic goals have remained extremely consistent since the fall of the USSR. To wit:
In Washington today, it’s easy to conflate Russia’s entire foreign policy with Putin’s personal priorities. Go after Putin personally, the logic goes, and Russian foreign policy will eventually change for the better. Unfortunately, geopolitics aren’t that simple.
While the authoritarian Putin brings a certain nationalist flair to the Kremlin, core Russian national interests have remained fairly consistent over the last quarter-century. Moscow remains strongly opposed to the further expansion of NATO, is highly skeptical of Western intentions, and remains extremely sensitive to the slightest hint of Western interference (real or imagined) in its own neighborhood.
Even Boris Yeltsin, generically described as a pro-Western Russian politician, was often just as disgusted about U.S. foreign policy as Putin is today. The big difference was that Yeltsin was a wobbly president in charge of a wobbly country ransacked by economic malaise and criminality.
Russia’s power in the Putin era may still be undermined by a suite of socioeconomic problems, but nobody can seriously argue that the Russian state itself is on the brink of collapse or that the Russian army today is as incompetent or demoralized as it was in the mid-1990s.
DePetris adds that just because Russia and the U.S. don’t see eye to eye on everything, that doesn’t mean we can’t develop a respectful business-like relationship. Especially, since the current hostile approach clearly isn’t working:
Policymakers in Washington have often believed they can entice or pressure Moscow into fundamentally changing its foreign policy. Yet despite sanctioning hundreds of Russian entities for a wide range of misdeeds, expelling Russian diplomats, closing Russian consulates on U.S. soil and closing ranks with its allies in Europe, Russian foreign policy remains as frustrating to Western sensibilities as it was five or ten years ago. The notion that the West can convince Moscow to see the world the same way is about as constructive as pushing on a locked door.
DePetris concludes that:
While it’s indisputable that friendship won’t be blossoming in the near or medium-term, a business-like relationship on issues of mutual interest is not totally foreclosed…If Biden and Putin are looking for a comprehensive reset of the U.S.-Russia relationship, they will set themselves up for failure. Conflict management and selective cooperation is good enough—and just as important, better than the alternative.