What is the Current State of U.S.-Russia Relations?
Experts in Washington talk about disagreements between the two countries that outweigh the Kremlin and White House’s desire to communicate more
After intensive talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his meeting with President Donald Trump, the parties interpreted the content of these contacts in different ways..
As the White House said in a statement, “President Trump warned against any attempts by Russia to interfere in the US elections and called on Russia to resolve the conflict with Ukraine.” However, Lavrov denied at a press conference that Trump spoke to him about the elections: “You know, we did not discuss the elections at all.”.
In addition, disagreements on this issue were evident even during the press conference of Pompeo and Lavrov: the Secretary of State said that “we provided a lot of facts about what happened during the 2016 elections with the participation of our Russian colleagues,” in response to which the Russian the minister said: “All speculations regarding our alleged interference in the internal processes of the United States are groundless, we have not seen any facts that would confirm this, no one has presented them to us.”.
With such contradictions, there is little chance of improving relations between Washington and Moscow, according to American experts who commented on the Russian service of the Voice of America on Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Washington..
Former US Ambassador to Russia, Atlantic Council expert Alexander Vershbow is confident that a “very good meeting” with Lavrov, as President Trump assessed in his tweet, is unlikely to lead to some kind of breakthrough: “The US President apparently wanted to show that it is still open to dialogue with Russia, but Ukraine is the main obstacle to such dialogue. Moreover, both in the foreign policy sense (Russia is showing an obvious unwillingness to end its presence in Donbass), and in the domestic political sense (the ongoing investigation and preparation of impeachment). Pompeo himself said that relations are complicated by many factors, so there is little room for fundamental improvement, to put it mildly. “.
Alexander Vershbow sees irony in the fact that Lavrov proposed in Washington to sign a document on the inadmissibility of unleashing a nuclear war: “The call to sign a document stating that we will not start a nuclear war against each other may be an attempt to breathe new life into the words of Gorbachev and Reagan that that a nuclear war can never be won, so you can never start. It is possible that this phrase really needs confirmation – especially after the recent Russian advertising of its new nuclear weapons and talk about the limited use of tactical nuclear weapons “.
“The words about economic dialogue are something new, you need to understand what is behind it. The White House statement says that improving relations will increase trade – this is, of course, so, but we have a problem with improving relations, ”the expert says..
“In general, I don’t think that Putin wants to really improve them. For propaganda purposes, he launches some initiatives, such as a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate and shorter-range missiles, but he does so after Russia itself has already deployed 64 9M729 missiles that violate the INF Treaty. Of course, if they are presented with some unilateral concessions on a platter, they will accept them, but in general, the state where Putin can blame the United States for everything that happens suits him. His idea of ”Western Russophobia” well allows him to hold on to power “- believes Alexander Vershbow.
Wilson Center’s expert on world politics, ex-diplomat William Hill also sees that the authorities of both countries express a desire to improve relations – however, there are so many disagreements between the parties, and they are so deep that such an improvement is very difficult to imagine: “When Vladimir Putin commented on the recent meeting in the “Normandy format”, it was obvious that he was not going to deviate from the interpretation of the “Minsk agreements” that Moscow has, and which is very far from the position of Ukraine itself, as well as the United States and Western countries. In this case, I’m talking about Russia’s demand to first amend the constitution of Ukraine and give a special status to Donetsk and Lugansk, and then proceed to resolve security issues “.
“Exactly the same differences over Syria and Iran: Pompeo, for example, speaks of the need for joint efforts in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and Lavrov answers him with words about the importance of the” nuclear deal “with Tehran, from which the United States has already withdrawn” – notes William Hill.
Both American diplomats see the only real opportunity to achieve greater agreement between the United States and Russia on the extension of START III. At the same time, Alexander Vershbow makes a reservation: “It is curious that the United States, as has been said, is not opposed to Russia’s proposal to involve Britain and France in the conversation about strategic stability – however, it would be good to ask Britain and France themselves if they are not opposed”.
William Hill, in turn, is confident that such a step would be really positive: “The United States, perhaps, would like to involve China in future agreements, and Russia, moreover, since Soviet times, is responding with a call to involve the British and French, and the conversation so far ends in nothing. It seems to me that the extension of the treaty is in the interests of the United States: first it could have been done, and then broader negotiations on strategic stability could be conducted. “.
During the talks between Pompeo and Lavrov, the topic of US-Russian ties in the fight against terrorism was discussed. Mark Katz, an expert on the Middle East from George Mason University, in an interview with Voice of America, says that Washington and Moscow really need to keep in touch on Syria: “They are trying to show that they are working together against the Islamic State, and that both sides want the Syrian Kurds were somehow protected, and there were no clashes between the Turks and the Kurds. In fact, Moscow would like the Americans to leave Syria completely, but since there is someone there, they need to come to an agreement so as not to overlap. In general, the maximum that the United States and Russia can jointly achieve in Syria is to prevent the escalation of tensions, including by avoiding clashes with each other. “.
Mark Katz foresees that the United States and Russia will definitely not agree on Iran’s role in Syria: “Lavrov has repeatedly stated that Iran is Russia’s partner in the fight against terrorism, while the United States sees the situation in a completely different way. And Russia makes it clear that it is not going to comply with US requests to distance itself from Iran. In Syria, Russia and Iran are very interdependent: Tehran helps the Assad regime on the ground, and Russia provides air protection. Trump has put forward the idea that he can work with Russia against Iran, but this simply will not happen – the two countries have much more common interests in Syria than contradictions. The meeting in Moscow of representatives of the general staffs of the Russian and Iranian armies clearly shows this “.
An expert on the Middle East shares an observation from which it follows that Russia’s influence in the Middle East region is now growing: “It is interesting that all US allies in the Middle East have good relations with Russia. The United States now identifies Russia as the main opponent, but none of the Middle East leaders will quarrel with Russia over this now: they all find ties with Moscow useful. It will be really interesting to see whether Russia will try to oust the United States from the Middle East completely and become the main, irreplaceable player there. Now both Moscow and Washington are quite influential there, but Russia will not have to try especially hard to completely oust us from the region – Trump himself declares that it is necessary to leave Syria. As a result, the countries of this region find the American position shaky and changing, while Putin does not make any sharp turns. “.
Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.
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