November 18, 2008

A New Day?

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In a departure from the aggressive rhetoric of late, Russian President Medvedev said that Russia is relying on Obama to restore trust in U.S.-Russian relations and help build a strong strategic partnership. Such a move by the Russian President is interesting. It of course begs the question: Is Medvedev being genuine, or playing for time after threatening to post Russian missiles to negate the effect of a proposed U.S. missile defense shield?

My guess is that Medvedev is posturing, hoping to solve U.S. policy while Russia continues to expand its geopolitical interests. Clearly, Russia does not want a U.S. missile defense shield, not to mention the possibility of U.S. missiles in formerly-Soviet Eastern Europe. By backing off the earlier, more aggressive rhetoric, he is broadcasting flexibility to the future Obama administration. Of course his hope is that Obama will show the same flexibility in return. I think Medvedev is also concerned about eliciting a hard-line response from the American public, something which would only cause a more aggressive U.S. policy. A genuine strategic partnership between Russia and the United States seems unlikely given the interests of both sides.

With Russia newly aggressive in asserting a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet states, it seems that any type of strategic relationship between Russia and the U.S. would be nearly impossible. Russian ambitions in the “near-abroad” ideologically conflict with the majority of Americans who, in spite of exhaustion from the Iraq war, would not want to see democracy rolled back in the post-Soviet states.

Americans were also conditioned from fifty years of the Cold War to be suspicious of Russia. So at the end of the day, the prospects for a Russia-U.S. strategic partnership seem doubtful. Unlike with China, where economic interest trumps American’s ideological discomfort with the Chinese regime, the U.S. relationship with Russia does not have a compelling interest to move the two nations towards deeper cooperation. In the future it will still be much easier for Russians and Americans to remain rivals rather become than partners.