Russia’s relations with the United States: Slush, not thaw?

Russia’s relations with the United States: Slush, not thaw?

Andrey Shitov
Not a thaw, but disgusting slush. This is how people in Moscow perceive the current state of Russian-American relations, who are involved in these relations and know the situation from the inside. They confirm that a fairly intensive dialogue has been going on between Russia and the United States lately, and generally agree that talking to each other is better than not talking. But they still remind that even beautiful words should be supported by deeds that are not yet visible. And in words, as our experts say, the American side, as a rule, does not show a constructive attitude. All this creates the prospect of a further exacerbation of relations rather than their stabilization and normalization.
Starting point
The last point of reference in the bilateral dialogue, of course, is the June meeting of the leaders – Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden – in Geneva. It decided to launch consultations in a number of areas, including strategic stability and arms control; cybersecurity, which Moscow prefers to call ICT security; clearing debris in bilateral relations, primarily on issues related to the normal functioning of diplomatic missions, issuing visas, etc.
In pursuance of these decisions, a number of no-table visits and meetings to-ok place. At the Rome G20 summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov bri-efly talked with Biden and received confirmation from the American president of readiness for further contacts at the highest level. High-ranking Washington emissaries have visited Moscow at least four times, including CIA Director William Burns, US President’s Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Government Alexei Overchuk traveled to Washington. The heads of the general staffs of the Russian and US armed forces met in Helsinki.
It was against this background, in fact, that the topic of a possible turn for the better in bilateral relations arose. First, Washington Post chief foreign policy columnist and longtime acquaintance of mine David Igneishes wrote in a column that “the Biden administration’s relations with Russia appear to have begun a modest thaw – including an agreement on a largely overlooked joint UN effort on the controversial issue of cybersecurity.”
I was referring to the resolution on the responsible behavior of countries in the field of information and communication technologies, jointly submitted by Russia and the United States to the relevant UN bodies. This is actually a breakthrough, since Moscow and Washington previously supported two different approaches to maintaining cybersecurity at the UN. Igneishes, by the way, quite clearly explains where this breakthrough came from: according to his acquaintance, a senior American diplomat, without joining efforts, “Russia would most likely begin to promote (and probably would have achieved the adoption) of a resolution consolidating authoritarian control over the Internet. “.
It turns out that for the Americans the step towards us was, in fact, forced, as in their popular saying: “If you can’t beat – join!” (If you can’t beat them, join them). In this light, it is clearer and more understandable by David’s opinion of US officials about the same joint resolution: they say, its significance should not be exaggerated.
“Behind the facade of militancy”
Be that as it may, the New York Times followed up with a detailed article stating that “Russia and the United States, competing on the world stage, are slowly looking for areas of agreement.” “Behind the surface brinkmanship, the two global rivals are now doing something else: talking to each other,” she said. And, by the way, she also highlighted the interaction on ICT.
Citing the views of officials in both countries, the newspaper pointed out that “so far this whole series of negotiations has brought almost nothing significant, but [it] is helping to keep US-Russian tensions from spiraling out of control.” And she added on her own behalf that “for the White House, these negotiations are a way to avoid geopolitical surprises that could derail Biden’s priorities: rivalry with China and the home agenda facing countless challenges.” For the Kremlin, these same contacts, in her opinion, provide an opportunity “to visually demonstrate the global influence of Russia and to highlight the domestic image [of the president of the country] as a guarantor of stability.”
Later, in a separate article on the CIA director’s trip to Moscow, the New York Times noted that “Burns’s visit — and the decision to go public immediately — clearly demonstrates the desire on both sides to signal that they are working to keep the relationship volatile. under control”. By the way, the publication did not fail to note that “reaching out” to Russia (outreach) is “fraught with risk” for the Biden administration, as it exposes it to criticism about its “excessive” readiness to interact with the Kremlin.
Finally, in these publications, I also caught my eye on the response of Kadri Liik from the European C-ouncil on Foreign Relatio-ns. The Estonian, naturally, tried to please Washington and let the hairpin go to Moscow. In her opinion, Biden “is very successful in giving signals to Russia.” The same, for its part, is seeking for itself the “great-power privilege of breaking the rules,” but for this the rules must exist, and they are established mainly in the United States. The logic, if I understood it correctly, looks funny: we kind of ask you to set rules for us so that you can break them.
“No collapse”
Former Russian ambassador to the United States, and now Senator Sergei Kislyak, believes that the current state of bilateral relations only allows one to speak about “no further collapse,” although this is not a bad thing at present. “This is not stabilization,” the politician and diplomat ex-plained. “Because, in principle, a situation remains in which a large or small pro-vocation can lead to serious complications. Stabiliza-tion, in my understanding, is when there are built-in or nurtured stabilizers. But th-ey are not yet available.”…
On the other hand, in his opinion, Washington’s “growing aggressive impudence” is evident. “In principle, perhaps the most disgusting thing is that the Americans continue to develop the territory near our borders through NATO structures,” the source said. “Unfortunately, there is little new in this.
At the same time, according to Kislyak, now “at least there is hope that some kind of dialogue on key security issues is still possible.” “In general, I would assess the situation as a rather tough confrontation, but there is still a long way to the thaw,” he said.
But what the senator knows for certain is that the increased contacts between Russian and American officials do not apply to the parliamentary sphere. “No, absolutely not,” he said, answering a question on this topic. In context, Kislyak recalled that “the Americans in Congress look down on absolutely everyone, including even their own allies.”
Of course, I could not help asking the most experienced diplomat about the work of the embassies, which looks semi-paralyzed. “This is a situation created by the Americans, who did not care about the diplomatic and legal norms of interstate communication,” he replied. “This includes the seizure of property and the closure of our institutions. And this, of course, from the very first moment was extremely politicized and used by them in the order of pumping up the image of one’s own “power greatness”.
“Therefore, it is necessary to work out from this, first of all, by changing the political context of resolving these issues, – said Kislyak. – This was done on their part, and in order to level up the situation, the ball is also on their side.”
“It won’t be good”
The current Russian diplomats assess the situation even more bitterly and harshly, if possible. It was in a conversation with one of them, who asked not to be named by name and position, that we came across the word “slush”. “That’s great: not a thaw, but slush,” he said. “The main thing is that there are no expectations. A thaw presupposes something good. Moreover, he is convinced, still “for a very long” perspective.
In words, the Americans are striving for “stability and predictability” in relations with Russia. As a goal, this does not cause objections: as Andrei Sushentsov, an analyst from MGIMO, noted in his time, the very formulation itself, until recently, was more often found not in American, but in Russian foreign policy documents. But Washington understands it, to put it mildly, one-sidedly. According to the interlocutor-diplomat, the Americans put the question something like this: “Do what we tell you, and then relations will become stable and predictable, otherwise we will simply strangle you.”
Of course, on Smolensk Square, the language of ultimatums is rejected out of the box. They usually respond to harsh rhetoric in about the same spirit. But in the end it’s worth it. “We meet, we talk on bilateral matters, we talk a lot. Only nothing moves, but it gets worse,” the interlocutor sighed.
Citing a concrete example, he said that the Americans had offered Aeroflot crews to fly to Yerevan for visas, and they presented their consent to receive them there at the US Embassy almost as a “huge step forward” on their part. “It’s just some kind of mockery of people,” the diplomat said. “And they do it on purpose to displease us. That, they say, you forbade us [in Russia] to hire Russian personnel.” – they don’t seem to hear over the ocean.
“Double line”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov is convinced that the contacts that have become more frequent lately are an “imitation of violent activity” on the American side. In his opinion, Washington “has a clear intention” to show both domestic and international audiences the intensification of dialogue with Russia, but at the same time continue the policy of containment, “and also incrementally.”
“All this corresponds to the declared ideologueme of a double line in the Russian direction,” the specialist explained. “Combining both containment and involvement in dialogue. But this dialogue does not lead to finding solutions to real problems,” and even there (as in the situation with diplomatic presence, issuing visas etc.), where such solutions “seem to lie on the surface.” As you know, the Foreign Ministry has long been proposing a complete counter-zeroing of all restrictions that have accumulated in recent years.
“Therefore, I do not see any thaw at all,” Ryabkov said.
To tell the truth, it is not very clear to me why the creators of American politics should be hypocritical and pretend, if it is clear to everyone that they obviously see Russia as an enemy. According to the interlocutor, this may be an attempt to dissociate itself from the legacy of the previous Republican administration of Donald Trump, to portray the current new course as “more complex and more multifaceted.” But this course, in his opinion, is still based on “the calculation or at least the hope that we, Russia, will do what is required of us.”
“Negative prowess”
Ryabkov stressed that “we do not even have the first approximation of the feeling that [in the United States] they generally want to listen and hear us – for example, in Ukraine and everything that is happening now in the Black Sea region.” “Negative energy is accumulating there, risks are increasing, including potential collisions, with the possibility of escalation,” he said with undisguised concern. And he added that “in general, such a, how to say it, negative prowess of the United States and its allies and, accordingly, wards in Kiev – it is becoming more reckless. attitude towards us with rhetoric and material content is also very, very provocative. “
True, in such conditions it is permissible to ask why conduct a dialogue with the United States at all, if they do not want to listen or listen to us. Although the answer is also clear: “to broadcast your own approaches, your line at all available levels.” Including the highest.
In the professional diplomatic field, both of my interlocutors in Smolenka are especially outraged by the demand put forward by Washington for 55 employees of Russian diplomatic missions to leave the United States by a certain date next year, on the pretext that the American side is not satisfied with the duration of official trips for more than three years. “This is tantamount to expulsion,” said the first diplomat. “And expulsion is followed by retaliatory measures.”
The same was confirmed by Ryabkov. “Well, it just doesn’t fit into any framework and canons,” he said. “And, of course, we will answer.
Stimuli real and imaginary
Of course, this can become another “irritant” for bilateral relations, a real and very serious one. But for the United States, this is a traditional two-way strategy: first create a problem out of the blue, and then demand concessions for its solution. Or, as a variant of the same scenario: accuse anyone of anything and demand proof of innocence from him.
While this is contrary to legal presumptions, it is generally considered almost impossible. This was confirmed to me by a variety of specialists – from diplomats to lawyers and philosophers – whom I asked how to prove that something did not exist or that you did not do something.
In recent years, wrongdoing has been leveled at Russia so often that examples, perhaps, can not be listed. And now another scandal is being prepared in reserve: both the Washington Post and the New York Times write in unison that the US authorities continue to study the so-called Havana syndrome, allegedly caused by targeted energy exposure and causing health disorders among American diplomats and intelligence officers abroad.
The Metropolitan newspaper calls this “the most ominous question” in Washington’s dialogue with Moscow for the foreseeable future. “Under pressure from US officials, the Russians deny any involvement – but that hardly proves anything,” she writes. “American officials need more evidence than what they have collected so far. deep freeze or even worse. If it turns out that Russia deliberately endangered American civil servants, then we face a fierce crisis ahead, despite any recent interaction. “
The Russian Foreign Ministry, through the mouth of its official representative, Maria Zakharova, has already refuted the nonsense about the “Havana syndrome”, including sarcastically, with references to a report about crickets. But the problem is that normal logic does not work in the theater of the absurd. As Arkady Raikin joked with us half a century ago, if you want to confuse us with your questions, then we will confuse you with our answers.
Dangerous edge
And in general, it doesn’t work to translate the conversation with the Americans into a joking tone: the situation will deteriorate further with serious problems. I asked a longtime acquaintance in the apparatus of the Congress if there is, if not a rational understanding, then at least an intuitive feeling that provoking Russia can still not be infinite, that there is some line that is simply dangerous to cross in attempts to pressure and blackmail. And he replied: “So among my bosses-legislators, no one thinks that we are provoking Russia. Rather, they, on the contrary, will say that we should act a little harder, more provocatively.”
Accordingly, neither the American senators and congressmen themselves, nor their staff assistants, according to the same person, feel and do not expect any thaw in relations with Moscow. By the way, he expressed an interesting thought: they say, if someone really decided to once again try to “reset” relations with Russia, it would be better to do it on the sly, without loud announcements and declarations. In my opinion, this is consonant with the opinion of our diplomats about the purely ostentatious nature of the approach of the current US administration to “establishing a dialogue” with our country.
It is curious that the rapprochement between Russia and China in recent years, my Washington acquaintance, allegedly “does not bother at all”: in his opinion, in relations between the two neighboring powers “there are enough internal frictions and contradictions for this problem [for the United States] to be solved by itself.” And when asked what was the point of flirting with Moscow in general for Washington, he replied that, firstly, democratic administrations, unlike republican ones, are generally characterized by increased attention to the topic of arms control, and secondly, that in the world there is enough of any regional “small things”, where the common goal is “not to get worse.” Among the latter topics, he named Iran, North Korea and Ukraine. By the way, he considers Turkey a “very important” country, the attention to which overseas is “not enough” yet.
In general, foreign policy topics, according to the interlocutor, in the near future will not have a noticeable impact on the internal situation in the United States, including with an eye to the midterm elections to Congress next year. The only exception is the recent “fiasco in Afghanistan”; The Republican opposition will, of course, place the blame for this failure on Biden and his party in power. As for the Russian topic, it does not belong to the number of priorities for Washington in any case.
Based on the foregoing, I am inclined to think that in the foreseeable future it is better for us not to count on any thaw in relations with the United States.
Perhaps it would even be nice if the slush that is now squishing under our feet froze a little. In order not to get a cold or worse.

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