20.11.2013Golishnikov Oleg, Independent Political Analyst

Golishnikov Oleg Nikolayevich,
Independent Political Analyst


US and Russia in the XXI Century: Breaking the “Cold War” syndrome, shifting to close cooperation

The U.S.-Russia relations during the “post-Cold War” period can be characterized as contradictory and ambiguous with zigzag vector of their development. Of course, in recent years we have not only witnessed significant achievements in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including the abolition of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the Russian Federation’s accession to the World Trade Organization, the assignment of the New START Treaty and so on, but also observed serious clashes between Washington and Moscow, which came to the surface after the adoption of the Magnitsky Act and its mirror reflection – so called Dima Yakovlev Law, plans for the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, mutual espionage accusations, Snowden scandal as well as Syrian crisis. Such complexity in the U.S.-Russia relations to some extent meets the old truth that “in the political arena, conflict as well as cooperation is part of the interaction among the actors[i]. But, the question is how to develop relations between the two “Great Powers” in the direction of cooperation? What are the additional opportunities to deepen it in the XXI century?


It was assumed that the removal of a bipolar system of international relations and the cessation of global confrontation created favorable conditions for both sides in terms of establishment of practical cooperation in many areas, especially in security field. In this context, most experts supposed that the presence of transnational threats and challenges in the face of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, drug trafficking, religious extremism and fundamentalism calls for deepening cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. However, as practice shows, the logic of common threats and challenges does not always motivate actors of international relations to cooperate. Paradoxically, but Moscow and Washington in this regard are no exception.

Furthermore, it is considered that the material and technical basis of the U.S.-Russia relations remains a system of mutual nuclear deterrence, due to the fact that over 90% of existing nuclear arsenal in the world consists of US and Russian warheads. The latter implies that the “Cold War” syndrome, the “Cold War” way of thinking dominates in the minds of the political elites of the two “Great Powers”. Therefore, the threat of mutually assured destruction still constructs a crucial aspect of bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow.

Meanwhile, such approach that put the screw on bilateral relation cuts no ice in modern time. Russia and the U.S. need a qualitative reevaluation of their relationship that should be free from some kind of the “reset”, the point of which largely became an empty PR campaign. Such serious change in the U.S.-Russian relationship will be unthinkable without cordial shift from “high politics” to “low politics” issues, from focusing of both sides on military security agenda to developing close economic, socio-cultural ties, on the one hand, and from demonizing to forming friendly perception of each other, on the another hand. Doing that does not mean that the U.S. and Russia should absolutely omit military security issues from the global and bilateral agenda, especially in era of “Black Swans”, however, to be strategic partners for deepening mutual cooperation, Moscow and Washington are supposed to concentrate on other urgent issues, which largely lack proper attention from officials, expert community as well as media.

1. Economy

The economic component of bilateral relations between Russia and the United States mostly remains weak and vulnerable. The available potential of countries in this area is not fully utilized. In particular, it can be seen in a relatively low level of trade between the U.S. and Russia. Moreover, there is a negative tendency in its development. According to the data of Federal Customs Service of Russian Federation, Russia’s foreign trade with the United States in 2012 amounted to 28.3 billion U.S. dollars and in comparison with 2011 it decreased by 8.8 %.[ii] In the list of the U.S. trading partners Russia takes the 20th place, while the U.S. is only on the 7th place in the list of Russia’s trading partners. For this reason, it is important to strengthen trade and economic ties between the U.S. and Russia as well as diversify the areas of their development. In this regard, the U.S. “Pivot” toward Asia, marked by former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also creates opportunities for joint investment projects, especially in Siberia and in the Far East territories. The Asia-Pacific region as a whole could become a real platform for large scale cooperation between Russia and the United States in different spheres, from innovations to infrastructure.

2. Culture

Equally important is paying attention to the development of cultural relations between Russia and the United States, the formation of an attractive image in the eyes of their people and the international community as well as provision of mutual “soft power” influence. If the U.S. “soft power” seems to be more successful, Russia in this regard clearly faces problems. But, Moscow can remedy the situation by betting on culture. As a Director at the Center on Global Interests Nikolai Zlobin notes, the paradox is that any more or less educated Americans, if did not read Tolstoy, Chekhov, or Dostoevsky, at least heard of them. However, not everyone in the U.S. knows that they are Russians.[iii] It is very likely that it concerns Russian classical musicians like Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky or painters like Shishkin, Malevich, Levitan and etc. The latter implies that Russia and the U.S. should increase cultural cooperation, including through the organization of exhibitions, joint cultural and educational projects.

3. Personal Chemistry

Among obstacles on the way of building a trusting relationship between the United States and Russia some experts note the lack of “personal chemistry” between Putin and Obama. At the very least, evidence of this can be the fact that “BHO” cancelled the planned summit with “VVP” in Moscow after a meeting of G20, which was held in St. Petersburg in September 2013. An Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Sergei Karaganov supposes that Obama’s refusal to go to Moscow for talks with Putin was a culmination of the cooling in Russia-U.S. relations over recent years which has led to the end of the reset.[iv] Officials and analysts correctly point out that over the last time we observed the lack of progress in the U.S.-Russia relationship, but political leaders, notwithstanding the contradictions between their countries, should use personal meetings to maintain friendly relations, rather than avoid them, creating by the latter confrontational background. It can be essential, as a last opportunity for renewing warm relations as well as for the removal of barriers in the U.S.-Russia cooperation.

Thus, the above mentioned aspects of the relations between Russia and the U.S. deserve serious attention and development from Washington and Moscow. Certainly, the emphasis on the economic, cultural interaction, as well as on personal relationships of leaders can’t be a panacea for solving the fundamental contradictions between “Russian Bear” and “Uncle Sam”, but these issues can significantly expand the “pie” of the U.S.-Russia interaction. In the end, this should serve as an additional factor for the breaking the “Cold War” syndrome and shifting to close cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the XXI century.

[i] Аrnold Wolfers. Discord and Collaboration. Essays on International Politics. – N. Y.: John Hopkins University Press, 1962. P. 25. 

[ii] See: Ministry for economic development of the Russian Federation // Integrated foreign economic information portal 

[iii] See: Габуев A., Тарасенко П. Пиарова победа // 

blog comments powered by Disqus