A “Reset” or a New Confrontation

Development of Relations Between Russia and the West in the Context of Ukraine

 

Ivan Sichen

Since the escalation of the confrontation between the West and Russia over the latter’s attack on Ukraine in 2014, Moscow continues to hope for the possibility of a “reset” of relations with the United States and Europe, as it happened after the Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008. At this, there are hopes for a change in the leadership of the United States and leading European countries, which is supposed to create favorable conditions for the realization of such hopes of the Kremlin.

Recently, Moscow’s hopes were on the position of new US President J. Biden, who has shown readiness to engage in dialogue with Russia on issues affecting the strategic interests of both countries. Moreover, such a policy of Washington is already considered by the Kremlin as an agreement of the United States to return of Ukraine and the entire post-Soviet space to Russia’s sphere of influence. Based on this vision of the situation, Moscow is intensifying steps to implement its neo-imperial plans in the former Soviet Union, which primarily concerns Ukraine. However, the Kremlin’s erroneous assessments of the true nature of the US foreign policy, as well as NATO and EU policies, are causing new negative consequences for Russia.

 

One of the hallmarks of most totalitarian regimes in the world is their inadequate understanding of the situation around their countries, which they perceive solely in terms of their own goals and interests. This becomes quite apparent as authoritarian leaders age and stay in power for many years, as a result of which they lose touch with reality.

As a result of authoritarian leaders age and stay in power for many years, they lose touch with reality

It was in this state that the leadership of the former USSR found itself in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which was one of the main reasons for the Soviet Union’s collapse. Today’s Russia is following the same path. This is evidenced by the Kremlin’s misunderstanding of the true nature of the US (as the Western world’s leader) and NATO and EU policies, as well as Moscow’s rejection of the objectivity of post-Soviet disintegration and Ukraine’s independence, which pursues goals other than Russia’s.

 

An example of this was the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs V. Nuland’s visit to Moscow on October 11–13, 2006, which provoked rather ambiguous assessments of the Russian ruling elite, politicians and experts. At this, they were completely opposite before and after her talks with representatives of the Russian leadership.

The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs V. Nuland’s visit to Moscow provoked rather ambiguous assessments of the Russian ruling elite

Thus, during the preparations for Nuland’s visit to Russia, the Kremlin explained it by a “difficult situation in which the United States found itself after the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan”. In particular, Washington’s decision to leave Afghanistan was declared evidence of the “weakness” of the United States and “its having lost the Afghan war”. Based on this, it was claimed that the United States “lost its leading position in the world” and “undermined the USA credibility”.

In addition, there were suggestions about the possibility of using such a situation by the USA’s opponents in their confrontation with it. As always, Beijing was the first to be mentioned in this context, which allegedly had the opportunity to pay back Washington for its policy of “shaking the domestic situation in China by exacerbating problems around Hong Kong, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region”.

The possibility of China’s actions to provide the same response to US attempts to “destabilize the geopolitical balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region by deploying medium-range missiles in Taiwan”, was considered. This is how were commented the American media’s publications about “the threat of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan in the near future” and “Chinese armed forces’ capability of overcoming the US-Taiwanese resistance”.

Even more dangerous for the United States were called the consequences of another crisis in its relations with Iran, both through Iran’s nuclear program and the growing aggressiveness of Tehran’s policy toward Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and other American allies in the Middle East. With this in mind, new theaters of war were predicted for the United States, which would “rule out Biden’s main political message about the end of the era of US military involvement in local conflicts”.

…Nuland’s visit to Russia was viewed by the Kremlin through the prism of the situation around Ukraine…

Based on these circumstances, Moscow concluded that “there is an urgent need for the United States to establish relations with Russia to resolve these problems”. This is how V. Nuland’s visit to Russia was seen. At this, it was still viewed by the Kremlin through the prism of the situation around Ukraine, which is the main obstacle to the resumption of full-fledged cooperation between Russia and the United States and, accordingly, the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions by Washington.

Thus, at the official level, as one of the main results of V. Nuland’s meeting with the Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation D. Kozak, the statement of the US Under Secretary of State regarding Washington’s support for the Minsk Agreements was stressed. According to the Kremlin’s own logic, this was seen as “the USA’s understanding of the geopolitical danger of playing the Ukrainian card against Russia”. And again, based on its vision of the situation Moscow expressed hope that “the decisive influence on Ukraine in ending its war in the Donbas will be the visit to Kyiv of US Secretary of Defense L. Austin”.

 

Ukraine is the main obstacle to the resumption of full-fledged cooperation between Russia and the United States

However, as expected, the Kremlin’s hopes were completely dashed. In particular, V. Nuland really advocated the need to implement the Minsk agreements, but in no way in their Russian version, but as a mechanism for resolving the conflict in the Donbas. At this, the United States has always supported the Ukrainian approach, which provides for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories of Ukraine and its return control of the eastern border as a prerequisite for transition to the political bloc of the Minsk process (including elections in the ORDLO and granting them special status).

In the same way, contrary to the Kremlin’s expectations, no progress in Russian-US relations was achieved, let alone a “breakthrough” in this direction. In particular, the parties failed to resolve the issue of mutual normalization of the work of their embassies, which is considered by Moscow to be the main guarantee for the resumption of cooperation between the two countries (including in the field of strategic security). Moreover, on the eve of Nuland’s visit to Russia, US senators from the Republican and Democratic parties demanded the expulsion of 300 members of the Russian diplomatic mission if the Kremlin does not agree to increase the personal of the US embassy in Moscow.

As you know, in August 2021, the US Embassy in Moscow suspended the issuance of visas to enter the United States, due to lack of staff to process documents because of Russia’s ban on the diplomatic mission’s hiring Russian citizens. In this way, the Kremlin tried to put pressure on the United States and prevent the possibility of its influence on political processes in Russia (especially on the eve of the parliamentary elections in the country, which took place in September 2021), but created only additional problems for Russian citizens. For example, on October 21, 2021, the US State Department ranked Russian citizens wishing to obtain an immigrant visa to the United States as “Homeless Nationalities”…

Other problems in relations between Washington and Moscow also remain unresolved. First of all, this applies to the US sanctions policy, which has consistently tightened restrictions against both the Russian leadership and oligarchs close to V. Putin, as well as key sectors of the Russian economy. In particular, in September 2021 the House Rules Committee recommended to include an additional sanctions list of 35 Russians in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. However, Moscow’s claims on this issue were in fact ignored by V. Nuland.

The US sanctions policy consistently tightened restrictions against both the Russian leadership and oligarchs close to V. Putin, as well as key sectors of the Russian economy

Absolutely opposite to Moscow’s expectations was the visit to Ukraine on October 19, 2021 of US Secretary of Defense L. Austin. Instead of forcing Ukraine to accept the Russian version of the “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas, he directly accused Moscow of the armed aggression against our state.

L. Austin expressed the USA’s intention to continue and expand cooperation with Ukraine in the military and military-technical spheres. As part of the practical implementation of such plans, the parties agreed on steps to implement agreements between them to ensure the defense of Ukraine on land, in the air, at sea and in cyberspace from existing and potential threats. To this end, the United States is allocating additional 60 million US dollars to Ukraine.

US Secretary of Defense L. Austin directly accused Moscow of the armed aggression against Ukraine

Besides, US Secretary of Defense L. Austin and President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyi and Ukrainian Minister of Defence A. Taran discussed the issues of deepening cooperation between the two countries in counteracting Russia’s aggression, as well as deterring it in the Black Sea and Azov regions.

The issues of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration prospects were raised separately. At this, L. Austin confirmed the openness of the doors of the North Atlantic Alliance to our state.

 

…The leadership of the European Union is considering plans to open an independent EU military mission in Ukraine…

Moscow did not fare well with the “reset” of Russian-European relations on the Ukrainian issue either. On the contrary, the EU has recently been stepping up its support for Ukraine, including in the military sphere, which is especially irritating Russia. In particular, the leadership of the European Union is considering plans to open an independent EU military mission in Ukraine. The new European structure will complement the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform in Ukraine (EUAM, established in 2014) and will perform tasks to improve the training of Ukrainian servicemen. However, its main task will be to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine in the context of the continuation of Russia’s armed aggression against our state.

Such intentions of Brussels have already been regarded by Moscow as “the EU’s blow to Russia’s back” and “assistance in the implementation of Kyiv’s aggressive plans against the DPR and LPR”. And this is quite understandable, because the stronger Ukraine, the less chance Moscow has to make our state implement the Russian version of the Minsk agreements as one of the tools to return it to Russia’s sphere of influence.

 

The relations between Moscow and NATO are in a state of complete “deadlock”

While Russia and the EU still maintain relations, due to the mutual interests of the parties in maintaining cooperation in the energy and partially trade spheres, the relations between Moscow and NATO are in a state of complete “deadlock”. Thus, cooperation between Russia and NATO on security issues was suspended by the Alliance leadership in 2014 after the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Despite this, the parties still maintained some dialogue and even resumed the work of the Russia-NATO Council (at least at the level of meetings of the permanent representatives of the parties), which was again interpreted by Moscow as the beginning of a “reset” of relations with the Alliance.

In October of 2021, an end was put to all this. Thus, NATO officials denied accreditation to eight of Russia’s 20 representatives at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on espionage charges. In response, the Kremlin decided to completely suspend its mission to NATO from November 1, 2021, as well as to deprive all Alliance’s structures in Moscow of accreditation (NATO Information Office included).

 

…These circumstances have completely undermined any possibility of normalization of relations between Moscow and the West…

In general, these circumstances have completely undermined any possibility of normalization of relations between Moscow and the West, and thus — the lifting of US and EU anti-Russian sanctions. As a result, pointless are all hopes of the Kremlin for the possibility of improving the state of Russia’s economy, which is becoming more complicated after the temporary resumption of the positive dynamics of its development due to rising oil and gas prices in the first half of this year.

According to the forecasts of Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation M. Reshetnikov, “the recovery of the Russian economy has already exhausted itself and in the near future it will return to a state of stagnation”. Moreover, the number of depressed regions of Russia can almost double. Not to mention that deterioration of life standards of the Russian population is expected for at least another ten years. And how could it be otherwise, if, according to Russian experts themselves, the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s participation in the conflict in the Donbas cost Russians about 25 % of their income.

 

…To get out of this situation it is enough for the Kremlin to stop the aggression against Ukraine and return Crimea and the occupied territories of the Donbas to it…

How Moscow can get out of this situation? There is nothing complicated here. It is enough for the Kremlin to take real steps to stop the aggression against Ukraine and return Crimea and the occupied territories of the Donbas to it. Instead, Moscow is stepping up provocations in the Donbas and expanding demonstration of its force to Ukraine and the United States and NATO. Evidence of this was a series of exercises of the Russian Armed Forces near the border of Ukraine and in the Black Sea region in the spring of 2021, which continued in September–October 2021 after the completion of the Russian and Belarusian “West-2021” SCPE in the North-Western (Baltic) direction.

This demands additional military spending from Moscow. For example, in the next three years, expenditures on “National Defense” and “National Security and Law Enforcement” are planned to increase by 1 trillion rubles, which will be about a quarter of all expenditures from the state budget (which is fully correlated with the loss of income of Russian citizens).

 

What conclusions can be drawn from all this?

Quite obvious is the fact that V. Putin has lost an adequate understanding of the real situation in the world and the consequences of his policy

First, Moscow’s hopes for the possibility of “resetting” its relations with the West are groundless. The United States, NATO, and the EU will continue to pursue a policy of deterring Russia and supporting Ukraine.

Second, despite the complication of the socio-economic situation in Russia due to Western sanctions and other problems, Moscow’s main priority remains its neo-imperial policy in the post-Soviet space and toward the West. At this, the main object of Russia’s aggression is still Ukraine.

Third, quite obvious is the fact that V. Putin, as Russia’s sole leader, has lost an adequate understanding of the real situation in the world and the consequences of his policy. On the one hand, this increases the unpredictability of his actions, including the possibility of a new attack on Ukraine, and on the other — puts Russia on the path of the former Soviet Union, which had led to its collapse.

 

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