News Column

Russian Pundits Differ on Future Relations with USA

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Russian political analysts differ on the future of Russian- American relations after the re-election of Barack Obama but agree that on the issue of missile defence one should not expect a radical breakthrough and it is likely that the deployment of missile defence elements in Europe will be a bargaining chip for Russia and the USA.

Director of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies Sergey Rogov expects that the Obama Administration will put forward a new agenda for relations with Russia in early 2013.

"The agenda will include issues related to cooperation on Afghanistan, as US forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014. I think that more substantial proposals for deeper cuts in nuclear weapons will be put forward," Rogov said.

He said that Washington could offer an option of reducing the nuclear arsenals to 1,000 warheads.

"The Americans will seek to limit not only strategic nuclear weapons but also tactical," Rogov said.

According to the expert, Moscow will try to link the issue of nuclear arms reduction with the problem of missile defence.

"I think that next year we will have a serious talk with the Americans on the further reduction of nuclear weapons and missile defence. And if we can reach a compromise on missile defence, maybe already in 2014 there will be new legal and political arrangements," Rogov said.

Rogov said the USA might adopt the Magnitsky [Magnitskiy] Act without repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

"I think that in a few weeks there may be a situation where the House of Representatives passes the Magnitsky law and keeps the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Of course, this will lead to rather serious consequences," Rogov said at a news conference in Moscow on 7 November.

The Obama administration will continue to criticize internal political processes in Russia, Rogov said.

"I think that the Obama administration is well aware that the USA has little influence on political processes in Russia and China. They will criticize us in public, and this will cause a corresponding reaction from our side," Rogov said.

According to Rogov, Obama's victory "means the continuity of the policy".

The USA is not planning a ground attack on Iran after the re- election of Barack Obama, Rogov said.

"The USA will not conduct a ground war in Iran. There might be a question of missile strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities," he said.

Speaking about the situation in Syria, the Russian expert said the current developments might play a restraining role for Israel.

"It is possible that the USA might support Turkey and declare a no-flight zone near the Syrian-Turkish border," he said.

"Obama's re-election will benefit the relationship between Russia and the USA. Last year he was somewhat restricted in the development of relations with Moscow since he was subjected to harsh criticism by conservative forces who blamed Obama for his policy of improving relations with Russia," director of the Institute of Political Studies Sergey Markov told Interfax.

According to the analyst, Obama was restricted by the election campaign; however, in informal situations he showed he was willing to improve Russian-American relations.

"The neo-cons persuaded Mitt Romney to say that Russia was the USA's major geopolitical enemy. This criticism prevented Obama from taking some serious steps in relations with Russia. Unofficially, Obama continued to demonstrate his intentions to improve relations with Moscow," Markov said.

Markov believes that changes in Georgia were a major indicator of Obama's positive attitude. "There is a new government in Georgia now and [President] Mikheil Saakashvili, who is hostile to Russia, does not control it. The USA banned the Georgian president from disrupting or rigging the elections, as well as persecuting the opposition and in particular [current Prime Minister Bidzina] Ivanishvili. Moreover, the Obama administration played a positive role, saying that that it would welcome the restoration of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Tbilisi. This would have reduced tension in the region," Markov said.

"On issues such as missile defence, it was difficult for Obama to take any action because he was under severe public pressure. Now the pressure goes away and the re-elected president will have more opportunities to improve relations with Russia. Some positive signs from Moscow would help Obama greatly," the analyst said.

"Obama's earlier promises to make some progress in missile defence issues and his re-election to the post of US president make us hope for on a certain improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington," president of the Centre for Political Technologies foundation Igor Bunin said.

"Some time ago Obama promised that even the issue of missile defence might be easier solved after his re-election. So relations should improve," Bunin told Interfax.

Obama's victory is the result of his good luck and maturity of the American voters, president of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies Sergei Karaganov believes.

"In my view, Obama's victory is a miracle. The fact that he has won shows, first, that he is lucky, and, second, that the Americans are grown-up people. Despite all the difficulties, they have elected a reasonable president, a more reasonable one," the official said.

Speaking about Russian-American relations, the political analyst said that to a large extent they would depend on Moscow's position. "Much will depend on Russia. If Russia is perceived as a waning power, then pressure might increase. If not, then I think there will be cold and practical cooperation," Karaganov said.

Director of the Russian and Asian Programmes of the US Centre for Defence Information Nikolay Zlobin believes that Russian-American relations will continue to deteriorate after Obama's victory.

"If Obama wins, Russian-American relations will not change and will continue getting worse," Zlobin told RIA Novosti news agency.

The expert believes that the potential for improvement in Russian- American relations is pretty much exhausted, and those issues that were not solved in the framework of the reset policy will get worse.

According to Zlobin, the diplomatic language between Moscow and Washington may soften during Obama's second term.

"A softer language will be used for Obama," the expert said.

However, relations with Russia will continue to worsen as Russian- US economic relations are negligent, Zlobin said. "Neither country receives any economic benefit from the relationship. They are concerned only about the military and political aspect and therefore are very vulnerable to any political or international crisis," Zlobin said.

Since in the Middle East and in the question of missile defence in Europe compromises have been exhausted, relations between Moscow and Washington will continue to deteriorate, he said.

At the same time Zlobin is sure that it will be easier for Moscow to talk with Obama as he already promised to be more flexible with the Kremlin.

President of the Effective Policy Foundation Gleb Pavlovskiy said: "The 'reset' policy has played its role in only one aspect: it moved Russian-American relations from an almost pre-war status in 2008 under George Bush Jr to a stable situation in which dialogue and even sometimes a compromise are possible. But it is unlikely that the reset policy will really continue. It served its purpose and I do not think that it will be emphasized."

Pavlovskiy believes that the problem of missile defence might become a subject of trade between Russia and the USA in the event of a political conflict.

"As far as missile defence, this problem will be seen entirely different now. It ceased to be so acute as it was for the USA four years ago. Now it can be an interesting bargaining chip. If America makes concessions, it will now try to achieve something and get something in return," the analyst said.

President of the Politika foundation Vyacheslav Nikonov sees no signs that Obama's policy towards Russia will change.

"In the end, the same institutional and personal factors which are present in the policies of the American administration will be in place," Nikonov said.

Nikonov believes that no radical breakthrough can be expected on missile defence. He stressed that the USA is quite careful in cooperation on this issue even with its allies. On the contrary, according to the analyst, in the near future there may be problems between the USA and Russia when US Congress will start considering repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment and passing the Magnitsky law. "So, most likely, the start will not be very favourable," Nikonov said.

"Cooperation is possible on many issues, including Afghanistan, where we continue to work together, in efforts to stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cooperation in a number of space projects, and projects in nuclear energy," the expert said.

Director of Moscow Carnegie Centre Dmitriy Trenin believes that Russia and the USA should move to a strategic partnership

Speaking on radio Ekho Moskvy, he said that Russia needs qualitatively new relations with the USA to successfully carry out modernization not only in the economy but also in other areas.

There is no doubt that now US Congress will pass the Magnitsky law, political scientist Mark Urnov told radio Ekho Moskvy.

"Obama has been elected, and now he does not have to fear Russia's criticism on this matter. It is impossible to stop Congress from voting on the Magnitsky law," Urnov said.