Kissinger was right: the United States is losing Russia


Read Part I of the article here

Political analyst, assistant professor at the Department of World Politics of the Moscow State University named after Lomonosov, Alexei Fenenko, analyses the latest history of Russian-American relations, debunks myths and says what to expect from the new US administration.

"The Russian elites depend on Western financial institutions a lot. Still, Russia's relations with the United States can be described as mostly negative. How can this be possible?"

"Even having property in the West, educating children in Western institutions and depending on the dollar has not made the Russian elite a partner of the United States. After all, if the Americans write about the need to contain Russia, it means that they admit that this is not enough. The Russian elite depends on the West, but the West still has to take measures to contain Russian elites, build a buffer zone of hostile states around Russia and bring NATO as close to Russia as possible. This is quite a paradox, is it not?

"There is another psychological paradox. We are often told that Russia surrendered everything during the 1990s. If this had been the case, the Americans should have been satisfied. Yet, this is not true to fact. If you look at official documents and read through transcripts of speeches by US leaders, you will see that the mixture of irritation, rage and anxiety about Russia in those documents is striking. Even in the 1990s, Americans admitted that Russia's residual power was too great.

"History repeats itself indeed. Look at Tolstoy's War and Peace. In the novel, all Russian noblemen  speak French, they know French better than Russian, they raise their children in France, have real estate there, but Russia still remains Napoleon's greatest enemy. Napoleon was Russia's enemy too. This is not a paradox at all. During those years, France was a real contender for world supremacy. A supremacist state needs to dismantle power potentials of its competitors.

"Today, the United States is a contender for world supremacy as well. Russian and Chinese elites may know English very well  and have many castles in the West, but this does not change much, because the American hegemony is impossible without dismantling the power potentials of Russia and China. This is the limit that no mutual financial or cultural dependence will cross."

"Does Trump have any strategy for Russia at the moment?"

"The Americans understand that Russia is the only country in the world that can destroy the US technically and wage war against them. China is not capable of this yet. Therefore, Trump, like Bush and Obama, has two goals to pursue in relation to Russia: to cut Russia's military potential and prevent the reintegration of the former USSR in any form. Of course, the USA can use Russia situationally in the interests of American tactical problems, such as, for example, in Afghanistan or with regard to the North Korean nuclear program. Yet, tactical interaction does not eliminate strategic tasks.

"The third objective is more alarming. It is very important for the Americans to upset the political alliance between Russia and China. If they do not succeed here, they will hardly be able to move forward. The Trump administration will have to think how to continue the game to set Russia and China against each other. If they fail, they will have to refuse from their supremacist strategy.

"We exaggerate differences between the policies of separate US administrations. The American strategy is based on the "pool of ideas." During a certain period of time, a breakthrough strategy is developed, which is then implemented for 30-40 years. The Americans change it in two cases: when their strategy fails, or when conditions change. The current foreign policy strategy of the United States is based on the "ideological pool" that was developed in the late 1980s. The pool had four provisions: a) to contribute to the disarmament of the USSR (then Russia); b) to maintain the American military presence in Europe and East Asia; c) to prevent the rise of a new competitor, comparable to the USSR in the 1970s; d) to prevent the change of regional balances, that is, the strengthening of US-unfriendly regional powers. For the time being, all "National Security Strategies of the United States" are based on these ideas."

"In which areas can Russia and the USA cooperate? How can Russia benefit from it?"

"Now Russia and the United States have three objectives. To develop a set of measures to reduce the danger of a hot military conflict. To resume strategic dialogue on preserving arms control and develop a set of mutual obligations in case of a conflict with third countries. These are priority measures. They were discussed at the first stage of the notorious "reset" policy, but it did not go beyond round-table discussions. Munich-2017 security conference has shown that the Trump administration is not ready to revisit that policy.

"The war in Syria has destroyed the idea of Russia and the United States sharing the common anti-terrorist goal. The two countries conduct two parallel anti-terrorist operations in Syria, but we do not cooperate. Instead, Russia and the USA think of how not to bump into each other in Syria. US officials persistently say that they will not cooperate with Russia in Syria. It means that we have lost another safety wire in the US-Russian cooperation."

"How should Russia react to the increase of the US defence budget?"

"It is high time we should turn to the legacy of prominent German military strategist and commander Helmut von Moltke - the architect of Prussia's lightning victories over Denmark, Austria and France. One can buy a lot of new weapons, but they will not cost anything without soldiers. What if soldiers dump all their weapons and run away? The weapons will become the trophy of the victor.

"Secondly, one needs to see how the military budget is spent. One can spend a lot of money on unpromising expensive projects. During Moltke's time, he would laugh at "battling balloons." Nowadays, the Americans have been trying to build "space interceptors" for almost twenty years: the money is gone, but there is no result. One can spend military budgets on life infrastructure: acquiring new mattresses and thermoses is a good thing, but it does not improve the combat capacity either.

"Thirdly, Moltke said that it is not enough to outstrip enemy in general terms - one needs to surpass enemy in specific time and in a specific place. The German strategist used to call it 'realisable superiority.' Russia, for example, was a lot stronger than Japan in all quantitative indicators in 1903 - but Russia was stronger in general, rather than in specific terms. Otherwise, the weaker side resorts to the mechanism of survival: it finds weak points of the stronger opponent and ruthlessly strikes them. When thinking about a response to the growth of US military spending, Russia ought to think about USA's weak points to be able to strike them to thus cause damage to the world's largest military budget.

"Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - I believe, one of the best American defence secretaries - showed us a good example. In the winter of 2001, he sounded the alarm: the American army was too dependent on systems of satellite navigation and communication. The Americans have incredibly expensive armament. Yet, if someone strikes American satellites tomorrow, the US army will find itself defenceless instantly. Such an attack will make USA's huge spending on smart weapons pointless. As we can see, a large military budget is, we have to agree with Moltke here, does not guarantee military victory."

"Many experts believe that it is impossible to build relations with Trump in any format rather than trade. Do you agree with this opinion?"

"Trade is a very optimistic scenario. As soon as the new US administration comes to power, a hope appears in Russia to conclude some sort of a landmark agreement with America. For example, Russia supports USA's actions, and the latter will recognise Russia's interests in post-Soviet space, in Europe, etc. None of those hopes have ever been justified. The Americans refuse from trade saying that they do not exchange their principles for business deals. Washington believes that even if Russia helps America somewhere, the latter is not going to make any concessions for Russia. As Condoleezza Rice used to say in 2005, America does not sell democracy or allies.

"Trade implies mutual concessions. The Americans understand that Russia will also ask for something in return. For a great power, trade and compromises constitute normal diplomatic practices. Yet, the US does not see itself as an ordinary power, they want to be a hegemon.

"Most importantly: the Americans do not see what major concessions Russia could make for them. They know that Russia will not agree to cut its nuclear potential or reduce its influence in post-Soviet space or revise the Russian-Chinese agreement from 2001. Washington is not interested in petty deals.

"We often forget that the United States is a country with the priority of domestic legislation over international one. Why do the Americans renounce their international obligations so easily? They do it because it does not cost them much. Any senator may initiate a revocation of their signature or demand its verification for compliance with US law. For Americans, trade is a situation where they have to grudgingly acknowledge their failure or limited resources."

"In early March, unnamed sources in the administration of the US president, as well as some Western diplomats, said that Donald Trump could temporarily postpone the work on agreements with Russia to combat the Islamic State (the terrorist organisation is banned in Russia - Ed.). Then, the head of the White House refused to disclose his plans in relation to Russia? What do you think is behind it?"

"This once again proves that Russia and the United States have different goals in Syria. For Russia, it is a priority to eliminate ISIS and other radical groups. For the US, the prime goal is to topple the Assad government and reformat Syria to their liking that they have not specified.

"I'm more interested in something else: what will happen if the United States, during Trump's presidency, decides to establish cooperation with Russia on Syria? The result may not be as favourable for Moscow and Damascus, as we often think. For example, the Americans are very worried about the appearance of the "Astana format" of negotiations - the talks between Russia, Iran and Turkey. Judging by open information, Washington sees this format as a way to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Turkey's pullout from NATO. Let's imagine that the US decides to dilute the "Astana format" by becoming its participant or by introducing one of its partners into it. It will be a lot harder to counteract this threat for us. "Strangulation in embrace" is not a new tactic of American diplomacy."

"Strangely enough, most of the American establishment is extremely negative about Russia, while most of our leaders are ready to throw themselves into the Americans' arms at any moment. Have we lost something in ourselves, something very important?"

"This is a certain peculiarity of our mentality after the Second World War. Deep in our heart, we can not agree with the fact that confrontation (in one form or another) is a natural state of our relations with the United States. Ever since 1945, the Russian society has been expecting a good president to come to power in the USA who would relieve the world of the never-ending confrontation and start building a dialogue with the USSR and then Russia. We've never seen this type of president. He won't come. For some reason, it is difficult for us to admit that Russia's contradictions are not associated with a specific president, but rather with the US itself. Our intelligentsia does not consider normal the world where great powers are waging a tough and irreconcilable struggle with each other.

"Now I see rather the reverse process - the attitude to the US in the Russian society today is much worse than it was in Brezhnev's USSR. Back then, the Soviet society was convinced that it was communism that could not allow good relations with America. Now we have more knowledge of what the United States is like, and what we have learned about them has not contributed to the growth of the USA's popularity in our society. How would the USA speak to Russia, if the latter could not be capable of destroying the United States even in its most difficult years? Most people in Russia understand that their love for the American culture does not equal love for Washington's policy. Kissinger was right: the United States is losing Russia.

"Nobody in Russia had any superfluous hopes about Trump. Our media have snatched a few of his phrases out of context, where he talked about the possibility of normalizing relations with Russia. Bush Jr. and Obama used to say the same things, by the way. All that was nothing but empty pre-election statements."

Interviewed by Alexander Dremlyugin

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov