US-Russian relations have captured the spotlight since early 2014 when the Ukraine Crisis began with the Euromaidan Protests, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and the Russian annexation of Crime. Under the Obama Administration, these events resulted in Western sanctions against Russian officials and a return to Cold War-like relations. The goal of the sanctions was to isolate and punish Russian officials for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and the Ukrainian People as well as to ease the fears of America’s European allies.
After a covert military intervention on behalf of pro-Moscow factions in Eastern Ukraine created a costly stalemate, the Putin government decided to intervene in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of the Assad regime to distract the world from the Ukraine Crisis and force US cooperation with Russia. Under the Trump Administration, accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election has hindered the ability of the Trump Administration to act, yet President Trump does appear to have taken a far-friendlier position toward Moscow as compared to his predecessor.
Within the Trump-Putin honeymoon period, i.e. before domineering Trump and domineering Putin conflict on a personal level, a ceasefire covering Southwest Syria, which will hold only if armed factions can continue to accept the terms of the deal, could be the beginning of renewed cooperation with Russia. The question is, however, whether or not Washington should seek a close relationship with Moscow. Even if there are benefits to strong US-Russian ties, there are also costs that must be considered.
In many respects, the Obama Administration “confronted” Russia through passive disengagement. Economic sanctions are, after all, simply a way of saying the US will no longer do business with Russian officials and Russian businesses. Severing diplomatic ties is a way of saying the US will no longer proactively work with Russia on important issues. Such steps can be punishing, yet they do more to strengthen American values and credibility than anything else.
Disengaging from Moscow allowed the US to tell allies that America would not accept a powerful nation like Russia disrespecting the borders and sovereign rights of a weaker nation like Ukraine. It demonstrated the United States stands for international norms and all nations. Reestablishing US-Russia ties must, therefore, occur in response to changes in Russia’s foreign policy. Unfortunately, Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election only demonstrates the failure of the Putin government to repent.
Decades of Russian interference in Ukrainian politics is what created the Ukraine Crisis. Targeting the American political system only reinforces the case for US-Russian disengagement. The United States does not necessarily need to escalate tensions with Russia, but the cost of embracing Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin is weakened credibility, among other things. The US should always seek to resolve conflicts through open dialog and meaningful gestures. The US can also work with Russia out of necessity..
There is, however, no reason to embrace the Russian Bear with open arms. Peace in Syria is valuable, because it helps ensure the stability of the region and it eases the suffering of the Syrian People. It is something the US, Russia, and all other nations should seek for security and humanitarian reasons, yet it is not the foundation for a renewed US-Russian friendship. The US could use Russia’s help with Iran and North Korea, but Russia has very little help to offer even on these secondary issues for the US, which only indirectly impact American interests.
Ultimately, Russia has little to offer the US outside of making amends for the Ukraine Crisis. In recognizing the border disputes between India, China, and Pakistan, as well as US-Indian cooperation, it is clear that the US has far more to gain by strengthening ties with countries like India, instead of countries like Russia. As such, the Trump Administration should pay less attention to the Putins of the world and more to the Modis of the world, i.e. leaders who want a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with the US.
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