When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his maiden visit to Russia and held dialogue with his counterpart Sergei Lavarov and President Vladimir Putin, it was a clear indication of a new strategy by the Trump administration to establish a new détente with Russia.
The new but mini-Cold War that had erupted between Russia and the United States in recent years has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Not many in the United States foreign policy analysis community would like to describe the difficult ties between the US and Russia as a mini-Cold War, because they would not like to ascribe power to Russia that is a component, albeit the largest one, of the former Soviet Union.
In fact, even during the Cold War, while the academic community in the US would take note of nuclear parity between the US and Russia, successive American administrations were always reluctant to give equal status to Russia. The bipolar power structure was always thought to have been tilted in favour of the US because of its economic edge and claimed technological superiority.
Even today, hardly there is any American recognition to the fact that Russia has returned with a bang and that it still retains the status of the solo nation that can threaten the physical existence of the US by dint of its nuclear and missile capability.
However, the international community is aware of the on-going mini-Cold War between Russia, the erstwhile superpower, and the current superpower, the United States. Russia’s support to Iranian nuclear deal, backing of the Syrian Government and more recently Maduro government in Venezuela have made it difficult, if not impossible, for the Trump Administration to effect regime changes.
Earlier, Washington was just bystander when Russia flexed its military muscle in South Ossetia, Georgia, Eastern Ukraine and even went to the extent of annexing Crimea. It did impose certain sanctions but failed to prevent or undo the Russian action.
Like his predecessor Barack Obama, President Donald Trump also sought resetting of US-Russia relations, but domestic politics within the US compelled him to restrict his approach towards Vladimir Putin whom he several times admired as a strong leader. Trump’s campaign was accused of some Russian connection to bolster his popularity and undermine Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidential election.
Once the Mueller Investigative Report absolved Donald Trump of the charges, the first thing the State Department has sought is to remove mistrust and improve ties with Russia. The Pompeo-Lavarov meet is a clear attempt to build up ties between the US and Russia. The US goal appears to be many fold. It would limit Russia-China closeness, which is rising by the years. It would also enable Washington to bargain harder with China on trade issues. The US pressure on Iran would work better, if there is US-Russian détente and hide US inability to effect change in Syria.
But Trump Administration’s overtures towards Russia may not be very fruitful. Russia is already enjoying the benefits of its energy cooperation with Europe and is silently watching growing distance between trans-Atlantic partners in view of Trump’s offensive statements on NATO and uncooperative attitude towards Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Russia has also benefited a great deal from its strategic and energy partnership with China. Moreover, Countering America’s Adversaries with Sanctions Act (CATSA) that, among other things, prevented Russian arms sales to many countries, such as India and Turkey has not gone down well with Moscow.
However, positive and cooperative relations between the United States and Russia will be good for international stability and is also very much in India’s interests. India has been a victim of US-Russia tension. India did not choose sides during the US-USSR Cold War and it finds no benefit in taking sides in US-Russian tensions today. The US intends to expand its arms sales to India, but it need not do so by preventing India from buying Russian weapons. The threat of US sanctions against India’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia poses a challenge to Indo-US ties. Better Washington-Moscow relations are good for India.
Script: Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, Pro Vc & Chairman,American Studies Centre, Jnu