A 'Constructive' Path for U.S.-Russian Cooperation

Vladimir Putin answers journalists’ questions following a working visit to Belarus. Kremlin.ru

Ultimately, Europe will require a new security structure.

Editor’s Note: The following is part of a multi-part symposium commissioned by the National Interest and Carnegie Corporation of New York. We asked some of the world’s leading experts about the future of U.S.-Russia relations under President-elect Donald Trump. You can find all of their answers here.

Last month in Berlin, President Barack Obama advised the president-elect that in dealing with Russia he should take “a constructive approach” of finding areas for cooperation where U.S. and Russian interests and values are aligned, but also of standing up to Russia “where they are deviating from our values and international norms.” And yet in the last several years, this very approach has been taking the United States and Russia down the slippery road of confrontation in dangerous zero-sum engagements reminding the worst episodes of the Cold War crises. The shrinking of areas for cooperation and defection from the earlier reached agreements was unavoidable. In a recent Levada Center and Chicago Council survey, 74 percent of Russian respondents perceived that the “disciplining” measure of sanctions was aimed at crippling the economic development of Russia, not as a means to bring peace in Ukraine. This made possible a broad Russian countermobilization, framed in increasingly hostile terms.

Meanwhile, U.S. national interests and the global foreign-policy agenda require that the U.S.-Russia cooperation be increased, not diminished. This cannot be achieved without rebuilding trust. The United States can and should assume a leadership role in repairing this relationship—by avoiding blame games and concentrating on areas of overlapping interest, to generate options for short-term mutual gains. Gradually expanding areas of cooperation and trustworthiness should enable the United States, its European allies and Russia change the game and tackle issues that involve underlying antagonistic interests.

Ultimately, it will be necessary to create a new security architecture in Europe, in which American and European security interests can be advanced, and Russian concerns about NATO expansion and the treatment of Russian minorities in Ukraine and the Baltic states, can be addressed in a manner acceptable for all parties based on the criteria of common values. On the premise of this new modus vivendi, creative options can be developed to address more contentious and divisive issues, such as Crimea.

Alternatives to this path do exist, but they will lead to inevitable losses for all while risking an incidental head-on clash of nuclear powers. It will not serve either Russia’s or the United States’ and European allies’ national interests to continue replaying Cold War scenarios. And it will be a major setback to miss an historic opportunity to reestablish American leadership by sticking to the core value of constructively managing differences domestically and internationally.

Arthur Martirosyan is Senior Consultant with CM Partners.

Image: Vladimir Putin answers journalists’ questions following a working visit to Belarus. Kremlin.ru