During an interview with Russian TV, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that currently relations between the U.S. and Russia are in the worst shape since the Brezhnev years. Is this so? Is there any prospect for improvement? Historian and expert on America Ivan Kurilla answers these questions.
The prime minister did not put it well by using the Brezhnev years as a starting point. The Brezhnev period was the least confrontational period during the Cold War and throughout the years of the Soviet Union. After Brezhnev, there was Andropov. During his short reign, relations with the U.S. managed to deteriorate sharply. Even with the boycott of the Olympics, the Brezhnev years were not the worst with regard to bilateral relations.*
Generally speaking, we really now have the worst relations with respect to rhetoric and diplomacy since the Cold War. Of course, there were worse periods during the Cold War; the situation was way more threatening, and both sides considered the possibility of direct military confrontation. Today, neither the U.S. nor Russia is considering such a possibility, although currently we have the worst relations since Perestroika.**
The current aggravation of U.S.-Russia relations is connected with the fact that both countries are undergoing domestic problems and identity crises. In the U.S., the crises became obvious with the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency. In Russia, there is also a feeling of reaching a dead end or inability to determine a way forward for development. This has caused anxiety for both sides, and has affected the prospects for bilateral relations. How will countries change internally? I don’t see anything that Russia or the U.S. can do to improve their relationship.
But there is something that can be done. For example, the U.S. and Russia can improve diplomatic relations by reopening closed consulates and increasing the number of diplomats. It’s clear that the question of sanctions is more complicated, but there is a need to first change the rhetoric. I’m repeating myself, but for that to happen, there is a need for certain domestic changes in each country. Americans must reprogram, find a new answer to the question of who they are. And Russians also have to make a choice. Relations will improve only when Russia can determine its future and can see where it’s going. Theoretically, this may happen after the elections. Technically, it is possible with the same president.
*Translator’s note: Leonid Brezhnev was a Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982 as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
**Translator’s note: Perestroika was a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from the 1980s to 1991, and was widely associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost (openness) policy reform. The literal meaning of perestroika is restructuring, which refers to the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system. It is sometimes argued that Perestroika was a cause of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe, and the end of the Cold War.