Dialogue against the Flow

The meeting between Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton in Geneva affirmed the desire of the parties for a pragmatic implementation of the agreements reached earlier by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki. The talks that took place were in essence a test case in terms of the thawing of permanent contacts between the Russian and American intelligence services. Such a format for coordinating efforts on matters of mutual interest should, in the near future, become a full-fledged channel of communication between the political teams of the leaders of the two countries.

Unfortunately, the relatively substantive meat of the talks in Geneva was, in the end, offset by the lack of a joint statement on its outcome. The main stumbling block is the thesis about Russia’s alleged meddling in American elections. The unwillingness of U.S. negotiators to drop their baseless accusations against Russia regarding manipulations of the U.S. electoral system, coupled with an unwillingness to take on a mirror-image commitment of noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, forces one to draw the disappointing conclusion that U.S.-Russian relations still remain hostage to the domestic political situation in Washington.

Moreover, the main difficulty of the U.S.-Russian negotiating process is that Moscow and Washington interpret literally every point of the talks’ agenda in different ways, whether it’s concerning Syria, Ukraine, or ensuring global security.

Let’s begin with that last point. After all, maintaining the international balance of power is the mutual responsibility of the two geopolitical superpowers and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. An important component of this process is the nuclear non-proliferation regime, the preservation of which is a subject of roughly equal interest to the United States and the Russian Federation.

Unfortunately, that’s where the obvious overlap of interests ends and the fundamental differences in interpretations begin. Russia, China and, crucially, key EU countries consider the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action a foundation of the international non-proliferation system. At the same time, the U.S., without considering the opinion of its European allies, unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA. The undermining of the Iran nuclear deal and the ensuing escalation of tension between Washington and Tehran is indicative of only one thing: No guarantees by the United States − and consequently, by the international community − in the field of disarmament can be believed.

As for a Syrian resolution, in this matter, the American position once again turns on Iran. Before the meeting in Geneva, Bolton openly stated that he would use Russian interest in Syria’s postwar reconstruction as “leverage.” Washington is prepared to take part in financing Syria’s development only on the condition that Iran’s advisers leave the country, which is unacceptable first and foremost to Damascus, at whose invitation Tehran’s representatives are present in Syria.

It’s important to understand that Russia itself isn’t making anyone choose between us and them. Moscow, for example, isn’t expressing any concern regarding Bolton’s upcoming trip to Kiev, even though the participation of a high-ranking American official in a military parade in honor of Ukraine’s Independence Day is more than symbolic.

We understand that the U.S. in principle doesn’t like doing charity work. It’s not their strong point, as they say. But it’s one thing to quietly sabotage the process of Syria’s post-war reconstruction, and it’s quite another matter to admit to the whole world that American planes and ships are ready to deliver only missiles and bombs to Syria, not humanitarian assistance. If so, there’s nothing left for Russia to do but use the circumstance in negotiations with the Europeans, who, unlike the United States, are extremely interested in returning Syrian refugees from EU countries to their homeland.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the meeting between Bolton and Patrushev, we should all realize just how difficult it is to carry out any constructive negotiations with those who want not just to weaken Russia and eliminate it from the geopolitical arena as an independent player, but also to break up our country and destroy Russian statehood. However, even understanding all this, we nevertheless aren’t rejecting dialogue with the U.S.

As for the fact that the meetings of our countries’ leaders are more often being held behind closed doors, in this circumstance we see undeniable advantages. In a certain sense, the fewer details of the negotiations the partisan American public finds out about, the better chance they have of being implemented pragmatically.

Without a doubt, U.S.-Russian cooperation along the lines of military departments and intelligence services should continue under any circumstances, even under the minimal conditions necessary to prevent global emergencies. At the same time, the ensuring of international security should be depoliticized as much as possible: Vital matters of war and peace can’t be allowed to become hostages to the state of American domestic political affairs and depend on politicos fighting to keep their seats in Congress in midterm elections.

It’s also important to remember and understand that in the U.S., there is no single and synchronized policy on Russia. The bumbling attempts by President Trump and his team to normalize relations with Moscow represent one vector of U.S.-Russian relations. At the same time, an opposing, prevailing vector pushed by the American deep state aims to maximally undermine and neutralize these attempts.

We shouldn’t forget, for instance, that the U.S. Congress de facto deprived Trump of the ability to independently make decisions to soften or lift sanctions against Russia. That’s why the American president and his representatives have to carry out dialogue with Moscow within this narrow and, on the whole, rather confrontational framework.

In any case, the exchange of views and reconciliation went on for hours. That in itself is not insignificant and gives us hope that after the midterm election in Congress, the domestic political obstacles impeding the normalization of U.S.-Russia relations will fall away and the agreements already reached on principled matters of mutual interest will manage to budge from their stuck position and be at least partially implemented in practice.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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