Foundations of US-Russian Disagreement: The New Normal in Bilateral Relations

Igor Sergun Dmitry Medvedev

Foundations of US-Russian Disagreement: The New Normal in Bilateral Relations

Dr Andrey Sushentsov
Moscow State Institute of International Relations

Lecture delivered on February 8, 2016 at Davis Center, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

The topic of today’s talk is why he point we are at right now in the history of Euro-Atlantic relations can be described as a “new norm”. It is not a discussion about past achievements or past failures, it is not a talk about the consequences of the Cold War, who won and who lost. It is a talk about how the future would look like, and what can be a preferable future for all parts of the Euro-Atlantic region. I believe that we are at a decisive point that we will show how exactly Russia and the West will feel towards each other in the coming generation or two. I also believe that even being adversaries or being partners in a semi-confrontational period is not the worst kinds of future we actually can have.

I will start with a not very obvious point – with the death of Russian once prominent military commander, head of the Russian military intelligence service Igor Sergun. He died in January 2016 in Moscow, which seemed to be from a heart attack. This person has been in charge for most important Russian military activities outside and inside the country starting with the North Caucasian operations throughout the 1990s and 2000s. He is a person who is described by many as a “troublingly imaginative architect” of Russian operations in Ukraine. But most importantly he was the person who was very eager to establish a strategic dialogue with Western counterparts, primarily with the American military intelligence. And with very surprising development throughout 2012 and 2013, throughout the third term of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, and throughout the time when the narrative regarding the Western relations with Russia started to be very bad, real strategic dialogue between the two sides was established. Joint meetings between the military commanders of Russia and the United States were held, and these discussions developed into a form that was very strange if you compare it to the mainstream media attitude towards the bilateral relations.

These quotations are coming from the article by a senior American military attaché to Russia at the time, Peter Zwack. He says, “even as Sergun relentlessly directed global intelligence operations against our interests, he — paradoxically — also viewed constant confrontation with the U.S. and West as not in Russia’s best long-term interest”. And if we can sum up what was going on for these two years of these surprising developments, it was a dialogue which was sustained and which helped to reveal for the two sides – Russia and the United States – why exactly they did disagree: the topics like Ukraine, Syria crisis, Arab Spring and all others. And after calculus, they managed to agree on the points where their interests coincided and where they did have a common agenda, and those included radicalism of Islam in Afghanistan and Central Asia, global terrorism, catastrophic consequences of climate change, and so on. This was the next generation geostrategic challanges dialogue between adversaries...

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