Russia and the United States Don´t Need New Summits

Russia and the United States Don´t Need New Summits

Dmitry Suslov
National Research University - Higher School of Economics

The first full-fledged summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump held in late July has not improved and, indeed, could not have improved the general atmosphere of Russia-US relations. And it has nothing to do with the US president’s indiscreet words about mistrusting his own intelligence agencies or seeing no reason to mistrust Moscow regarding its alleged meddling in the 2016 election, which made Russia even more of a domestic political football in the United States and further eroded the ability of the White House to pursue any policy toward the Kremlin other than confrontation. 

Deeply rooted domestic political processes in the US (the clash between old and new elites, the fierce opposition of the establishment and bureaucracy, bordering on sabotage, to any attempt to deviate from the foreign policy mainstream, and the use of Russia as a pawn in this conflict) as well as global trends (Washington's reluctance and inability to accept the reality of a multipolar world and Russia as an independent global centre), which in the near future will only get worse – all this guarantees that the confrontation between Moscow and Washington will continue for at least several more years. In fact, the worst is yet to come.

And yet, there are positive results from the Helsinki summit. The bilateral dialogue between the executive branches of Russia and the United States, which had been withering away over the past several years and especially the past 18 months, has gradually begun to recover. The format of dialogue between the heads of national security agencies (Patrushev-Bolton) has become operational. An agreement was reached to improve dialogue between defence departments and to take it beyond the framework of operational and tactical cooperation to prevent direct military collisions in Syria. The parties appear to be starting a dialogue on strategic stability and cyber security. Although very modest and sporadic, contacts between the legislative branches have also resumed. As a result, the Russia-US confrontation has become slightly more manageable than before, and the threat of uncontrolled escalation has declined.

Given the current circumstances, managed confrontation between Russia and the United States is as good as it will get. Even this is extremely fragile and unstable, and already in the coming months, or even weeks, relations between Moscow and Washington could again relapse into uncontrolled confrontation. This is due to the fact that Russia-US relations will run into an entire set of new challenges within the next six months or so.

Above all, the political mayhem in the US promises to increase in the run-up to, and especially after, the midterm elections to Congress, following which the House of Representatives will most likely come under the control of the Democrats. No doubt, Russia will again be accused of interfering. Since the goal of Russia’s intervention is framed by the US political mainstream (both Democrats and Republicans) as an effort to destabilize and eventually destroy the US political system and undermine trust in democratic institutions, the fact that Moscow has no one to support in these elections due to the lack of conventionally pro-Russian (or, rather, less anti-Russian) candidates, is considered irrelevant. Whoever wins – even if it’s the most rabid critics of Moscow – the opponents will claim Russian “interference” again. Even more stringent sanctions will follow from Congress and the Trump administration, which will have to exonerate itself and demonstrate that it doesn’t cut Russia any slack.

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