Interaction between Russia and the United States is increasingly limited to statements of mutual discontent, leaving less and less room for understanding. Unlike during the Cold War, however, today’s confrontation seems entirely surmountable, and a consolidated relationship between Moscow and Washington could do much to help solve pressing global dilemmas.
Why America and Russia Need Each Other
It is clear that the U.S. and Russia have effectively written off the other country as a potential close partner. There is very little, if any trust left, and suspicions are rife. The other country is viewed a nuisance at best; and a potential adversary at worst. Within less than two years, both the U.S. and Russia will be governed by new administrations. A fresh start in the relationship, arresting the current decline and leading to an upturn, is difficult, but not impossible. Those who have to make sure that a severe deterioration of the U.S.- Russian relationship does not hurt their material interests, need to unite their efforts while there is still time.
The Main Adversary and the Unattainable Ideal
Having set up the United States as a model to be perfected and adapted to Russia’s unique conditions, Moscow frequently acts ineffectively, repeating the American model’s typical mistakes. This is best illustrated by the countries’ economic and political relations with its neighbors. America’s attempts to push the boundaries of economic integration beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico) run into stiff opposition in most Latin American states. In this context, the series of ‘colored’ revolutions in Russia’s neighbors parallels the victories of socialists and populists in a number of Latin American countries.
The Gap in Economic Cooperation
Kseniya Yudaeva and Konstantin Kozlov
The current fact that the United States is not a terribly significant economic partner for Russia leads many economists and politicians to believe that Russia’s political and economic relations with the U.S. do not play a particularly important role. However, even small trade volumes (especially if that trade involves high-tech goods, whose nominal and geographic breadth will grow over time) could help Russia attain high and stable rates of economic development. The American market, as one of the world’s largest and with a relatively high rate of growth (in physical volume, if not in percentage growth), is extraordinarily attractive to fast-growing countries, which seek to bring to the market new goods and services.
America and Russian Higher Education
The American system of higher education – while not perfect – gives us nonetheless a clear picture of where Russian universities should be aiming. All the more so, because the gap is certainly bridgeable. We have excellent opportunities: Soviet-era standards of quality that have still not been dissipated, social traditions of educational and scientific prestige, a dynamic private sector, the size of the country, the tremendous number of talented people, and, finally, a first class diaspora. All we have to do is recognize the depth of the problem and continue the difficult work that has already begun.
America Views Russia
Negative images of Russia are difficult to overcome with the positive. New Kremlin controls over the media have been accompanied by a reversion to some of the propaganda techniques of Soviet times. As a result, attempts to sketch a more positive view of Russia and where it is going will have to struggle against suspicions that such efforts are merely part of a propaganda campaign. Moreover, the long-term political impact of many positive trends in Russia is difficult to fathom. In the end, the Kremlin may not much like them, and may try to push back against them. With all of these difficulties, an attempt to sketch a more positive image of Russia from “the inside out” is worth pursuing.
America as the Significant ‘Other’
It is tempting to conclude that the antipathy towards the U.S. is genuine, while feelings of friendship are for show. But it is equally tempting to conclude that our peoples are interested in friendship, while our politicians force us into enmity. Both temptations are best resisted by remembering that what we are discussing – whether public opinion statistics on the U.S. or political rhetoric – reflects the nation’s relationship not to the U.S., but to itself, to its prestige in its own eyes. The problem is that the nation is incapable of evaluating that relationship without America, even if that America is only imaginary.
Cuba’s New Daddy
While the deals with Venezuela have been fortunate for Fidel Castro’s local freedom, they represent a political curse for Cuba. Granting the Cuban government more political autonomy has served to reinforce rather then lessen its historical proclivity toward mono-dependency. In the end, Castro should know, dependency on one commodity, one market, and one foreign government ends up restricting rather than expanding any state’s room for maneuvering. As long as the Cuban government continues to uphold a personalist view of political sovereignty, real freedom for Cubans will remain a dream.
Cuba and China
Daniel P. Erikson and Adam Minson
With the notable exception of Venezuela (and now Bolivia), Latin American countries have generally distanced themselves from the Cuban model since the 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba found itself with trading partners but no true allies interested in supporting Cuba’s communist system. China, the emerging superpower, has now undertaken significant investments in Cuba and may have an interest in maintaining the island’s current political order when Fidel Castro leaves the stage.
Pinochet as a Political Symbol
Attempts to rethink the general’s image began in 1990, after the transition to civilian rule. Revisionism developed along the lines of the traditional model,often seen when a fallen dictator and the proponents of his regime begin to seem less monolithic than they appeared before the fall. Opportunities opened up to study the Pinochet regime by interviewing Chileans themselves, including high-ranking officials. The result has been a number of studies that argue, among other things, that General Pinochet himself was neither the organizer nor the leader of the coup, but to some degree an ‘accidental’ figure.
A Bright Future for Belarus
Belarus is in the process of becoming a nation-state. While this process has been underway for almost 200 years, both Russia and the West have all of a sudden tripled their efforts at influence. The West has signaled its readiness to provide assistance. Russia continues to give Belarus preferential terms of trade, all the while accusing Minsk of being overly dependent on Moscow. It’s hard to imagine a better foundation for constructing the idea of Belarusian ‘specialness’ in the minds of Belarusians themselves.