Lilia Shevtsova
Shevtsova chaired the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, dividing her time between Carnegie’s offices in Washington, DC, and Moscow. She had been with Carnegie since 1995.
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The question posed by my title doesn’t quite hit the mark. Just as one cannot really speak of a single “America”, there is no one “Russia” anymore but rather several Russias. But while each different Russia has its own interests, attitudes and moods, there is something that unites them all with respect to America: The United States is on all of their radars. All of the various Russias hope to use the United States and its policy to serve their own domestic agendas. (In contrast to this, Russia largely fell off America’s radar after the fall of the Soviet Union.)

How, then, will the various Russias react to the renewed Obama presidency? Let’s start with the official Russia—that is, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Along with David Kramer, I have already discussed what the Russian establishment and Putin’s regime could have expected from either possible election result on November 6. I will only add here a couple of brushstrokes to that landscape now that we know the results of the election. Moscow’s official rhetoric and actions over the past year—that is, after Putin officially returned to the Kremlin—allow us to conclude that the Kremlin’s position on the United States would have been based on the following premises no matter who America hired as boss in the White House: 

  • America is weak. It is teetering on a “fragile foundation” and will continue to decline. The United States today can no longer continue as a world leader, and its ongoing fall from grace will give Russia more room to maneuver on the global scene.
  • America needs Russia more than Russia needs America. The United States needs Russian help on Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Central Asia, nuclear issues and counterbalancing China. All of these issues put the Kremlin in a stronger bargaining position with respect to Washington.
  • America’s decline and European stagnation demonstrate that liberal democracy is in crisis. This fact justifies the Kremlin’s decision to return to the idea that Russia represents a “unique civilizational model.”
  • America is bogged down by domestic problems. It is turning its focus inward, thus making it less prepared to react to the Kremlin’s turn toward repression. Moscow can dismiss Washington’s criticism; its bark is worse than its bite.
  • The Obama Administration will fear the rise of Russian nationalism and populism more than it will fear Putin’s machismo. That means that Washington will continue its policy of acquiescence and will try not to irritate the Kremlin.
  • The Kremlin should use this period of American decline to establish a more assertive policy toward the West. Moscow has to dictate the rules of the game to Washington. The Kremlin’s newfound assertiveness will be reflected in the updated version of Russia’s foreign policy doctrine. Moreover, Moscow is ready to use revenge policy, too, as a means of appeasing the hardliners.
  • Russia need not worry that America will ignore it, say the Kremlin’s foreign policy architects. A nuclear-armed Russia is much too important for global security to be ignored.

The Kremlin may view a second Obama term as a boon in its project to update its foreign policy stance. That new stance would help consolidate the idea of Russia as an independent civilization that desires to be integrated into the globalization project on its own terms. There are signs that the Kremlin architects of this update and pro-Kremlin experts believe that President Obama can hardly be expected to take a more assertive position with respect to Russia, which will mean undermining his “reset” past. Even if Obama wanted to rethink the “reset”, these experts believe, he could afford neither to ignore Russia nor to confront it. That is why they expect the Obama administration to continue to play its current hand in its poker game with Putin’s Kremlin. ...

Read the full text of this article in American Interest.