Both Belarusian officials and U.S. presidential adviser John Bolton were quick to put out the message that the visit was more about form than content. Bolton said openly that no issues had been resolved at the meeting, but that he had not expected otherwise. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said that no one was enticing Minsk over to any side, and that the two sides had simply agreed to keep communicating.
It’s impossible for Russia to return to the G7, but it’s also impossible for the group to solve many problems important to it without Russia. France’s relationship of trust with the Russian leadership, and the opportunity to represent Russia behind the scenes at the group’s gatherings, are an important diplomatic asset that France would hate to lose.
Financial sanctions that limit Russia’s borrowing are for now ineffective, as Russia currently has three surpluses: in the federal budget, balance of trade, and current account. The Russian state and most Russian business (at least the kind of business that could in theory raise investment abroad) simply don’t need major credit lines.
The European Union is taking up a defensive position. This is not isolationism but pragmatism, which signals a revision of the ideas at its heart and a sharp decrease in any desire to project power, including soft power. For Russia-EU relations, this will mean a period in which any kind of ambition will become irrelevant. Efforts will now be focused on reducing expenditure and risks.
The standoff between European pragmatists and skeptics on Russia won’t end here. The pragmatists will now face heightened political risk for a long time, both in the Council of Europe and in their own countries. Any actions or even statements by Russia that could directly or indirectly confirm the skeptics’ fears will now unleash a barrage of criticism not only of Moscow, but also of those who allowed the Russian delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly.
A broad public discussion on Moscow’s foreign policy goals and objectives is long overdue. International issues are affecting the interests of Russian society as a whole more and more, making it necessary for private citizens to take a greater interest in their country’s conduct abroad, especially in the single continental space that is Greater Eurasia.
Traditionally, Moscow has insisted on arms control agreements being enshrined in legally binding documents, while Washington has been more open to political deals. Nevertheless, a new, more flexible approach could find support with the Russian leadership.
The Zimbabweans understand that the Russians will not be able to convert the results of their assistance into direct political or economic power, and even the simple monetization of influence is not yet being discussed. Therefore, they willingly accept any form of support from Moscow. Russia, for its part, still lacks the experience, information, and human resources to compete in Africa with the former colonial powers or China. It can, however, comfortably play a role that requires significantly fewer resources: that of a restraining and independent power.
The U.S.-Russia strategic relationship—the only one to have featured strategic arms control—is no longer central to global strategic stability. While Sino-American relations are not nearly as dominant in terms of the rest of the world as U.S.-Soviet relations were during the Cold War. Thus twentieth-century methods of dealing with the issue of strategic stability, such as arms control, are insufficient.