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.
While many in the West wring their hands over the plight of the postwar rules-based international order, it is often assumed that Russia would welcome a new era of unilateralism and great-power politics. But in reality, the Russian leadership's perspective on multilateralism is more complicated than that.
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.
Russian history is a controversial and hotly debated subject, both at home and abroad. Distilling its lessons is difficult, but worthwhile, as many themes from Russia’s past are likely to endure well into its post-Putin future.
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.
Russia is reputed to be a country whose past constantly changes to suit the purposes and vision of its ruling elite. Yet few would dispute that Russian history is one of extremes.
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.
The Kremlin’s attempt to prevent North Macedonia joining NATO created some difficulties but proved to be rather clumsy and damaging to Russia’s own interests. With the accession appearing to be a done deal, Russia is now likely to lose interest in North Macedonia.
It will be a long time before the U.S. and Russia will reach a new normal in their relationship. The most important thing is that they keep their current confrontation cold, just as they managed with the previous one.