The winds of change or just a light breeze — what will we witness in the US-Russia bilateral relationship in the coming weeks? A few days ago, the idea of holding a meeting between American and Russian officials had been a mirage, full of fake news and political jokes, but now this has turned into reality and preparations have already started for a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin Summit on July 16 in Helsinki in neutral Finland.
The announcement came on the heels of US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit to Moscow last week. The Kremlin considers Bolton to be a personal envoy of Trump and perfectly understands his importance in the White House. “Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can at least take the first step to reviving full-blown ties between our states,” Putin told Bolton, sending the message to Washington that Russia is ready for talks. Bolton replied that the US is also ready.
During his visit, Bolton held talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Syria, Ukraine and “the sorrowful state of our bilateral relations,” as described by Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Despite his hawkish reputation, Bolton became the first US peace dove to come to Moscow.
The US-Russia bilateral agenda is overloaded with problematic issues and mistrust, though at the same time the two countries have mutual interests that might serve as a bridge to improved ties.
Since the start of the escalation between the two countries, the channels of communication and coordination have been significantly reduced, practically to zero, with only talks on Syria, Ukraine and other issues of significant importance going ahead. In the current circumstances, to talk with no result is much better than to keep silent. The US-Russia bilateral agenda is overloaded with problematic issues and mistrust, though at the same time the two countries have mutual interests that might serve as a bridge to improved ties.
However, Russia has no illusions regarding the prospects of a thawing of the bilateral relationship. Trump is playing his own games, manipulating other countries, and introducing business models of management and “cooperation” into the sphere of international relations. Being in the White House, he is doing what he knows and does best — business and bargains, seeking the maximum profit. The promises and guarantees given by the US administration are not reliable and not trusted globally. However, in the current circumstances the international community has no other choice but to find ways to talk with Trump.
Meanwhile, the “Russiagate” scandal — the claim that Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election was based on Russian interference — might have a new boost in case of any positive outcome of the Trump-Putin summit. But such predictions are nothing but speculation.
Russia and the US have to pay particular attention to their relationship in the sphere of security, disarmament and missile programs. The deterioration of ties between the two major nuclear states is threatening the world’s stability and security. Several treaties between the US and Russia are keeping the world relatively safe, but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty have to be discussed and updated. The US withdrawal from the important Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 has already led to the start of an arms race.
Russia has recently demonstrated its newest missile systems, having stressed that they are a response to the US withdrawal from the ABM. An intensification of the arms race is not in the interest of either country, but both are ready to go ahead. Trump’s proposal last month of launching a space force is another step toward escalation. But the US not only has its fist against Russia’s face; this is a message to China as well. The issue is that this triggers reciprocal programs in Russia and China, meaning the race is already becoming trilateral. It is high time to renegotiate the ABM treaty before it is too late.
Though the main focus will likely be on geopolitical issues, the topic of Syria sparks concerns in Damascus and Tehran, as they fear Russia might trade Syria for other major benefits. However, these concerns are invalid as Russia has not changed its position on the Syria conflict and it will not change it now, as it is a matter of honor. Though Russia might agree to some compromises regarding the presence of Iranian troops in the areas of concern to the US and Israel, Moscow will proceed with further mediation between Washington and Tehran.
The scheduling of the Russia-US summit is crucial as Trump will meet Putin after the NATO summit. Trump has slammed NATO for leeching off the US and its members for not paying their fair share. The NATO summit is therefore expected to be like that of the G-7, creating a rather odd framework for the Putin-Trump meeting and giving a green light to speculation and conspiracy theories.
Whatever the outcome of the summit, it is already a great victory for peace that it will even take place. If the light breeze of change is harnessed properly, both countries and the world as a whole will reap the benefits of this meeting.
- Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme