Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Even if Ukraine Issue is Resolved, US-Russian Relations Will Remain Tense for a Long Time, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – Even if by some miracle the Ukrainian problem were to be resolved, something unlikely to happen, Mikhail Taratura says, relations between Russia and the US in particular will remain bad for a long time, a reality that is independent of what Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump may want.

            In a Snob commentary yesterday, the Moscow commentator says that reflects the underlying reality that American “politicians, the media and even a certain part of the population which is usually indifferent to Russia does not like us approximately in the same way as they did not in the years of McCarthyism” (snob.ru/selected/entry/131952).

                Many Russians thought that after Trump was elected, Taratuta says, he would make a deal with Putin, but “only now are we beginning to understand that one shouldn’t measure America by a Russian yardstick and that, in contrast to us, in the United States, there are several centers of power and each has its own distinctive characteristics and relations to others.” 

            Those in the US establishment opposed to Trump have played up the Russian factor and act according to the following logic: “’Russia is absolute evil and a cunning opponent.’ Trump either from stupidity or self-interest or perhaps because Putin has compromising materials on him can’t or doesn’t want to oppose this enemy of the United States.”

            Consequently, according to this line of thought, Trump “is acting against the interests of his country and cannot be president; [and] from this the following simple algorithm is formed that the more horrible and dangerous Russia is presented as being, the more criminal are the actions of Trump, and thus the more probable his impeachment.”  

                As long as Trump is in office, this will continue; but even after he leaves, one way or another, “nothing can change at the level of principle in our relations,” Taratuta says.  That is because for the portion of the US population that is left of center, “the cause of fear and nervousness” is “Putin’s Russia and in the first instance Putin himself.”

            Whether Putin’s Russia or Putin deserve this reputation is “an essential question, but for our conversation,” the commentator says, “it is a secondary one” because “even without Trump, the image of a horrific enemy will live its own life for a long time even if Russia” magically changed in ways the Americans want.

            This will have a negative impact on Russia because it will not be able to catch up with the West but rather fall further and further behind.  That will continue until at least 2024 when apparently Putin will leave office and when new people will be in the top positions in both Moscow and Washington.

            Making predictions beyond that date is more problematic, Taratuta says.  But it is clear that “even if in place of Putin comes someone softer like Medvedev of the model of 2008-2012 or even the more liberal Aleksey Kudrin … geopolitical competition – the apple of discord between our countries – apparently isn’t going to disappear.”

            “I cannot imagine,” the Moscow commentator continues, “that any new Russian president could return Crimea to Ukraine. This would be for him political suicide. I also doubt that Russia will give up its efforts to be the arbiter on the post-Soviet space or to play a significant role in world politics,” even if that forces it to live beyond its means.

            At the same time, it is at least possible that six years from now, the US will come to understand that “the world is changing, new centers of force and influence with their own interests will appear. But that means that the US can’t remain forever in the status of the leader of the world.”

            Tension is thus going to continue between the US and Russia, approximately in the same fashion as it did during the Cold War. “The greatest achievement of that time was ‘peaceful coexistence’ which meant ‘we will not fight but we won’t cooperate.”

            Of course, “another scenario is possible,” the commentator says. The two countries could decide that they have no choice but to cooperate in order to meet common challenges. “Everything is possible,” even that; but it is hard to forecast such an outcome. 

            “To be friends, really friends, with America in the foreseeable future is something that isn’t going to happen,” Taratuta says. Instead, in the decades ahead, there will be tensions and conflicts. “We are very different, and we know too little about one another and thus do not understand to a catastrophic degree our opponents.”

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