Russia Direct highlights the best comments about the impact of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign on Russia and the optimal policy the new American president should follow in U.S.-Russia relations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hold a press conference after a meeting in the U.N. Security Council of foreign ministers for a vote concerning Syria, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, at U.N. headquarters. Photo: AP

The U.S. presidential campaign is in full swing and will come to an end in 2016. With current U.S. President Barack Obama seen as a lame duck, Russia experts are already trying to assess the potential impact of different Republican and Democrat challengers as the next U.S. president. 

Russia Direct presents the best comments from well-known Russian and American experts to find out their take on the campaign. What is the impact of this campaign on U.S. policy toward Russia? And, more importantly, what should the next American president do to deal with the Kremlin? 

Aurel Braun, professor of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Toronto and an associate of the Davis Center at Harvard University:

It is very important to find common interests where both sides can emerge as winners. It is necessary to look in terms of a non zero-sum game — of a multi-sum game, if you will.

And that is possible, because there are joint interests: radical Islam is a threat to everybody in the world; environmental issues are a threat to the entire world; exploration for energy resources in the Arctic is a common interest, I mean keeping the Arctic area environmentally safe, and a nuclear-armed Iran would also be a threat to Russia.

In terms of China, there are mutual interests: The interests of Russia and the United States in many key areas are closer than the interests of Russia and China. Russia, moreover, is making a mistake if it believes that it could use China as a tool, because a powerful China is not a natural ally of Russia.      

There is the belief, at least in the case of some Russian policy makers, that if Russia succeeds in making the United States weaker in the Middle East, Moscow gets stronger there. But such an approach is counterproductive in international affairs: It is possible in some instances that both parties get weaker and it is conceivable in other that they both could get stronger.

The comment is based on Russia Direct’s interview with Aurel Braun. Read the full version of the Q&A here.

Also read new Russia Direct Report: "Russia and the World: Foreign Policy Outlook 2016"

Vladislav Zubok, professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a fellow of the Wilson Center:

However difficult it is, you have to start with summitry and personal contacts with the country’s leader which, I suspect, will be Vladimir Putin. They need a realistic approach and limit their expectations of what the opposition can do to Putin.

Americans limited these expectations quite substantially, but they still keep their own rhetoric about Russia moving in the wrong direction, although they themselves inadvertently contributed to that direction during the last 25 years.

And even sanctions definitely contributed to various fatal changes to Russia’s policy and economy that take Russia further away from the development of small business, a prosperous middle class and democracy. So, it is always difficult to advise: But I would recommend to give it a little bit more time, there shouldn’t be any pressure right now to solve any issues.

In this sense, Obama is doing the right thing by not prioritizing Russian-American relations, because in the current climate if you are prioritizing the relations, then the pressure from Washington is likely to be tough. So, we have to take a step back. The question of sanctions, of course, comes up and the Putin government increasingly desperately wants to get rid of those sanctions. And it is a very, very tricky issue, because it is connected to the question of Ukraine for obvious reasons. So, it is important for the next leadership to show much more clearly whatever America does is not against the Russian people.

The comment is based on Russia Direct’s interview with Vladislav Zubok. Read the full version of the Q&A here

Kathryn Stoner, senior fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies:

How should the next American president deal with Russia? There should be a kind of neo-containment strategy in terms of political actors unless Russia pulls out of Ukraine. I think [returning] Crimea would be ideal as well, but at least, withdrawing from Donbas would be good.

But I would recommend looking beyond the immediate administration in Russia or in the United States, because Russian society is complex, there are different strains of opinion within Russian society and I think what we‘ll have to do is fostering more person-to-person, peer-to-peer dialogue and all sorts of such programs as we did in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

The comment is based on Russia Direct’s interview with Kathryn Stoner. Read the full version of the Q&A here.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, talk backstage before the start of the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Oct. 24, 2015. Photo: AP

John M. Evans, retired American diplomat, former director of the Russian Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of State (2002-2004):

I am an unapologetic advocate of working with Russia. I think the United States and Russia have many common interests, although we went through very difficult days in the Cold War, and still view the world in different ways.  

Let’s remember that we got through the Cold War without actually going to war. So, rather than a war, it was a long period of tense peace, you might call it, as [American foreign policy analyst] Strobe Talbott has, a "nuclear peace," because it was a peace enforced by the fact that we knew we had the possibility of ending life on earth. Fortunately, we had the wisdom not to do that.

The fact that we finally got through the Cold War is our common inheritance. And I think that we can get through other things too. I do not believe that the current tensions truly constitute a new Cold War

The evidence of that is the fact that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are still in close communication; they are able to work together and share some common goals, although, as former hockey players, they know they will occasionally collide on the ice.

The comment is based on Russia Direct’s interview with John M. Evans. Read the full version of the Q&A here

Timothy Colton, chair of the Government department at Harvard University:

What to recommend [the next U.S. president] do when dealing with Russia? Treat Russia like a normal country with its own interests. It’s not just going to do what we say or want it to do – it’s too big, too independent and proud. And you have to accept that you have to make compromises and think in a very long range terms. This country is too large to change overnight.

It’s in the interests of the U.S. for Russia to be a normal country. It’s a modern country with, in my view, an arcane political system, but it’s not something we can change. Eventually it will move in a more open direction. But if it doesn’t, the U.S. can’t really prevent that, it’s not American responsibility, and only Russians can decide that.

I think one area that we never really made good things happen is trade. Looking at the next 10 years of U.S.-Russia relations, efforts should be made to create a strong economic basis. In certain markets we are actually rivals – we are both exporters of energy, we compete with one another on that market.

But there are other areas where there it is a bit more complementary – in areas of science and technology, Russia is in many ways an unexplored frontier for U.S. multinational corporations, there should be more of their presence here. The Russian government has not done enough to make them feel welcome.

The comment is based on Russia Direct’s interview with Timothy Colton. Read the full version of the Q&A here.

Recommended: "RD Insight: How should the next US President deal with Russia?"

Andrei Korobkov, professor at Middle Tennessee State University:

The U.S. is now facing a very difficult period with the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. Most Republicans are likely to compete from the point of view of their intransigent positions toward Russia, no matter what the real consequences will be. The only exception is Rand Paul, who suggests an isolation policy and is reluctant to be involved in any foreign policy gambles, including Ukraine.

Hillary Clinton is tougher on Russia and dislikes President Vladimir Putin, so we should expect anti-Russian rhetoric to be fueled during the upcoming pre-election campaigns. So, we cannot rely on a new reset now.

However, there are shifts, they are paradoxical and interesting. There has been the trend of decreasing interest in Russia for the last 20 years, with the closures of Russian language programs, de-funding of research in Russia Studies [Title VIII program – Editor’s note], and the resignation of officials from intelligence agencies and U.S. State Department.

But recently, the Congress decided to resume the Title VIII program, which finances research in the field of Russia and post-Soviet Studies. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the U.S. attitude toward Russia will be friendly, but, at least, there will be more interest and more organizations that deal with this region.           

We should keep in mind that Obama is also a tough and very realistic politician, who – despite all stereotypes and the perception of him as a person who came out of the left wing civil rights movement – he is conducting a cynical policy when it comes to many issues and looking at them from the point of view of the balance of power.

However, as a pragmatist, Obama is much more beneficial for Russia than any other presidential candidate of the current campaign. So, after the 2016 presidential campaign, changes are highly likely to be negative of any new change in thinking about Russia.

The comment is based on Russia Direct’s interview with Andrei Korobkov. Read the full version of the Q&A here.