U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sochi has the potential to change the tone in U.S.-Russia relations and turn down the tensions provoked by the so-called “information war” - but only if both sides act quickly.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and US Russia Ambassador John Francis Tefft seen before meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Photo: RIA Novosti

Many regard U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sochi, where he met with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as the first positive sign for U.S.-Russia relations in quite some time. Keep in mind - top-level U.S. officials haven’t visited Moscow for the last two years, ever since the start of the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, how much of this optimism about Kerry’s visit will turn into real action?

The resumption of face-to-face dialogue between the U.S. and Russia is good in and of itself. During four hours of talks with Putin, the U.S. Secretary of State had a chance to touch upon a broad range of issues – from Ukraine to Syria and Yemen. Moreover, the Russian expert community and media noted Kerry’s changing tone with respect to Ukraine and sanctions.

At the same time, much of this positive spin about the meeting is wishful thinking, of course. None should expect dramatic changes in the U.S. policy towards Russia, since the reasons for the current “mini Cold War” are much more fundamental.

For a very different take read "Kerry's visit gives Putin a victory – at least for now"

There is no Russian lobby in the United States, for example, and the amount of business ties between the two nations is minimal. Moreover, the Russian establishment is full of people who are critical, if not downright antagonistic, with respect to an “old enemy” – the U.S., which in turn, does not trust the Russian leadership.

Besides, the United States is rapidly approaching the 2016 election campaign, so the window of opportunity (even if U.S. President Barack Obama were thinking about some positive shifts at the end of his term) is closing rapidly. Russian decision-makers understand it quite well and can hardly be convinced to talk seriously with an outgoing head of state.

Moreover, deeds speak louder than words. Kerry was much more decisive in his statements in Ukraine and at the NATO ministerial meeting in Antalya, Turkey. The United States continues to provide military support (fortunately, not arms supplies yet) to the Ukrainian government and back “defensive” initiatives of the East European nations.

Unlike Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin will stay in power. And there is a high probability that he will stay for another ten years, realizing that the West appears to be searching for a new strategy with respect to Russia.

Visits by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Kerry come after Russia’s Victory Day, which was marked by the unprecedented presence of China in the Russian media and national political discourse. They very much resemble the attempts to tread water and to test the potential for compromise with Russia in the future.

The most productive line in this regard would be to return to an honest and straightforward pragmatic dialogue, which has recently been replaced with loud statements about moral principles in politics. Such statements may sound fine for the ears of the Western voters, but the Russians regard it as a disguise for dirty intentions and treat them as such. 

Thus, Kerry’s visit is not yet the launch of a “new reset,” but its potential may be used, at the very least, to slightly change the tone in U.S.-Russia relations and turn down the tensions provoked by the so-called “information war.” However, for any serious developments there should be a quick follow-up, otherwise the effect will be extremely short.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.