Russia sees itself as a country under increasing attack in a rapidly destabilizing world. Russian foreign policy is first and foremost intended to protect itself from potential threats, especially from bordering countries.
Miscommunication between the United States and Russia has led to mounting geopolitical tension, tension which is both avoidable and counterproductive. It is possible to use shared security concerns to repair U.S. relations with the Russian Federation, but only once U.S. policymakers understand how Moscow views the world.
This worldview can be summarized by the following five points:
1. Russia’s legitimate national security interests are at best not considered by the West, and at worst, are actively exploited.
2. Russia has a special sphere of security interest in the post-Soviet space, as this is where direct threats to the Russian state will most likely arise.
- This is comparable to the Monroe Doctrine, which once guided U.S. foreign policy.
3. Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have left the Middle East in ruin and chaos.
- The crises that prompted Western intervention have become worse as a result.
4. Western civilization has increasingly become detached from its Christian roots, falling prey to degeneracy and corruption.
- In President Putin’s own words: “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values… policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
- The Kremlin’s appeal to traditional values has won Russia friends both among European conservatives and in the Islamic world.
5. The world’s civilizations each developed under unique historical circumstances and have a right to exist without undue foreign interference.
- Respect for state sovereignty is a driving force behind Russian foreign policy, be it towards Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iran or elsewhere.
With these in mind, the United States and the Russian Federation have a number of shared, and very real, security concerns. Cooperation in key geopolitical hotspots can be the basis to restore positive U.S.-Russia relations, and have them last long into the future. Two key areas in which to increase cooperation with Russia are:
- Threats from Islamist hotspots of traditional concern to Russia, namely the North Caucasus, can have a direct effect on the United States, as was seen with the Boston Marathon bombing.
2. Iranian negotiations
- It is in our mutual interest to turn Tehran into a partner nation in a rapidly disintegrating Middle East.
- Shi’ite Iran is threatened by the same militant Sunni Islamism as the United States and Russia.
- Iranian and American allies are already cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.
- Iranian society is far more moderate than its neighbors are, and far friendlier toward the West.
More important than understanding the problem, however, is knowing what to do about it. The following are a series of concrete steps that the United States can take both to improve relations with Russia and to tackle some of the greatest security dilemmas of our time, to answer the eternal Russian question Что делать? (“What to do?”)
Step 1: Increase cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State
- Both the United States and Russia should arm the Iraqi government and provide logistical and intelligence support to the same.
Step 2: Work to counter terrorist financing
- Sources of terrorist financing, regardless of form or origin, should be targeted by both the United States and Russia.
- This will involve a degree of intelligence cooperation, which could be used to develop greater trust in the future.
Step 3: Increase relevant intelligence collaboration
- The trans-national nature of Islamist terrorism means that American officials must be informed about terrorist threats emerging from the former Soviet Union.
- It also necessitates that Russian officials be informed about terrorist threats emerging from Western societies and regions where the West has historically been more active, such as Africa.
- Limited intelligence cooperation will serve both to mitigate these threats and to remind American and Russian officials that they have shared interests in counter-terrorism.
2. Iranian negotiations
Step 1: Meet with Russian officials to identify shared interests
- What do both the United States and Russia want out of these negotiations?
Step 2: Work with Russian officials to ensure compliance with P5+1 decisions
Step 3: Begin limited US-Russia-Iran cooperation to combat the Islamic State in Iraq
- This should be in the form of micro-level intelligence sharing and overall strategy formation.
- Offer Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States a chance at involvement so as to avoid isolating them.
These measures are practical steps that the administration can take to simultaneously improve relations with the Russian Federation and better ensure American national security over the long-term. Engaging with Russia will provide the United States with a major security partner in an increasingly chaotic world.
Isolating Russia will only help foster a genuinely anti-American coalition, a geopolitical problem the U.S. neither needs nor desires. Russia has already proven willing and able to cooperate in U.S. national security efforts, there is no reason why this should not continue to be the case.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff