Russia Direct presents a Brief that analyzes the current crisis in Russia-U.S. relations. After examining lessons learned over the past year, the Brief suggests possible ways these lessons can be applied in the resolution of this conflict.

The beginning of 2015 is a good time to think about ways for overcoming the difficult time in the U.S.-Russian relationship and finding new ways for moving forward. Photo: Reuters

2014 was a difficult year for both Russian and American foreign policymakers. The escalation of the Ukrainian crisis resulted in the relationship between Russia and the U.S. deteriorating almost to the brink of open confrontation. As of now, bilateral contacts in almost all areas of cooperation are frozen, suspended or stagnant at best. Moreover, in both Russia and the U.S., Cold War rhetoric is once again making headlines, leading to sharp spikes in anti-American and anti-Russian sentiment.

As a result, the beginning of 2015 is a good time to think about ways for overcoming this difficult time in the U.S.-Russian relationship and finding new ways for moving forward. Russia Direct’s new Brief, “Russian-American Relations in Crisis: Lessons for 2015,” offers a unique perspective on this question. The author of the Brief, Victoria I. Zhuravleva of the Russian State University for the Humanities, focuses on the lessons of the crisis, the possible ways for its resolution and the most significant factors that will determine whether these strategies will prove successful.

Zhuravleva starts with looking at the origins of the crisis and warns against treating the current deterioration purely as a consequence of Russian actions in Ukraine. She argues that, “The reasons for the crisis have their own historical context and are linked by American perceptions that Russia is a former superpower that lost the Cold War.”  

According to Zhuravleva, even after the crisis in Ukraine, the confrontation between Russia and the West will most likely persist in other forms. Instead of open confrontation, it will exist in the form of political discourse, the information war or the ‘war of images’. The ‘war of images’, as the author points out, has a long historical tradition and is as cyclical in nature as Russian-American relations themselves.  

As Zhuravleva writes about this cyclical nature of relations, “The rapprochement between Russia and the United States and, accordingly, the rejection of simplified schemes of mutual understanding, has always happened during those periods when Russia and the United States have expanded the agenda of their relationship. This has occurred through the resistance to a common enemy or responses to global challenges and threats (like it was during two world wars, or large-scale anti-terror campaigns after the 9/11 attacks).” The history of Russia-U.S. ties, in this sense, has been highly cyclical. In fact, the first complete cycle of hopes and disappointments happened at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Examining the phenomenon of the ‘war of images’ in further detail, Zhuravleva touches upon such issues as the sources of anti-Americanism in Russia, the roots of anti-Russian sentiments in America and various attempts to rewrite history by Russia and the U.S.

In the second part of the brief, the author summarizes the lessons that Russian and American societies should keep in mind in order to seek resolution of their conflict and bridge the gap between their differences. First and foremost, Zhuravleva insists that it is key that, “Both sides need to give up the position of criticizing each other’s double standards and claiming to teach each other the principles of proper foreign policy behavior.” Both sides can find a common ground only if they emphasize a diplomatic solution to the crisis, create a new pragmatic approach for bilateral cooperation (based around issues such as counter-terrorism cooperation) and bring more academic expertise into the foreign policy establishment, according to Zhuravleva.

Looking into what might influence the relationship between Russia and the U.S. in the future, the author suggests a number of factors, most importantly, the domestic situation in both nations and the overall international context. Building on the above, Zhuravleva concludes that, “The current crisis doesn’t mean that Russian-American relations are irreversibly broken – only that they are at the start of their next cycle after having reached a new low point.” However, the question remains: How much will it cost us to find a workable solution?

What are the implications of the crisis in U.S.-Russia relations? What are the main factors that will affect Russia’s interaction with the U.S. in the future? Subscribe and download the full version of the Brief to find out.