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27.05.2011. "Window of Opportunity"

Article by Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economics and Politics at the National Research University-Higher School of Economics: "Standing Still in Front of a 'Window of Opportunity'"

By the Spring, Russian-American relations had reached a frontier. They had normalized. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty had been signed. The grand presidential commission with its proliferating subcommissions had started work. They are generating a positive momentum: Bureaucrats will have to demonstrate results. And they will be forced to produce them.

Russia -- in the context of its interests -- is helping the United States and NATO in Afghanistan. It has stopped opposing the United States, as often used to be the case, simply out of principle.

A recent example was the refusal to veto the resolution on Libya. Though Moscow had no alternative. The League of Arab States had agreed. China did not want to block the resolution. And it would have been extremely stupid for Russia to do this alone and then bear before the entire world the responsibility for the blood of suppressed insurgents. Now it is the NATO Europeans who bear the responsibility for the blood in Libya and the deepening civil war there. The United States has extremely elegantly almost distanced itself from the responsibility.

It is not only Moscow that has made a concession to Washington. Washington has virtually ceased or drastically reduced its support for anti-Russian forces and tendencies on the territory of the former USSR. The Obama administration is really trying to secure Russia's speediest admission to the WTO and even the abolition of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has already become a joke.

The only significant cloud hanging over the unprecedentedly normal relationship has also started to disperse. During his visit to Moscow in March this year Vice President J. Biden alleged publicly stated that he would not advise V.V. Putin to run for president and had even told him so personally. This vividly brought back memories of the failed American policy of the 1990s, when B. Clinton's administration magnanimously/arrogantly attempted to impose even personnel decisions. Which triggered totally justified anti-Americanism in Russia on top of its classic biological anti-Americanism. Biden contributed to this second anti-Americanism. But in April the American vice president attempted to ease the situation, talking with the Russian prime minister on telephone and inviting him to visit the United States both on his own account and on behalf of the president. We will see.

While totally satisfied with the "reset" -- one of its most important foreign policy achievements -- Barack Obama's administration does not wish to go further at this time. All the indications are that it has decided to "fix a profit." Especially since a pre-election period inhibiting opportunities for forward progress has set in in both countries.

For the time being, in order not to lose what has been achieved, the White House has refrained from pushing for the beginning of negotiations on reducing nonstrategic or tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, in which Russia is many times superior in terms of numbers. This is why Moscow does not want these negotiations.

The Americans are doing almost everything that they can to avoid exacerbating the situation surrounding the semi-artificial problem of the creation of a missile defense system in Europe. Essentially this system is most likely not needed by anybody. But this system -- together with cooperation on it with Russia -- is embedded in the new NATO strategic concept. Because a concept without it would have been completely vacuous. The American Administration also needs the maneuvers around "Euro-ABM" to protect itself from the Republicans, who are enraged at the abandonment of the deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic of American strategic missile defense systems that are also unnecessary but very precious to isolationist Republican hearts.

It seems that a kind of standstill in the development of relations is setting in for a year or a year and a half. New opportunities may appear. It would be a sin not to take advantage of them.

And these opportunities are linked to two circumstances. First, the elimination of Bin Ladin. Almost guarantees that B. Obama will be reelected. Second, the progressive grouping of the American ruling elite that is associated with him has launched an attempt to radically revise the country's foreign policy strategy. In the direction of abandoning unilaterality, democratic messianism, and reliance primarily on military power in favor of concentrating on reviving the American economy on the basis of constructive and realistic cooperation with other world players. There are many signs of a shift. Its manifesto is already in circulation. It is pointedly signed "Mister Y" (by direct analogy with George Kennan's famous 1948 article which laid the foundation for the containment of communism and the USSR and which was signed "Mister X"). The "Mister Y" article will be published in the next edition of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs.

A strategic "window of opportunity" may open up in America's relations with the world, including Russian-American relations.

Such a window -- for its own reasons -- has already opened up in Russia-EU relations. And Russia, having seized the initiative extremely successfully, is beginning to fill it. With Medvedev's European security treaty, his joint proposal with A. Merkel to create a council to coordinate Russian and EU foreign policy, and, furthermore, Putin's proposal for the creation of single European economic, energy, and human spaces stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific -- a kind of a "Union of Europe."

An external environment has taken shape for Russia that is unique in its thousand-year history. For the first time, nobody is seriously threatening it right now. If this trend is successfully established in the West through the proposal for a new agenda for both Europe and the United States, a system whereby they would pose no threat even in future could be created. And, in addition to an already friendly China, a friendly America would also emerge here and there. And Europe might well join, when it matures. And an opportunity would emerge to create two geopolitical triangles of relationships that would be optimal for Russia -- CAR (China-America-Russia), which high-ranking Chinese theorists are already proposing, and ARE (America-Russia-Europe).

Then Russia would indeed acquire a period of protracted and relatively calm development. At least in terms of international environment. What would happen internally depends on us alone. So it is necessary now not only to get involved in not very enthralling pre-election battles but also to prepare a new agenda for relations with the United States. Before the standstill ends in, I would remind you, a year or a year and a half's time. An attempt must be made.

//Originally published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta  on May 18, 2011