Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Interview with Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Russia: A Non-Global Player Seeking Parity with the U.S

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Interview with Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Russia: A Non-Global Player Seeking Parity with the U.S

Article excerpt

Joanna Kêdzierska (PISM): My first question is about Russian foreign policy towards the United States. At the beginning of the first term of President Barack Obama, we heard about the "reset" and the will to repair American and Russian bilateral relations. Now, we see a lot of events on the Russian side that deny this attempt. For instance, the Snowden case and the Security Council vetoes on the Syrian issue. Does it make sense to take some steps against the U.S. and to endanger these relations?

Dmitri Trenin: I'd say, the "reset" has been a success, but it is history. The "reset" was about the United States redesigning its policy towards Russia in order to turn the relationship, which under President George W. Bush was a liability, into an asset for United States' foreign policy, in particular in places like Afghanistan, Iran and a few others-non-proliferation and strategic arms reduction. As such, it featured prominently on Barack Obama's agenda. Now, this policy was found useful by the Russians who did their own "reset" of policy towards the United States and joined with the United States on a number of issues in order to get what the Russians wanted. What the Russians wanted was a political and military relationship that posed less of a threat to Russia, even potentially a relationship that offered some economic opportunities to Russia.

So basically, the Russians have their own agenda, the Americans have their own agenda, they achieved some results-the START treaty, the WTO accession-but that was all that the "reset" was about ..., i.e. the low-hanging fruits, which the Russians and Americans picked and savoured. Moving beyond that was difficult without fundamental changes to the relationship. Now, the Russians tried to change the relationship by offering a deal on ballistic missile defence by merging defences. This deal was seen as unappetising by the United States and its NATO allies. The Russians offered the chance to collaborate within the UN Security Council on Libya by not vetoing the resolution allowing the use of force to protect civilians, but the resolution was then used in the broadest possible sense to change the regime in Libya. Thus, the relationship got stuck by the time the United States and Russia entered their election campaigns in 2012. And then Putin and Obama tried to restart the relationship, but they couldn't start the relationship on the former basis because all the low-hanging fruits were already consumed. In order to reach higher, they had to establish a new basis for the relationship. For Russia, the basis for the relationship was equality. For the United States, it was Russia essentially continuing to work on the U.S. agenda and being paid a commission fee for helping the United States with people like Assad in Syria and Iran, etcetera. So, the relationship was left in limbo. There's something else that happened in 2012 and you didn't mention it. For Putin, the opposition that he encountered back in 2012 was inspired by the United States-he even said it was paid by the United States. The United States turned into a factor in Russian domestic politics.

And this is the reason why President Putin is not going to in any case show that he supports the United States?

The interesting thing is that Putin is trying to single-handedly change the fundamentals of the U.S.-Russia relations. He basically wants to turn the relationship into a more equal-to-equal relationship. What he did early on as president, again, was to eliminate foreign funding of Russian NGOs that are active in the policy world. He ended those agreements with the United States and Russia that saw the United States as the donor and Russia as the recipient.

Ok, but actually I think that the cases of Snowden and Syria are not cases of equality but a matter of general estimation of some appearances from the point of view of human rights and general understanding of morality.

No, I don't think so. It's an important question. …

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