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Regular version of the site

‘If All the Politicians were Clever…’

On December 15th the first joint Russian-American report by the Valdai Discussion Club working group on the future of U.S.-Russia relations was presented at the HSE.

The report, ‘U.S.-Russia Relations in Post-Soviet Eurasia: Transcending the Zero-Sum Game’,  was co-authored by Samuel Charap, Director for Russia and Eurasia and member of the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress, and Mikhail Troitsky, Associate Professor at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO).

This working group was created in 2010 as a joint initiative by the Higher School of Economics, Harvard University, the Valdai Discussion Club and the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP). It is headed by Sergey Karaganov, Dean of the HSE Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, Chairman of the Board at SVOP, and Timothy Colton, Chair of the Department of Government at Harvard University and member of the HSE International Advisory Committee.

The key aim of the working group is to form a joint view by the expert communities of Russia and the U.S. on topical problems of Russian-American relations, the foreign policies of both countries and key trends in international relations and global development, as well as to develop political recommendations on various aspects of the foreign policy of both countries. Meetings are held twice a year, alternately at the HSE and Harvard. Each meeting is dedicated to a specific problem, and the results of the discussion are reflected in summary reports which are prepared by two experts – one Russian, one American. Most of the working group’s experts are young researchers aged under 40 – representatives of a new generation of international relations researchers who will define and build the future of Russia-U.S. relations.

Since Samuel Charap was not able to visit Moscow to give his presentation, the report was presented at the HSE by his Russian colleague Mikhail Troitsky, and the American side was represented by Prof. Timothy Colton. The research and the associated paper by the two young researchers was dedicated to the analysis of Russian-American relations on post-Soviet regions, since it is here where the sharp contradictions and problems of misunderstanding most often determine the two countries’ relations. After an analysis of the main areas and reasons for tension in Russian-American relations as a result of their policy in CIS countries, the authors suggested possible solutions to the problems.

During the multidimensional study, the young academicians concluded that the generally accepted belief that the two countries have fundamental, irreconcilable disagreements related to post-Soviet countries is false. ‘Indeed, the persistence of the zero-sum dynamic between the two countries regarding the region is highly contingent’, the paper emphasizes,’ it cannot be accounted for by immutable factors inherent to either of them or the international system. Whatever its source, not only has this dynamic been a key driver of past downturns in the bilateral relationship, but it has also done serious damage to the development of the independent states of post-Soviet Eurasia themselves’.

According to the authors of the report, the main sources of tension are: historically conditioned policy patterns; parochial agendas of actors such as business lobbies and “freelancing” government agencies; and mutual misperceptions. These are all obstacles to the search for mutually beneficial solutions, they slow down the political and economic development of post-Soviet countries and lead to the deepening or continuation of unsolved conflicts. The report suggests some specific solutions for this situation. It suggests it is necessary to implement greater transparency, which means that the United States and Russia should regularly convey information about their respective activities in the region to avoid misunderstandings. The paper also recommends regularizing bilateral consultations on regional issues. Officials from Washington and Moscow, the paper suggests, should take into account the domestic contexts of the U.S. and Russia. And, once high level negotiations have overtaken local concerns, it would be useful, the paper authors believe, to publicly affirm a positive-sum approach to bilateral interactions in the region.

During the discussion which took place after the presentation, Alexander Golts, Editor-in-Chief of the Ezhednevny Zhurnal (Daily Magazine) internet edition, said, that in his view, the report is aimed at an ideal world and is based on the idea that the governments act rationally, but unfortunately this is not real. ‘It seems to me’, he said, ‘that people outside the academic community will listen to this and ask the authors: Who is this paper aimed at? Is it a kind of evangelical tract for governments? Or just an academic exercise which states that if all politicians were clever we wouldn’t have any problems, but since not all of them are clever, we cannot expect a good result?’

At the end of the discussion Sergey Karaganov emphasized that the paper by Mikhail Troitsky and Samuel Charap is the first joint publication by the working group and has received positive feedback in the USA and attracted interest from prominent politicians and staff of the State Department. ‘We are starting to prepare the next report’, he said, ‘on possible cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in the energy industry. Today’s discussion is important, since it has revealed both the strength and weaknesses of the preparation of the first report by the working group and this will all be taken into account in our future work’.

Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service
Photos by Nikita Benzoruk

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