US-Russia relations mired in geopolitical trap

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/27 20:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A new law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, was published on Russia's official legal information Internet portal on Saturday. The law recognizes foreign-funded media outlets in Russia as foreign agents. According to the "On Amendments to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation regarding the Regulation of the Activities of Non-profit Organisations Performing the Functions of a Foreign Agent," known as the Russian foreign agent law adopted in 2012, media outlets and organizations identified by the Russian government as foreign agents must declare themselves so, with restrictions placed on their activities.

The move was widely perceived as a countermeasure to actions by the US government to pressure Russian media operating there. Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice insisted that the Kremlin-backed television station RT America register as a foreign agent, or the television channel's accounts would be frozen and its American director arrested.

Moscow once had high hopes for talks between Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump at the APEC summit in Vietnam. However, a formal meeting did not take place. All these developments show that there are no signs of improvement in bilateral relations.

It is hard to miss the "ideologicalization" of US-Russia relations in both countries. Lately, academic circles and media outlets on both sides have had few suggestions on easing bilateral tensions. Those who realize ties must improve voice their opinion in private. Washington's political discourse is dominated by neo-conservatism and liberal interventionism. The realism that supports balance of power is being marginalized. Even Henry Kissinger, whose ideas have enormous influence on Trump, fails to represent the mainstream opinion of the US elite, whose political mind-set has been deeply affected by political correctness during the Barack Obama era. The tendency to criticize Russia is seen as a measure of political correctness. Under such circumstances, calls to improve US-Russia relations are demonized.

For Russia, whether supporting an improved relationship with the US has become a criterion to judge whether Russia's national interests can be maintained. When the Ukraine crisis erupted, the liberal elite could criticize Putin's foreign policy in mainstream media. In contrast, since Trump took office, the Russian elite has been unanimous on the state of Moscow-Washington ties. In their opinion, the worsening relations have been the victims of division and internal strife in US society.

Even such favorites of the West like Alexei Navalny, a Russian political and financial activist, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled Russian businessman and philanthropist, have not said anything in public on improving Russia-US ties.

It is fair to say that current US-Russia ties are more ideological than during the Cold War era. Both Trump and Putin are clear that a meeting will not help improve bilateral relations but only wield negative influence upon themselves.

Washington and Moscow have fallen into a geopolitical trap. Their contradictions have gone beyond the structural confrontation; Russia has neither strength nor willingness to challenge the hegemonic power of the US. Their current confrontation can be explained by cognitive psychology. It is hard to see any sign of improvement in ties in the near future.

US-Russia animosity is not necessarily of benefit to China. The China-US-Russia ties are no longer a zero-sum game like during the times of the Cold War. The three countries dominated international politics back then for a very short time. With economic globalization, countries are increasingly reliant on each other for economy, politics, society and culture. And the number of global issues is also on the rise, some of which concern all countries. Consequently, China, the US and Russia have to cooperate to deal with many issues.

For example, when North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb on September 3, no parties involved adopted substantive measures except new sanctions of the UN Security Council. Beijing, Washington and Moscow have all recognized that they have to sit down and discuss solutions, but deteriorating US-Russia ties have damaged multilateral talks. The Cold-War mentality believes that US-Russia hostility would benefit China, and the North Korean nuclear issue shows that such a mentality does not fit the times when a community of common destiny for all mankind is being built. China, a rising global power, should improve its strategic mind-set and acquire a global consciousness.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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