4 February 2008
US Policy re Russia Post-Presidential Election?
Daniel Satinsky has been an active participant in international markets bringing Europe and the US since the early 1990s. He is currently the president of the USRCCNE. The following article is his personal opinion and not necessarily those of USRCCNE or any other organization.
US Policy re Russia Post-Presidential Election?
As the presidential primaries have moved forward, the war in Iraq and foreign policy in general have received diminishing attention from the candidates. Relations with Russia, as a subset of US foreign policy, have received almost no official attention from candidates in either party, except for the occasional gratuitous deprecating comments about Vladimir Putin. Nonetheless the next President will have to take account of Russia and decide to keep the current policies or adjust US policy.
So far, all we have seen little to indicate what their policy will be after taking office. From Mitt Romney we have seen complaints regarding Vladimir Putin as Time magazine's "Man of the Year." Then there were the comments of Hillary Clinton and John McCain, who stated respectively that they had looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw "nothing" for Clinton and "K.G.B." for McCain. Aside for some references to needing to work with Russia on nuclear disarmament on the Obama and Clinton websites, there has been little of substance regarding Russia.
While the candidates are ignoring Russia, leading analysts are exchanging competing views of future policy. The last two issues of Foreign Affairs have presented two contrasting views of how US policy towards Russia should develop. At issue is whether US policy should focus on internal Russian politics or on a more restrained focus on managing areas of common geopolitical interest and areas of disagreement between the two countries. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and during the Yeltsin presidency, US policy was primarily aimed at shaping Russian internal economic and political developments. Some would argue that this paternalistic approach has continued to be the touchstone of US policy towards Russia to date. This is the contrasting axis around which the Foreign Affairs articles spin.
In the November/December 2007 issue, Dmitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, argues for a change in US policy in an article entitled "Losing Russia Ц The Costs of Renewed Confrontation." Simes begins by stating that the fundamental flaw in the US approach to Russia is the treatment of Russia as a defeated enemy. In characterizing post-Soviet Russia, Simes states that "since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia has not acted like a client state, a reliable ally, or a true friendЧbut nor has it behaved like an enemy, much less an enemy with global ambitions and a hostile and messianic ideology." His main point is that despite substantive disagreements with the US on a number of geopolitical issues, Russia is not an enemy of the US. However, if the relationship continues to be mismanaged there is a danger of a downward spiral in that direction.
Simes argues that "what Washington must do is work with Russia to advance essential US interests in the same way that the United States works with other important nondemocratic states, such as China, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. This means avoiding both misplaced affection and the unrealistic sense that the United States can take other countries for granted without consequences." Leaving aside the question of whether Russia is "nondemocratic," Simes' approach argues for a more even-handed approach to diplomatic relations between Russia and the US than what has taken place over the past period, particularly the Yeltsin years.
In contrast, the January/February 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs contains an article by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, both of Stanford University, entitled "The Myth of the Authoritarian Model Ц How Putin's Crackdown Holds Russia Back." This article begins with the statement that "whatever the apparent gains of Russia under Putin, the gains would have been greater if democracy survived." The article argues that the basis for economic growth was developed during the Yeltsin period and then blossomed with the rise in world oil prices. McFaul and Stoner-Weiss take as a starting point that Russia has become an autocratic state that is looking towards the Chinese model of economic development. Their conclusion is that "sustained autocratic rule will not contribute to this growth and, because of continued poor governance, is likely to serve as a drag on economic development in the long term. Russians are indeed getting richer, but they could be getting even richer much faster."
This article makes an argument that is probably impossible to either prove or disprove on a factual basis. However it does represent the collected conventional wisdom of the majority of current academic Russia experts. While not ostensibly dealing with political and economic relations between the US and Russia, this article implies a much different approach to Russia than that promoted by Simes.
The fundamental difference between the two articles lies in the focus of policy. Should the focus of policy be on balancing cooperation and competition in the national interests of two sovereign countries or should the focus of policy be US promotion of an agenda of reform of internal Russian society in accord with our own standards as the determining factor for overall relations between the two countries?
The Simes article argues that the US should stop trying to dictate Russian domestic policy because it is producing a counter-productive result. This point of view has been validated by my own experience in discussions with Russians at all levels of society. First of all, Russians are enjoying the fruits of the current economic boom and link that boom with President Putin. Second, they resent US intrusions into their internal debates that are often uninformed and ideological. Russians now view most US criticism of their society has a hypocritical exercise in promoting US self-interest. Modern Russia wants to be left to its own to determine its own path forward, including defining the meaning of democracy and the proper role of civil society for itself and by its own criteria. They express a mixture of national pride and self-confidence that does not claim that Russia is a "wonderland," but argues for Russian solutions to Russian problems.
The McFaul and Stoner-Weiss article is an argument for the type of self-satisfied interventionary policy towards Russia that is leading towards the downward spiral that Simes fears. It is an extension of the judgmental "conventional wisdom" that dominates public perception of Russia and a "conventional wisdom" that is increasingly out-of-date and harmful to relations between the two countries.
It is my hope that as the question of Russia gets sorted out in the new presidential administration that the Simes position becomes the dominant one and the often unwise "conventional wisdom" of the past is shelved as we move into the future.
About the Author
Daniel Satinsky has been an active participant in bringing European and U.S. technology into the Russian market since the early 1990's, when he was part of a U.S.-Russian joint venture in satellite telecommunications. More recently, as a consultant working through his own company, B.E.A. Associates, Inc., he has focused on the Russian information and communications technology (ICT) sector. From 2004 Ц 2006, he was the Executive Editor of Russian Petroleum Investor and Caspian Investor: analytic, journals specializing in the energy sector in the former Soviet Union. He is the author of the Buyer's Guide to the Russian IT Outsourcing Industry (2006). Daniel Satinsky also serves as the President of the U.S.-Russia Chamber of Commerce of New England, Inc. Mr. Satinsky has been a regular business visitor to Russia since 1989 and is a frequent speaker on Russia-related topics. Mr. Satinsky is a graduate of Northeastern University Law School and holds a Master of Law and Diplomacy degree from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy.