Dmitry Suslov, deputy director for research at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, visited Hamilton for a lecture on Oct. 1 and told his audience that until recently, relations between the United States and Russia had been ambiguous—a “transition period” where the U.S and Russia were “neither friends nor foes.”
Since the Ukraine Crisis, however, that ambiguity has disappeared and it is very clear that the relationship has become “systematically adversarial,” according to Suslov. While many scholars have started labeling the current state of U.S.-Russian relations as “The New Cold War,” Suslov argued that the term is misleading and inappropriate for three reasons.
First, the term “Cold War” originates from an international bipolar power structure, which does not exist today. In contrast, Suslov argues that power has been diffused, not just shifted from one country to another. Second, there is no fundamental ideological animosity between Russia and the United States as there was during the Cold War. By fundamental ideological animosity, Suslov understands the term to mean, “the very existence of the US was a grave threat to the existence of Russia, and vice versa.” Finally, during the Cold War globalization and global independence were essentially nonexistent. In essence, Suslov contends, the world today is simply “increasingly chaotic and increasingly non linear,” and therefore applying such an outdated and simplified term is inappropriate.
Rather than label U.S.-Russian relations as a “New Cold War,” Suslov argued that they are “systemically adversarial,” and thus the current state was inevitable. The most important example of this systematic tension is that the United States and Russia had not agreed upon new international rules of power after they were so drastically shifted after the Cold War.
New para. Because of this, Russia has felt threatened by U.S. encroachments in Eurasia, and the U.S. has not taken Russian concerns and threats seriously, thereby causing the U.S. to continue violating international law and encroaching on Russia’s territory. Furthermore, there is a lack of understanding about how the Cold War ended, and what its significance in history is. Americans believe the Cold War to be an “American victory” whereas the Russians purport it to be a “mutual victory.” This simple misunderstanding, Suslov declared, is the source of a lot of issues such as who deserves power, and how states should be recognized as legitimate or illegitimate.
In addition to systemic problems, there are also “occasional reasons” that influenced a change in U.S.-Russian relations. Most importantly in the United States, Suslov claimed is that the Obama administration believes the Putin administration is weak. This belief blossomed after riots in St. Petersburg and Moscow upon Putin’s return to office in 2011 and 2012. As for Russia, the administration there has started to be more aggressive in matters of foreign policy for several reasons, such as the signs of economic stagnation at the end of 2013. Russian leaders feared that with a declining economy, they would become less powerful in future years, making it seem necessary to take more drastic steps now.
Ultimately, Suslov is “pessimistic [… and doesn’t] expect the relations to improve, at least until 2024.” This is simply because neither country has enough incentive to sacrifice fundamental ideals and values for a compromise. He reasoned that 2024 is significant in particular because it marks the end of the next American president’s cycle and the end of Putin’s cycle, meaning there may be substantial systematic changes in both Russian and American governments concurrently. Suslov reassured the audience that we are not on the eve of a “New Cold War” simply because there are tensions. The existing problems ought one day to be reconcilable, and may in fact stabilize throughout the end of Obama’s administration.
Suslov’s lecture was sponsored by the Dean of Faculty, Levitt Center and Government Department.