In the Thick of It (a blog on the US-Russia relationship): PONARS Eurasia conference

PONARS Eurasia
05 Oct 2018

(Russia Matters) Where does Russia fit in today’s international order and what are its strategies for navigating it? In a nutshell, according to a recent discussion among scholars and policy analysts in Washington: Russia’s diminished status relative to the Cold War period has it seeking ways to offset its weaknesses on the world stage, including  a “trickster’s” arsenal of dissembling and deception, which has deep cultural roots; meanwhile, Russian leaders believe at times that other countries, particularly in the West, are using the same tricks to gain an unfair advantage. The overall lack of trust between Russia and the West, and particularly the lack of clarity that Moscow and Washington each see in the other's intentions, undermine the chances for badly needed progress on arms control—a key element of global security.

On one hand, as pointed out by Harvard’s Mark Kramer at this month’s PONARS Eurasia conference, Russia is still a great power—in the sense that it can affect international politics in ways that other countries cannot; on the other, its stature on the global stage is greatly diminished by comparison to Cold War days when the world was “fundamentally bipolar,” much of it divided into two feuding camps led, respectively, by Moscow and Washington. Accordingly, Kramer argues, Russia, though still important for U.S. foreign policy, is less important than the Soviet Union was. Unlike the head-to-head standoff of the 1950s-1980s, today’s relations between Washington and Moscow are “a competitive great-power relationship,” Kramer said: Russia still has enough nuclear weapons to cause “catastrophic damage”; it has engaged in large-scale military modernization; and it has not shied away from using its military forces abroad—to some extent to compete with the U.S. Economically, Russia’s immense gas reserves give it some leverage over Europe, but it is nowhere near as dynamic as China. And though President Vladimir Putin’s administration seeks to project Russia as a rival of the U.S., Russia cannot come close to matching the overall strength of the United States, according to Kramer. [...]

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