Russia, US Try to Revive Relations

US lawmakers visited Russia this week in what is considered a mission to help revive the much-worsened Russian-US relations. The senators also aimed to observe how Russia’s economy has been doing after four years of Western sanctions. The main meeting took place with Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, on July 3.

The senators’ visit in itself is important as rarely have such events taken place in the last several years. However, what makes this nascent Moscow-Washington cooperation more crucial is the sequence of events leading up to the July 3 meeting as the visit comes at the time both countries are preparing for the Trump-Putin summit on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland.

The presidents are expected to discuss a whole range of problematic issues concerning the two states across the Eurasian landmass. Russia and the United States have also agreed that their top diplomats will meet after the presidential summit, the Russian FM said.

This follows Trump’s recent consistent rhetoric that Russia must be readmitted to the G8 and the relations be improved.

Quite naturally, Ukraine and Georgia have become worried, as top politicians in Kyiv and Tbilisi fear their countries’ core geopolitical interests could potentially be compromised in an apparent Russo-American rapprochement.

Yet, there is substance behind the need for Russia-US cooperation. Both countries want improvement in relations primarily in the realms of Syria and Ukraine. It is in Russian interests to gain some (even minor) geopolitical concessions from Washington at a time when the Western front has remained pretty much united against the Russian actions in Ukraine since 2014.

However, the intention behind the Russian diplomatic moves (although the idea of senators’ visit seems to have originated from the US) is based on the Russian strategy of trying to divide the Western opposition. Indeed, the time seems to be ripe for those efforts to succeed. The transatlantic alliance between the US and the European Union has been strained recently with the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement and heaping additional taxes on European steel and aluminum.

Moscow clearly sees that dangers to Western unity are apparent, but it is still unclear what will come of these US-EU economic and diplomatic confrontations. True, for Moscow it will be a big opportunity to grab, but the maximum the Russian leadership can hope for is the (partial) lifting of EU sanctions as well as minor concessions in the field of the NATO military build-up in eastern Europe. Yet, even if this happens, from a broader perspective, the EU will still hold important leverage in Ukraine as Kyiv remains firmly under the European economic influence.

The EU-US disagreements are important, but for the moment not so much as to cause real fractures in the trans-Atlantic partnership. Europe and the US see that they need each other to keep Russia at bay. Europe understands that without the US’ military resolve in eastern Europe, Ukraine’s military capabilities are unlikely to improve, making Moscow less hesitant in its actions on its borderlands.

The same goes for Georgia. In Tbilisi’s understanding, any meandering on the Western part would near geopolitical concessions and the increase of Russian influence.

It is for the moment unclear what Moscow and the US are hoping for in trying to revive the bilateral relations. There are simply so many fronts where both countries’ geopolitical agendas clash that any prospective cooperation would need a clear concession from either the Russians or the Americans. The Trump-Putin summit is expected to bring more clarity to the discussion.

By Shawn Wayne

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