By John Cookson
Fareed’s ‘Book of the Week’ is Angela Stent's The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century. Stent is the director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian & East European Studies at Georgetown University. GPS's John Cookson spoke with her about the ongoing crisis in Crimea and the numerous attempts to reset relations between the United States and Russia.
You say in the book that there has been far more continuity in Russia policy since the end of the Cold War than many would publicly admit. Why is that?
We obviously like in our system to think that there’s a big difference between Republicans and Democrats, but the issue with Russia is that the presidential inbox has remained largely the same for the last twenty-two years. In the book, I go into six sets of issues with which we’ve constantly had to deal with the Russians, starting off with the nuclear legacy, with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, disagreements with Russia over the post-Soviet space (which is obviously very much on display today in Ukraine), the question of Euro-Atlantic security architecture (NATO and EU enlargement and the Russian response to that), then domestic Russian politics and more recently with all the upheaval in the Arab world.
These have been constant problems. Sometimes the approaches have varied a little bit, obviously. In the George W. Bush administration the arms control issues were downplayed, and in the Obama administration they were more important. But in general, many of these issues, including Iran which has been a constant for the past 22 years, haven’t really changed. Most of the people that I interviewed for the book – officials who were in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations – admit the same thing, that there really isn’t that much difference.
Is Russia's incursion into Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia in 2008 a fair analogy for the crisis in Crimea today?
Some things are similar. The basic principle that these are all areas where Russia has interests and assets, and where the people who live in those areas feel an affiliation to Russia and have problems with the state in which they live, and the majority ethnic group in the state they live, and therefore Russia comes as the kind of protector of these people – I think that’s an important analogy. I think the difference is in Crimea that, in fact, Crimea is 60 percent ethnic Russian whereas South Ossetia and Abkhazia aren’t necessarily majority Russian. So in the Crimean case, the Russians would argue that this is majority Russian.
And the history is different. Crimea was part of Russia for hundreds of years and has only been part of Ukraine for sixty years. Whereas the other areas we are talking about were part of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic and then the Georgian state for a longer time. So in some ways, the claim that Crimea should have a special relationship with Russia is stronger than the claims of those two breakaway regions in Georgia. But, on the other hand, Russia signed an international treaty recognizing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine twenty years ago.
With so many limits to partnership, in what areas can the U.S. and Russia cooperate?
We remain the world’s two nuclear superpowers, and as such we have an interest in regulating not only our own nuclear weapons but insuring that there isn’t any more nuclear proliferation in the world – sort of managing the nuclear dimension of global politics, which remains tremendously important.
We do have overlapping interests in the greater Middle East, even though it’s sometimes difficult to agree. Neither of us wants to see Iran acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Ultimately we would prefer to have governments in power, including in countries like Syria, that are more secular, that are not beholden to radical elements. We share a common interest in combating global terrorism and we have both suffered from attacks by similar terrorist groups. There are other areas where we are working together, new frontiers with the Russians, for instance in the Arctic.
So there are other areas where we will and we do have to work together. The ones that I think are most important are the ones that involve multilateral issues, like Iran, like Syria, like the broader issues in the Middle East.