It is no secret that Moscow had high hopes for 2018 with regard to Russian-US relations. Unfortunately, the year has not brought any breakthrough in relations between Moscow and Washington. And there were several reasons for this.
The main reason is the complicated internal political situation in the United States, which had a significant impact on the nature of Russian-US relations. The “Washington swamp” that Donald Trump promised to “drain” during his election campaign has remained “undrained.” And the resistance of the American establishment did not allow the 45th president, despite his public statements, to normalize Washington’s relations with Moscow this year what has been one of the biggest disappointments of 2018.
The first six months of the year passed in anticipation of a meeting between the two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Finally, on July 16, the two leaders met in Helsinki and spent several hours discussing not only bilateral relations, but also global problems.
Yet the meeting did not produce the expected results: immediately afterwards, Russia became the target of several waves of sanctions adopted by the US Congress as Acts, which, if one recalls the Jackson-Vanik amendment, promises them a long life. Domestic opposition also lashed out on Trump, accusing him of being spineless and too accommodating in the talks with Putin.
Of course, the summit in Helsinki was not the first attempt to restart relations between Moscow and Washington. Suffice to recall the historical summit on Malta in December 1989, where, after almost seven years since US President Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire,” Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush agreed to start building relations anew.
They had all the necessary prerequisites: a “wind of change” was strong in the Soviet Union, and Moscow turned its face towards the West, and, as we understand now, did so too hastily and credulously: NATO soon began its expansion eastwards, up to the Russian borders, and the United States subsequently withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, causing the Russian-US relations to deteriorate.
A new attempt at rapprochement with Moscow was made by George W. Bush. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US came to see Russia as a potential ally in its fight against international terrorism. Cooperation in this area began, but contradictions in other spheres continued growing, and bilateral relations seemed to have hit the bottom by the end of Bush’s presidency.
Trump, who replaced Barak Obama, moved to the White House determined to improve relations with Moscow, but he was stopped by the representatives of the “Washington swamp” he promised to drain. Reality has made it clear that both Democrats and Republicans still view Russia as the “Evil Empire” and America’s sworn enemy, which can be talked to only through ultimatums and demands of capitulation.
As a result, year 2018 showed that relations between Moscow and Washington of the last 35 years came full circle and returned to where they started off in 1983. Moreover, they sank even lower than under George W. Bush. And since the US political elites do not want a new “restart,” there are no serious prospects of a détente in bilateral relations in the foreseeable future.
All the more so, as the United States intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which is a corner stone of international security. Latest news from Washington signals that the White House has no intention of improving relations with the Kremlin. It was announced a few days ago that the US is prepared to impose new sanctions on Russia because of the incident in the Kerch Strait. The incident, mind you, that was caused by a clear provocation of the Ukrainian authorities against Russia. But this fact does not seem to concern Washington.
On top of all, a new wave of indignation about Russia’s alleged intervention in the US presidential election campaign in 2016 is gaining momentum in America.
If we look at the current relations between Moscow and Washington, they are in a way similar to the two-headed eagle on the US national emblem. One head, representing the views of President Trump, looks eastwards, towards Russia, in search of a promising policy of cooperation, for which he called after the meeting with President Putin in Helsinki. The other head, facing the opposite direction, represents the executive power and the Congress, which advocate a harsh policy towards Russia, even more punitive than the one pursued by the Obama administration.
What can we expect from the Russian-American relations in 2019? Of course, there shouldn’t be any illusions about an improvement of relations between Moscow and Washington. A lot will definitely depend on the internal political situation in the United States, because Moscow, as President Putin has repeatedly said, is ready to normalize relations with Washington. But only on condition of an equal and constructive dialog, not under pressure and ultimatums.
We cannot rule out that the investigation by Robert Mueller’s commission and its results will have a certain, if not decisive, influence on the Russian-US relations next year. It is, however, unclear, when this investigation will be finished. In any case, if prosecution of President Trump stops, the White House will be able to interact with Russia more actively, which will eventually result in improved relations between Moscow and Washington. And this would benefit both countries.