Russia-USA: 10 years of doleful "reset" / News / News agency Inforos
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Russia-USA: 10 years of doleful "reset"

Why has the Moscow-Washington relationship failed to overcome mistrust and enmity?

07.03.2019 15:19 Sergei Sayenko, international observer

Russia-USA: 10 years of doleful "reset"
Context:

Ten years ago, on March 6, former Secretary of State of the USA Hillary Clinton presented Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Lavrov with a red button, the symbol of reset in the bilateral relationship, at Geneva's Intercontinental hotel. It is worth noting that "reset" was translated as "overload" because of a mistake of an American translator.

Despite a rather symbolic blunder, Russia and the USA was able to reach a new level of cooperation after an acute stage of confrontation. The sides discussed back then missile defense, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and the Iranian nuclear issue, or all pressing global problems to cut it short. President of the USA Barack Obama came to Moscow for the first time. It seemed that Moscow and Washington reached mutual understanding on all pressing issues then.

Both sides were interested in rapprochement in 2009. Both Moscow and Washington needed to improve the bilateral relationship. After the August 2008 events in South Ossetia, Russia nearly found itself in political isolation, even partners in the CIS, SCO and BRICS didn't directly supported Russia in that conflict, while the level of tensions with Washington was very high. Moreover, the Kremlin didn't want confrontation with developed countries after the 2008 global financial crisis, fearing negative consequences for its economy.

The USA also needed "reset." Washington understood well that the success of coalition forces in Iraq, the Iranian and North Korean settlements depended on Russia. The White House was also concerned about the Kremlin's turn to Asia, in particular the expansion of Russian-Chinese cooperation on all tracks, that started to take shape at that time.

However, bilateral friendship didn’t last long. It is likely that the translator's mistake was fatal: obviously "overload" began in Russian-American relations shortly after the meeting. Everything started with Syria, where Moscow's and Washington's attitudes to the crisis were completely different. Russia stated its unconditional support of legitimately-elected President Bashar al-Assad, whereas the USA began to extensively fund Syria's opposition reinforcing Islamic militants as a result.

But more to follow. In June 2013, a huge spy scandal broke out. NSA employee Edward Snowden leaked to media secret information indicating that American special services were monitoring people all over the world. Snowden was forced to leave the USA after that and hide in foreign countries. Finally, Russia, where he has remained until now, gave him refuge. Washington considered that as a hostile act. As a result, President Obama refused to visit Moscow ahead of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg in September.

No one has ever said anything about the "reset" ever since. In 2014, new American Secretary of State John Kerry said that that policy was over because of the Crimean referendum and the peninsula's subsequent reunification with Russia. Washington called that occupation and imposed anti-Russian sanctions. Russia mirrored them. Mutual allegations and claims were growing like a snowball, more and more anti-Russian sanction packages have been adopted.

Certain hopes to normalize the bilateral relationship appeared when the new administration came to the White House. In November 2016, Republican candidate, billionaire Donald Trump, who praised the Russian president and promised to normalize the Moscow-Washington relationship during his electoral campaign, won the election. However, that didn’t happen. The bilateral relationship has grown even worse under Trump, and some experts even think that it has reached the bottom.

After the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki in July 2018 a new dawn seemed to have come to the Moscow-Washington relationship. The American leader called the summit results very positive and specific. But optimists' hopes have never realized after Helsinki, the relationship has continued to worsen.

The unilateral withdrawal of the USA from the INF Treaty, the rupture of the nuclear deal with Iran, alleged Russia's interference in the presidential election and a number of cyberscandals have moved Russia and the USA even farther from each other.

The events of the past 10 years have shown no "reset" of the bilateral relationship took place. It is worth noting that this policy was criticized from the very beginning on both shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, it yielded no real dividends: the "reset" didn't bring about significant growth in bilateral trade or investments. It is likely that bilateral cooperation was perceived differently in the Kremlin and the White House.

Apparently, despite the very low level of the Russian-American relationship, Moscow and Washington can't do without each other in many spheres. This primarily concerns the international security sphere. Let's keep in mind that Russia and the USA own almost 90% of the world's nuclear arms. And it was arms control that was one of the cornerstones of the global security system. Given this, it is very important today to prolong the New START Treaty, which expires in 2021.

Let's keep in mind that almost no serious global problem can be solved without Russia, be it the situation in Syria or Iraq, Afghanistan or North Korea, fight against terrorism or illegal drug trafficking, etc.

To cut it short, there are points of contact and spheres of cooperation in relations between Moscow and Washington, but it is important to define them correctly and to start working on these tracks. Then it's likely that the bilateral relationship will improve. At least, one would like to wholeheartedly believe in this, because this is in the interests of both Russians and Americans.

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