One month has passed since the inauguration of Joe Biden as the new US president and there still remains the question: What will be the future of relations between Russia and the United States during the presidency of the forty-sixth president of the United States of America?
Here the Kremlin believes on one hand that relations between Moscow and Washington has gotten so much worse during the past several years that it does not have the capacity to get worse; therefore, Moscow is of the opinion that there is no worst case scenario than the present one on the relations between Russia and the United States. Notwithstanding, some people such as Andri Korotonov, the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, believe that even if bilateral relations are in its lowest point, there remains the possibility such relations would experience more lows in the future—an approach which seems can be realized as the result of the imposition of new sanctions by the United States and more efforts by the current administration to isolate Russia in the international system.
Even though relations between Kremlin and the White House have always witnessed cooperation in areas such as technology, aerospace, North Pole and …., in general, bilateral interaction has been defined with the keyword of “competition” between Russia and the United States. In this period, since the foreign policy of each country is defined on the basis of realism and pragmatism, both sides pursue maximalist interests in a non-zero-sum game. Notwithstanding, it is clear that under circumstances in which rivalry has overshadowed cooperation in the relations between the United States and Russia, each party would make efforts to outperform the other. In such conditions, their bilateral relations would approach its lowest; however, there is a worse step; and that is when the keyword of rivalry turns into animosity—an issue which seems the Biden administration has defined on the basis of this concept in its relations with Moscow.
Now, there are three scenarios concerning the relations between Russia and the United States: First, the rivalry between the two powers would continue like the past. Second, the discourse of cooperation would become stronger between the two. And third, the concept of animosity would dominate relations between the two countries. Here, there are various variables which could influence this trend. Biden’s remarks during the past months especially his statement on 19 February in the Munich Security Conference indicated that Washington is trying to consolidate its status in the international arena and is therefore trying to instigate momentum in regional and trans-regional crises and cases so that in the post-Trump era, it could return to its status in the global order before the days of 2016.
Normally, in order to realize this goal, the United States would benefit from various tools; for example, it emphasizes once again on deepening its relations with the European Union. The emergence of friction in the relations between the European countries and Russia during the past two months could be searched under this approach. On the other hand, as it was clear in Biden’s remarks in the Munich Security Conference, the White House is seeking the enhancement of relations with NATO, as against Trump’s rejection of the military alliance. An approach which is not only seeking to consolidate the Euro-Atlantic military alliance in order to control the military might of Russia on earth and it seems that this confrontation in this period would be realized in the outer space of the earth as well. Normally, under such circumstances, issues such as the nuclear case of Iran, Syria talks, Crimea issue, Belarusian elections and the Alexi Navalny issue are some levers the United States is trying to exploit to gain maximum benefits in this game.
It is already evident that both parties are not seeking relations on the basis of another Cold War so that in a zero-sum game, the win of one party is equivalent to the loss and collapse of the other party. Therefore, as an example, we witnessed in the very beginning days of the inauguration of the Biden administration, the signing of the New START treaty according to which measures have to be taken by Moscow and Washington to reduce and further limit the number of their strategic offensive weapons. However, in order to achieve the maximums, both parties are taking their utmost efforts. Russia’s appropriate option under such circumstances is to reduce frictions and boost cooperation under the shadow of rivalry (Scenario Two); However, on the other hand, it seems that while the White House, alongside rivalry, is taking all it can to isolate Russia in spite of the existence of multilateralism in the global order, there is little distance to the emergence of the third scenario and the beginning of the concept of animosity.
Now, relations between Russia and the United States are in difficult conditions and the settlement of these conditions requires long and prolonged negotiations so that development is made in their relations. Here, it seems that Moscow enjoys the necessary political will to gradually retrieve its relations with Washington and tries to pursue this goal within the framework of multilateral talks to resolve crises such as the Iran’s nuclear case, North Korea, Syria and Libya. However, on the other hand, the United States, during the Biden tenure, has envisaged a hard track in its relations with Russia. The interference of the White House in the domestic affairs of Russia during the past one month concerning the Alexi Navalny issue indicated that the Biden administration is profiting from the tools of democracy and human rights for its own interest in order to obtain maximal interests in the global order. And this is an issue which can cause more frictions in the relations between the United States and Russia as Russia believes that the West presents a two-direction and conflicting definition of concrete concepts such as freedom, human rights and democracy.
Notwithstanding, it seems that there is still ample time for the reduction of concerns in the relations between Russia and the United States; now the ball is in the court of Washington; Kremlin, in the meantime, believes that conditions will not get worse than this. However, it has declared its readiness for cooperation as well and has thrown the ball to the court of the White House. Now it is Washington which needs to take a decision to take a step in the track of darkness or lighting.