Russia Direct interviewed a group of experts to come up with three different scenarios for the development of Russia-U.S. relations in 2014: positive, negative and neutral.

The 2013 G20 summit at St. Petersburg. Photo: AP 

What can we expect for bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia in 2014? Russia Direct outlines the three most probable scenarios.

These scenarios for Russian-American relations in 2014 were compiled based on the commentary of a group of experts: Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy; Alexey Fenenko, Leading Researcher at the Institute of International Security Problems; and Alexey Malashenko, Member of the Scientific Council at the Moscow Carnegie Foundation. In addition, Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Development at the Military Analysis Institute for the Near East and Persian Gulf, and Pavel Podlesny, the Director of the Center of Russian-American Relations of the Institute of USA and Canada, shared their opinions.

Optimistic scenario

The year begins with the fact that Washington does not expand the Magnitsky List. Americans praise the organization of the Sochi Olympics. Former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who is in Russia now, gets asylum in Brazil and moves there, thus removing an unnecessary strain on relations between Moscow and Washington.

Russia and the United States cooperate on key international issues, and even find a common language. According to Fyodor Lukyanov, these problems “may include Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Plus something else might emerge.” When an agreement cannot be reached, the UK becomes a successful negotiator in dialogue between Russia and the USA.

Fenenko called a “source of optimism” in Russian-American relations the emergence of a European negotiator: “When Sarkozy brought France into NATO, the French ceased to be a negotiator between Russia and the USA. This year the situation has changed. Now the British are ready to take up the role of France, thanks to the policy of Cameron, who is almost talking about a possible withdrawal of the UK from the EU, which came to light at a meeting between Obama, Putin and Cameron in Sochi.” During the year, the main problem in relations is gradually solved – there is no packed agenda.

Since Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. freezes the deployment of missile defense systems in Europe. “Consequently, the debate over the missile shield may be affected by the outcome of any negotiations with Iran,” confirms Karasik.

Washington starts a dialogue with Russia on further disarmament. Negotiations on signing of an agreement on trade and investments are conducted. The first joint development projects for the Arctic are started.

“Circumpolar security is an important new strategic arena not only for the USA and Russia, but other countries as well. The division of wealth and the control of maritime and land boundaries, as a result of polar ice melting is already evident,” Karasik told Russia Direct.

Lukyanov, in turn, notes that, “Despite the scary predictions that [the Arctic] is almost a future war zone, this place is such a difficult area, that it can be developed only jointly. The interests of Russia and America are much less in conflict here than the interests of America and Canada, for example.”

NATO invites CSTO to cooperate in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of troops, which is continuing quite smoothly and painlessly. North Korea can come to the forefront in such a situation. Substantive negotiations with Pyongyang begin. “The position of Russia on Korea is rather neutral. This way our country can be useful to all the other interested parties,” says Lukyanov.

Finally, there is progress on Syria. According to Lukyanov: “The position of the U.S. is clearly changing. Suddenly America is beginning to realize that it has no interests there.”

Pessimistic scenario

Finding common ground is a challenge. Photo: Reuters

The U.S. greatly expands the Magnitsky List. Russia promises to respond appropriately – and implements new measures after the Olympic Games. Moscow’s rhetoric becomes threatening.

“A tough offensive policy is pursued. Russian policy in 2005-2006 was gentle. When the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg ended, it toughened immediately,” reminds Fenenko.

High-level contacts are frozen. “The Americans do not make any concessions on missile defense issues. Russia makes no concessions – neither in tactical nuclear weapons, nor with respect to a new series of strategic offensive arms,” continues Fenenko.

Snowden publishes a new series of revelations from Russia. In response, the U.S. intensifies the deployment of missile defense systems in Europe. “The situation is extremely complex and conflict-provoking,” predicts Fenenko.

NATO withdraws troops from Afghanistan, and a bitter civil war begins there. The Taliban captures Kabul, people try to escape from the country, including into Central Asia and Russia. Moscow blames the U.S. for these problems.

Taking advantage of the problems on the southern borders of Russia, the United States unites a coalition to intervene in Syria. As Fenenko notes: “The way the September crisis was resolved was too humiliating for the Americans. First, people immediately started saying that Obama was frightened. Second, the USA was not supported by its closest ally – London. Third, Russia not only saved America, but also blocked the right of the Americans to disarm unfriendly regimes.”

The next item on the agenda is Iran. “The agreement with Iran is very fragile. It is even more fragile than the one reached with the EU in 2004. I do not think that it can satisfy both sides. Apparently, the confrontation will continue there,” Fenenko remarked, expressing his fears.

The year ends as the world stands on the brink of an open confrontation between the USA and Russia.

Neutral scenario

Looking in the mirror? Photo: Reuters

The Magnitsky List is expanded, but only a little. In response, Russia symmetrically expands the Dima Yakovlev List and toughens its rhetoric, especially after the Olympic Games.

"The main problem between Moscow and Washington – absence of any kind of an agenda – remains. The topics that have been discussed over the years, ranging from arms control to peculiarities in the perceptions about democracy and human rights, are in essence exhausted,” says Lukyanov.

Contacts at the highest level are reduced to the solution of international problems, almost without touching upon bilateral relations. However, it is still difficult to come to any decisions on key global issues, as there are too many differences.

“Obama would like relations to be better and that no conflicts would arise. However, today, the initiative in Russian-American relations belongs to Moscow. Moscow’s position is brighter, offensive, and ambitious,” said Malashenko.

“We (Russia) are trying to prove something to the USA all the time. This will continue,” he warns.

Britain tries to assume the role of a negotiator between Moscow and Washington, but often it does not succeed in this. The U.S. continues to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. Russia confirms the deployment of Iskander missile systems in the Kaliningrad Region promises to increase their numbers on the country’s western borders.

There are signs of a civil war in Afghanistan. “Perhaps Afghanistan will cause great trouble for Russia’s allies in Central Asia,” says Karasik.

CSTO prepares to confront threats. “We would like to maintain some cooperation on Afghanistan issues,” says Podlesny. However, it is impossible to establish full cooperation on Afghanistan between NATO and the CSTO.