At an event hosted by Russia Direct at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, a roundtable group of speakers analyzed the important factors that are driving the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Regardless of the increasing problems in U.S.-Russia relations, experts conclude that “this is not the final break between Russia and the U.S." "This is just another crisis which we will overcome.” Photo: RIA Novosti

The roundtable discussion, which took place on May 23 in St. Petersburg, focused on Russia’s attempt to redraw the geopolitical map and revise the current system of international relations. Speakers weighed in on the changing dimensions of U.S.-Russia relations, including the possibility for a new Cold War and the impact of Western economic sanctions against Russia.

The roundtable brought together such speakers as Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Benjamin Pauker, Executive Editor, Foreign Policy magazine, Dmitry Polikanov, Vice President, Russian Center for Policy Studies and other experts, journalists, academics and officials.

#1: Don’t underestimate regional integration processes

Western-led sanctions that were imposed against Russia over Crimea are most likely leading to a situation where the world becomes less connected and the concept of global governance loses its allure, according to some speakers.  Regional integration process, on the other hand, might get a boost in this situation.

From this point of view, it appears logical that Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed the historic Eurasian Economic Union on May 29. It will come into effect in January 2015, and is expected to hamper the ability of the U.S. to isolate Russia over Crimea. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama, in his West Point speech on foreign policy, pointed out that “our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.”

#2: Free markets are not so free after all

When it is clear that any market rules might be dropped in favor of a political decision, it leads to less market confidence and less trust in international institutions such as the WTO, argued participants of the Russia Direct round table.

“The U.S. showed that in the case of an emergency, any market rules might be dropped in favor of a political decision,” said Fyodor Lukyanov , Head of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP).“And I guess that this might have quite a big impact not only on the U.S.-Russia relationship but on the whole global order because it’s based on the assumption that liberal markets are most important and political will is not that powerful.”

#3: Leaders from the US and Russia see eye-to-eye on business

Andrey Laptev, Head of Corporate Strategy of Severstal, the Russian steel and mining company, shared his experience of doing business with U.S. companies.

“Currently, the U.S. business is the fastest growing business of Severstal,” he claims. “On the working level – and I’ve been working with our American colleagues for 10 years now – the relations have always been excellent. We understand each other; there is no cultural threshold whatsoever, even in comparison with some of our European colleagues.”

“We have a crisis in Ukraine, but the focus of both sides seems to be on how to allocate the most blame on each other rather than on how to solve the crisis and help Ukraine,” he concluded.   

Benjamin Pauker, Executive Editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Source: Russia Direct

#4: Things won’t get better until both sides develop an agenda

As Lukyanov noted, the U.S.-Russia relationship is quite confused because “no one knows what to say.” “Russia and the U.S. are already in a situation of a mental Cold War based on mutually declared or undeclared containment. And this situation will last for a while.”

Meanwhile, Benjamin Pauker, executive editor of Foreign Policy, noted that the domestic political situation in the U.S. is such that one shouldn’t expect the emergence of any drivers that would work for the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations. “And Obama doesn’t have political constituency which he can appeal to.”

“I think fundamentally what the U.S. wants is the status quo to continue. I think there is a fundamental concern that we see a world where big power politics are changing. I don’t think the U.S. administration knows what to do about it,” he said.

“Don’t disappoint us. We want to believe that the U.S. has a long-term strategy for everything,” answered Lukyanov. Nevertheless, he agreed that it seems “there is no agenda on either side, indeed.”

#5: Russia wants to become a new geopolitical center

At the same time, Polikanov argues that Russia and the U.S. should “convince each other that we are able to speak as equal partners not as mentors to each other.”

However, he claims that Russia is currently trying to position itself as a new geopolitical center, “a center of some sort of civilization which supports traditional conservative values” and then teach the West from this position. Yet he asks if “Americans and the rest of the world are ready to take us seriously?”

Pauker responds: “I think there is a sense that there is a certain adolescence about Russian leadership, flexing with muscles, desire to test the limits. This is what the U.S. administration is not willing to allow.”

Polikanov admits that “Russia-U.S. relations need a new agenda” and “there should be a lot of intellectual effort if we really want to move this relationship forward.”


Left-right: Oleg Kharkhordin, Rector of the European University of St. Petersburg, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Kommersant-Vlast Magazine Alexander Gabuev and Editor-in-Chief of Russia Direct Ekaterina Zabrovskaya at the Russia Direct round table at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Russia Direct

#6: Economic relationships are the key to unlocking future cooperation

Now that military-political relations are deadlocked,  experts devoted some time discussing what areas of cooperation could be used to break the ice between the two countries.

As Oleg Kharkhordin, Rector of the European University of St. Petersburg, pointed out, there have been no changes “at the level of education” so far. “The production of knowledge is going undisrupted, old projects are still there… And in education we shouldn’t be curtailing anything, it should be fostered, developed,” he said.

As for economic relations, everybody agreed that it’s an age-old problem and that there is not any economic substance in Russia-U.S. relations yet.

Laptev suggested that the Russian government could cut taxes and create special technology agreements to attract more businesses into Russia.

“Fundamentally, we think that there is a great potential. And the lack of real economic cooperation is what holds us back,” he assured the audience.

Regardless of the increasing problems in U.S.-Russia relations, “this is not the final break between Russia and the U.S.,” concludes Lukyanov.

“This is just another crisis which we will overcome,” he said.