The topic about the Ukrainian-Russian conflict dominated the discussions of international affairs at the Faculty of International Relations during the XXIV seminar at St. Petersburg State University.
Russia comes closer to China because of despair
The official theme of the seminar was “70 years after the war: lessons of the past and future of the Russian-American relations.” The discussion’s tone was given by the topics of the roundtables: “U.S.-Russian relations: conflict and the possibility of a compromise,” “Regional aspects of the Russian-American rivalry” and “Russia and the United States in the modern world order.” However, it doesn’t matter what aspect of international policy was discussed; all Russian and U.S. as well as Chinese experts, who joined them later, put the events in Ukraine into the center of the discussion.
Associate Professor of American Studies of the Faculty of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University Ivan Tsvetkov, who holds a Ph.D. in historical sciences, said that the relations between the U.S. and Russia had never been warm and had been characterized by predictability before Kyiv’s Euromaidan. “It was a systemic attitude,” he said in a conversation with a correspondent for Voice of America. “That was, at the very least, Russian partial recognition of the U.S.’ world leadership. We criticized them, pointed at the facts that we did not like, but agreed that there was a system of rules that comes from Washington and determines international relations.”
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“Now, judging by Putin’s statements, in particular in the film Crimea: The Way Back Home, Russia has decided to end the system of international relations and does not take anyone’s opinion into account: not from Washington, nor London or any other major capital of the West. This statement, by the way, is not reflected on our expert community, but still it is a very important statement,” said Ivan Tsvetkov.
At the same time, according to experts, Russia is now in solitude. “It is not that such an approach is not supported by the Americans, but even the quasi-allies of Russia like China, India and Brazil are also not willing to exit the current system of international relations, which is led by the U.S. And it turns out that after the events in Ukraine, Russia is not challenging the U.S., but rather the established system. However, the Russia’s appeal to other countries to escape from this system has not been responded by anyone, because, unfortunately, Russia has nothing to offer in return, except for the claims that it is a great power and is able to act as a leader,” said Ivan Tsvetkov, Associate Professor of American Studies.
Commenting on the so-called Eastern turn of Russian foreign policy, the expert notes that the bias towards Southeastern Asia, and in particular China, is not a manifestation of a deliberate strategy of the Russian leadership, but rather a forced step. “This is happening because of despair. As of today, China is the only full-fledged counterweight to the United States. And if we quarrel with the United States, we will inevitably fall into the arms of China and begin living by their rules,” he said to Voice of America.
The best way is to promote the expansion of NATO
A professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Robert Givens, was present among other U.S. participants. He said that among his students, there are a lot of descendants of Russian immigrants, but he can recognize them only by their names. “They are well adapted, and position themselves as American citizens of Russian origin,” Professor Givens said.
In general, according to the American expert, due to the Ukrainian crisis, there has been a significant increase in the interest of the U.S.scientific community toward Russia.
“This is not surprising because in order to understand the roots of any inter-state conflict, it is necessary to know the history, cultural characteristics of both sides, to get acquainted with the documents, and it is very desirable to do it in the original language. Therefore, I cannot tell whether the current interest to Russia is friendly, or vice versa, negative. Rather, it is a research,” Professor of Cornell College said.
As to Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs, according to Givens, “For the United States, this conflict plays the most important role in its internal political debates. Especially with the presidential election campaign around the corner. Of course, our administration has always stressed how important the Ukrainian issue is. But I think that, after all, for Russia, these events are far more important than for us,” he said.
He added that, according to his observations, the Russian government is currently not seeking to increase its zones of influence in the neighboring country.
“Because the larger the part of Ukraine controlled by the Russian Federation, the more the rest of the country aspires to join the West, first and foremost – NATO. Russia has repeatedly stated that it is against the NATO expansion, but there is no better way to contribute to this process than to conquer new areas of Ukraine,” Givens stated. He concludes that the current situation is in the best of interests to the Kremlin.
Allied relations will cease to exist
On the opening day of the XXIV Russian-American seminar, the results of the survey by the Levada Center were published. According to sociologists, 59% of respondents believe that Russia has a reason to fear the United States, while over the past eight years, the proportion of those who look at the U.S. with fear has risen from 47%.
The Russians interviewed by the Levada Center consider that the main threat from Washington is the possibility of preventing the development of their country. Such respondents have accumulated to 48%.
Forty percent of the respondents believe that the U.S. wants to establish control over the Russian economy, 36% believe it wantsto impose its foreign ideas and values, and 31% see the possibility of a military invasion of the U.S.Army with the occupation of the country following.
A correspondent for Voice of America asked the deputy director of the Institute of the U.S. and Canada Studies, Valery Garbuzov, to comment on this survey.
“I think that the current mood in Russian society is reflected truly,” Garbuzov said. “And this is due to the events of the past year in Ukraine, Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, the rhetoric of the Russian authorities as well as all the media, and above all Russia’s television. This rhetoric contains a negative assessment of the Western position, and especially the United States’ position. It is very clear that it is reflected in the Russian mass consciousness that is not capable to critically process the information offered to them,” Garbuzov pointed out.
The expert added that, to his knowledge, a similar survey on the attitude to Russia was conducted in the United States, in which it turned out that almost the same number of Americans negatively viewed Russia, its foreign policy and Vladimir Putin. “So we can talk about the mirrored data of sociology in our country and in the United States,” he said.
And he adds that now everything will depend on how the Minsk Agreement is adhered to in eastern Ukraine and on the progress of the upcoming election campaign in the United States. “I think that some progress will take place as the U.S. Congress is surprisingly unanimous when it comes to Ukraine’s matters. And the unanimity between Democrats and Republicans is a very rare thing in recent years,” ValeryGarbuzov said and added, “Now, in the U.S., a lot depends not only on the president, but also on Congress, and both are anti-Russian.”
According to the expert, at the end of his second term, President Barack Obama may demonstrate a gesture of goodwill against Russia to go down in history as the leader of peace. “But there is a big doubt whether this trend will be picked up by the new master of the White House,” Valery Garbuzov emphasizes.
And he concludes that, in his opinion, the period of friendly relations between Russia and the United States, similar to those that existed during the Second World War, will not happen again. However, that will not interfere with their cooperation on issues in which the positions of Moscow and Washington are the same, or more or less close. In almost every speech during the seminar, there was hope that the next seminar will bring more positive conclusions than this one. However, we cannot be sure if this will happen, and if the XXV Russian-American seminar will be held at St. Petersburg State University, all this will depend on the resolution of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
The piece written above is a part taken from an ebook authored by ValueWalk’s writer Polina Tikhonova.