U.S.-Russia Relations in the Biden Administration
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Under the Trump administration, U.S.-Russia relations continued to decline as the bilateral relationship became a toxic domestic issue. On January 20th, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as the next President of the United States and with him, a new administration and foreign policy. How might U.S.-Russia relations shift under the incoming Biden administration? Considering the failed attempt at a “reset” during the Obama administration, will Biden pivot to a new strategy? Stacy Closson and Victoria Zhuravleva will consider the next four years of the U.S.-Russia relationship, especially as issues like New START, human rights, and sanctions emerge as potential sticking points.
"In the post Cold War period, each new administration, Russian and American administrations, have attempted to refresh relations. And I think the next big question which is on everyone's mind is, are we going to try that again in 2021 with the Biden administration and is it going to work? So in thinking about this, I kind of went back to international relations, because I think the answer to this question all depends on the framework through which you view relations... Defensive realists would say that the US and Russia are stuck in a security dilemma, that both sides are increasing their deterrence mechanisms in pursuit of greater security. This is raising our threat levels and escalating tensions and they would argue that this is where we are right now. And the question is, can we escape a potential conflict by perhaps readopting a balance of power systems with roughly equal distribution of power."
"The U.S. continues to view itself, I believe even under a Biden administration, as leading the world on key issues, forming coalitions to this end, while Russia is viewing this world as a polycentric world: there is no one key power and Russia will conduct relations mainly with power centers. And the structuralist argue that we are now going through a major structural change. We're going from unipolarity of the United States to a U.S.-China bipolarity, and here I think realists believe that economic power of China will eventually lead to military power and eventually confrontation with the US and I think the real critical question for the Biden administration will be, how will Russia manage a U.S.-China competitive relationship."
“In fact, the problem is that we haven’t had any positive experience after the Cold War that would help both countries to substitute these negative perceptions. In fact, I think that the model of Russian-American relations is based into the conflict rooted in the Cold War and still we don’t have another model and the problem is that we don’t see or know how to change it. I think it’s one of the dominant questions for the Russian-American relations future - this search for a new model, absolutely new.”
“One thing that is bothering Russia now as they are expecting the new administration is that Biden’s team is a little bit Obama-backed and maybe even Clinton-backed. What it means for Russia is that we will have all these human rights agendas and in the time of sanctions, we will for sure expect new sanctions in these areas of human rights issues [...]. We can expect more cooperation with Europeans (between the United States and the EU) in this field of human rights sanctions. It could be a very tough time for Russia, and [they] can view it as domestic interference.”
“Unfortunately, I think that we are locked in this security agenda. The problem is that what normal countries with normal relations have is at the base of their relations is the economy - trade and the economy. That’s what we almost do not have and unfortunately, I cannot see that it will change in the near future. We are too distant from each other, geographically, and it is very costly to trade with each other and we have too many import-export tax priorities. We are in competition in many different trade spaces. We are more competitors than we are trade partners.”
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, and the region through research and exchange. Read more