Which di­rec­tion will Rus­sia-West ties take?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

On Mon­day, a Turk­ish po­lice­man shot dead Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Tur­key, An­drei Karlov. Both Moscow and Ankara con­demned Karlov’s as­sas­si­na­tion, say­ing the act was an at­tempt to thwart ef­forts to re­pair bi­lat­eral ties, which had been strained be­cause of the two coun­tries’ sup­port for op­pos­ing sides in the Syr­ian civil war.

De­spite be­ing con­demned by the United States and the United Na­tions, the as­sas­si­na­tion partly re­flects the tense re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the West. That Tur­key be­ing a NATO mem­ber and part of the United States-led cam­paign against the Is­lamic State group have fur­ther com­pli­cated the Rus­sia-West ties.

This year has been bumpy for Rus­sia-West re­la­tions. In his tele­vised state-of-the-nation ad­dress ear­lier this month, Russian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said Moscow hopes to nor­mal­ize ties with Wash­ing­ton and is ready to jointly tackle global chal­lenges such as ter­ror­ism if its in­ter­ests are re­spected. But re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the West have re­mained tense since the Crimea cri­sis in 2014.

There is good news, though, as Rus­sia-Ja­pan re­la­tions are be­gin­ning to thaw even though no ma­jor break­throughs have been achieved. Be­sides, some Euro­pean Union mem­ber states have hinted at im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Rus­sia af­ter hav­ing fol­lowed the US to im­pose harsh eco­nomic sanc­tions on Moscow. And with Don­ald Trump be­ing sworn in as the US pres­i­dent next month, one can ex­pect US-Rus­sia re­la­tions, if not West-Rus­sia re­la­tions, to im­prove, even if partly, as Trump has said he wants bet­ter ties with Moscow.

This is not the first time Putin has said he hopes to im­prove re­la­tions with the US, and by de­fault with the West. Putin’s diplo­matic ges­ture has a lot to do with the new geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape fol­low­ing the United King­dom’s vote to break away from the EU, Trump’s vic­tory in the US presidential elec- tion and the rise of rightwing politi­cians in the EU.

Tra­di­tion­ally, it has been eas­ier for Rus­sia to deal with a Repub­li­can-led US ad­min­is­tra­tion while Demo­cratic pres­i­dents like Barack Obama have tended to act tough with Moscow. So one can hope Trump, as US pres­i­dent, will pos­si­bly im­prove US-Rus­sia ties, but dis­par­i­ties over the two coun­tries’ core in­ter­ests will re­main.

It is too early to say what will be im­pact of the rise of right-wing forces in Europe on Rus­sia-EU ties. Ad­mit­tedly, the op­po­si­tion par­ties in Italy and Aus­tria, which now have a greater chance of win­ning the im­pend­ing lead­er­ship elec­tions in the two coun­tries, have pro­fessed in­ter­est in im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Rus­sia, many Euro­peans are yet to ac­cept Crimea’s in­clu­sion into Rus­sia, a re­gion which they say be­longs to Ukraine.

The clash be­tween Rus­sia and the West is rooted in their dif­fer­ent ide­olo­gies and cul­tures. The two sides have con­trast­ing views on the world or­der.

Con­sid­er­ing Rus­sia to be the los­ing side in the Cold War, the West has de­nied it a decisive say in mak­ing in­ter­na­tional rules, while Rus­sia de­mands to be treated as equal to the US when it comes to global af­fairs. A pos­si­ble change in Rus­sia-West ties could also help ease Rus­sia-NATO ten­sions, which have es­ca­lated as a re­sult of the Ukraine cri­sis.

On its part, Rus­sia should be mo­ti­vated to move closer to the EU while seek­ing to im­prove its ties with the US, be­cause it is more de­pen­dent on the EU mar­ket, tech­nolo­gies and funds than the other way round, and Rus­sia-EU co­op­er­a­tion is likely to gen­er­ate more prag­matic, tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for Moscow.

The au­thor is deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Russian Stud­ies at the East China Nor­mal Univer­sity in Shang­hai. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt from his in­ter­view with China Daily’s Cui Shoufeng.


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