Which direction will Russia-West ties take?
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.