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Evaluating Russia After Sochi and McFaul

Published: February 26, 2014 (Issue # 1799)


U.S.-Russian relations have come to a small moment of opportunity.

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul is stepping aside just as Russia is flush with pride over the success of the Sochi Olympics. The exuberance seems to have affected everyone, from those in Sochi whose homes were taken from them by eminent domain to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny who has called the Games sweet and uniting.

The transcendent spirit of the Olympics strikes again.

Thankfully the Sochi Games ended on a high note and Islamist terrorists did not chose to attack during the closing ceremony on Feb. 23, the 70th anniversary of Stalins violent exile of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations in 1944.

Let us hope and assume that the Sochi Olympics were not, or not only, a monument to President Vladimir Putins vanity, but also a sign of his sagacity about his country and his countrymen.

Russias experience since the Soviet collapse 23 years ago has been defined by a humiliation that New York Times columnist Thomas Freedman rightly called the single most underestimated force in international relations. So the Sochi Games were not just a festival of graft and vanity, not just a grandiose resort and real-estate development, but a canny move to heal the Russian soul.

Two possibilities present themselves here. Putin could become swell-headed from the success of the Games and feel emboldened to act in an even more authoritarian manner, or his new-found sense of pride might free him from the need to see an enemy in every critic and in every foreign-supported NGO an agent of sedition.

If we hope and assume the latter, then how should the U.S. take advantage of this moment, the inflection point?

First, it should be remembered that although relations are bad, they are not only bad. The picture is complex and textured. The U.S. and Russia quietly cooperate in space and in the transporting of personnel and material to and from Afghanistan, factors more important but less newsworthy than, say, Pussy Riot or one leader snubbing the other at an international conference.

So long as Putin is president of Russia, it is hard to see how the bilateral relationship can change fundamentally. The best that can be done is to minimize damage and preserve the significant areas of cooperation that still exist, Mark Kramer of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University recently wrote on these pages.

But Putin could easily be president for another decade. That is 2 1/2 U.S. presidential administrations away. That is Chinese President Xi Jinpings entire term.

Of course, if Putin decides to remain ornery and recalcitrant, there is not a lot anyone can do about that. But Russia, while important in and of itself, is ultimately just one part of the puzzle of a U.S. foreign policy that must center on China. Since China is still very much a work in progress, U.S. policy on China must be marked by flexibility. But flexibility alone cannot define foreign policy. Once the U.S. has made up its mind about China as competitor, rival or enemy it will have a better idea where Russia fits in. It is this lack of a policy more than Putins attitude that is keeping the U.S. stance on Moscow on hold and that will make the next ambassador to Russia something of an interim appointment.

Or maybe we will all soon be too busy fighting floods and blizzards to worry about borders and old grievances.

Richard Lourie is the author of The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin and Sakharov: A Biography.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Nov. 21


Learn more about Russian labor laws at Labor Law Seminar 2014 at the Courtyard by Marriott St. Petersburg Center West Pushkin Hotel this morning at 166 Kanala Griboyedova. Sponsored by Baker and McKenzie and the Pepeliaev Group, the event begins at 9 a.m. and will discuss amendments to existing laws, employment terms, risks of termination and other pressing matters.


Educate yourself about educational careers at Education and Career XXI November 2014, a two-day fair hosted at Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island that welcomes students and educators alike to develop relationships between scholarly institutions and learn more about the educational market in Russia and abroad.



Saturday, Nov. 22


Russian Premier League-leaders Zenit St. Petersburg return from the international break to take on Kuban Krasnodar at Petrovsky Stadium this evening at 7 p.m. Tickets for the game can still be purchased on the clubs website, at the Petrovsky Stadium box office or in any of the clubs merchandise stores.



Sunday, Nov. 23


Get in the holiday spirit at todays Winter Bazzar at the Astoria Hotel. Featuring gifts from around the world such as French eclairs, Dutch cheeses and Indian jewelry, the annual event organized by the International Womens Club will feature 18 international stands and raise money for charity through the sales of a diversity of products that further illustrate the citys international connections.



Monday, Nov. 24


Dr. Axel Schulte, Department Head at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund, Germany, is the featured speaker at the SPIBA Industrial Committee lecture on The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Digitalization of the Supply Chain. The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Graduate School of Management at 3 Volkohvsky Pereulok and registration is required by Nov. 21 either by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.



Tuesday, Nov. 25


Tag along with AmCham during their Industrial St. Petersburg Tour program today. This incarnation of the ongoing series will visit Philip Morris Izhora and include an Environmental Health and Safety Committee meeting.


Find out how to expand your business east during the Business With China forum beginning today and concluding tomorrow at the Lenexpo convention center. The largest Russian forum dedicated to business with the Asian giant, topics that will be discussed include logistics, customs clearance, trade financing and many more.



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