Russian-American relations are at a dead end. Talks between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Los Cabos proved this beyond any doubt. There has been no shift in either side's positions on Syria, U.S. plans to deploy a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and Romania, as well as on the so-called Sergei Magnitsky Law, which Congress looks set to adopt.
It is quite clear that Putin wanted to impress the U.S. president, who is used to talking to former president Dmitry Medvedev, with a different style of conversation: cold, remote, evidently uncompromising.
Putin doesn’t like the United States – this is a well-known fact. He also seems to dislike Obama personally and makes no effort to hide this. I do not think he ever forgot or forgave the Obama Administration’s all too clear flirtation with his predecessor. The Russian leader has already made a point of demonstratively slapping the U.S. president on the face when he refused to attend a G8 summit that was held in the United States in May. Obama reciprocated by cancelling his trip to the APEC summit in Vladivostok in September. He cited the presidential election campaign as the reason, although he knew full well in advance that it would be in full swing by then.
The Kremlin took notice and evidently decided to keep bilateral relations to a bare minimum – until the fate of Obama’s second term becomes clearer. Most observers say that it is in Moscow’s interest for the current U.S. president to win a second term in office. Obama is more flexible and less ideological, than George W. Bush, so the Kremlin would want to see this policy continue rather than try and find common ground with Mitt Romney. The potential Republican candidate’s chief Russia advisor is an American Enterprise Institute pundit Leon Aron, not known for his sympathy towards the system created by Putin and the author of one of the very few Western biographies of the first president of post-Communist Russia. The book’s title speaks for itself: “Boris Yeltsin: a Revolutionary Life.”
However it looks as if the view from the Kremlin is somewhat different. The United States is increasingly seen by Putin’s Administration as a hostile power. The Magnitsky Law, the adoption of which looks imminent, especially rattles the Russian leadership. Although only sixty people are on it, most of them second or third level civil servants, the symbolic power of the law is enormous. In fact it designates Russia as a lawless state where a human life means nothing and a judicial process is a travesty of its own name.
With Putin’s return to the presidency such things will not pass easily.
The Kremlin already promised a “symmetrical response” (i.e., sanctions against a number of American officials) and thus, in fact, highlighted the “Magnitsky Law’s” real significance. Moscow is again prepared to play a “zero sum game” with Washington as it used to before.
One of the reasons for this is Putin’s conviction that the Russian economy does not depend as much on U.S. investment as it does on the money flow from the EU. So a bit of brinkmanship will not hurt.
All the more so that all three contentious issues that divide the Kremlin and the White House (the “Magnitsky Law,” the Syrian crisis and BMD) have something in common. All of them in different ways touch upon the Russian regime’s obsession with sovereignty – understood as a license to do whatever it pleases at home and dictate its conditions abroad. This constitutes Putin’s deeply felt conviction. I do not think he will change it no matter whose name will be on the door of the Oval Office.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.