Russia: What Is To Be Done? A To-Do-List for the next US-President

(Liana Fix)

Zuerst veröffentlicht in globalpolicy.

NATO Missile Defence, Syria, Arms Control – there are many Gordian knots in US-Russia relations. Here is an instruction for the next US-President how to deal and what to do with Russia.

1. Call Russia a Great Power.
It won’t do you any harm and they want to hear it so desperately. Everyone knows that Russia is at best a declining regional power, so why not tell a white lie if it helps improving relations with your cold neighbour.

2. Forget about Pussy Riot.
The media loves the story: three young, nice-looking girls, sent to a Russian prison camp by a 21st century version of Ivan the Terrible. That’s simplifying and populistic. Be smarter. Yes, it is a sad and tragic story. But there are more serious problems in Russia that have to be adressed. And even more important: Problems that actually concern Russians, like the notorious corruption. Because 70% of the Russian population believes that the verdict against Pussy Riot was justified or even not hard enough.

3. Don’t play by Russian rules.
Russia joined the WTO? Welcome! But: There are rules which even the biggest country on earth has to follow. Don’t let Russia get away with exceptions or protectionist measures and be tough enough to press for consequences, if necessary. Russians love to play by their own rules, and they are best at it. Don’t try to join your eastern friends in Russian roulette if you don’t want to end up like the gambler in Dostoyevsky’s brilliant piece.

4. Who’s afraid of Russian gas?
Russia is not the almighty energy Ba’al anymore. Shale gas and LNG are up-and-coming. More and more countries refuse to accept expensive long-term contracts, and China even does not want to buy Russian gas at all. Putin’s favourite foreign policy weapon Gazprom is in decline, and it is managed like a luxurious yacht party. No reason to be afraid anymore! (And remind your British friends to look out for new Chelsea sponsors.)

5. Get Russia on board.
Positive examples in cooperation with Russia are rare, but there are some, for example Iran and Afghanistan. That’s improvable. Grasp the opportunities and get Russia on board wherever you can. But beware: Never treat Russia as a junior partner! There is no cure for wounded Russian pride. Be clever and lead from behind.

6. Let them keep their bombs and do their parades.
It’s a psychological thing. The US have only once experienced a military attack on their soil, in Pearl Harbour. Russia was invaded by Poland in 1612, Sweden in 1707, France in 1812 and by Germany in 1941. And they regularly suffer terrorist attacks. It’s like having a rifle if you live in Texas. You most likely won’t use it, but you feel better having (and showing) it.

7. Ukraine is not Russia.
And also not ‚Little Russia‘. That’s a term used during the Russian Empire to describe parts of Ukraine under czarist rule – and nowadays gladly revived by Putin. Hopefully you already know this point. But just in case, it’s a good thing to keep in mind if you end up in a similar conversation with Putin like George Bush at a NATO meeting: ‚You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us.‘ Strange? Right. So please, mind your step.

8. Learn drinking wodka.
Think about Reagan and Gorbachev, the two men who ended the Cold War. It is all about personal relationships! And the easiest way to get personal with Russians is to drink wodka. Moreover, it is tasty. Tip: Swallow a spoon of olive oil before. It helps.

9. Read ‚Natasha’s dance‘ (Orlando Figes).
If you have some spare time at Camp David, read this brilliant book. And you will much better understand what the famous Russian soul is all about.

10. Travel to Russia.
At least once. Russians love to present their country, and it is actually beautiful. You don’t have to take the Trans-Siberian railway, but a short stop-over in Moscow and St Petersburg should fit every schedule. And it makes for good photos, remember Ronald and Nancy on Red Square in 1988.