This year will likely bring a significant improvement in relations between the United States and Russia, as well as a raft of possible changes to global politics.
Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin clearly have much regard for each other and none for the post-Cold War conventions that have long framed relations between Russia and the West. Key among these is neo-containment. Unlike the Cold War era doctrine of containment, which sought to limit Soviet influence beyond the Soviet Bloc and its allies, neo-containment denies a Russian “sphere of influence” in its part of the world and is determined to counteract its foreign excursions.
This denial has been accompanied by NATO’s own expansion eastward and the European Union’s intervention in Ukraine’s Madian Revolution. For revisionists this is key to explaining why Russia chose so-called countermeasures such as war with Georgia in 2008 and taking Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, as well as backing separatists in the east of the country.
Adherents to neo-containment in Washington and across Europe, on the other hand, cite Russia’s interventions as evidence of NATO’s indispensability to Europe’s defence from Russia.
Whom to believe? It helps to see these arguments in their historical context.
The commodities market continues its influence on the Russian economy and its foreign policy, of which Ukraine is key. Putin’s justification for Russia’s intervention there relies heavily on combating deleterious Western influence on Russia’s doorstep. And his motive is clearly to destabilise a Western-backed anti-Russian Ukrainian government.
Now with US support for Ukraine probably receding along with support for sanctions against Russia, Putin may scale down Russian operations or exploit the void to scale them up. The same applies for Syria, though Russian “soft” interventions in upcoming western European elections will probably continue in any case.
Putin can be unpredictable and his response in Ukraine at least may indicate Russia’s trajectory toward cooperating with a changing West or continuing to forge its own path. Trump, on the other hand, could change it all in an instant. 2017 will be interesting.