U.S.-Russia Cooperation in the New Cold War

TO:                  U.S. President Barack Obama

FROM:          Chief Advisor Peter J. Marzalik

SUBJECT:    U.S.-Russia Cooperation in the New Cold War

DATE:            May 8, 2015

Executive Summary

Over the last year, U.S.-Russia relations have plunged to new lows due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with many labeling this latest phase as a New Cold War. Despite these tensions, the United States must still strive to partner with Russia on critical shared global issues, including transnational terrorism, nuclear security, financial stability, and climate change. In this vein, a U.S.-led multilateral summit would insert the United States into negotiations on Ukraine in order to directly sway conflict parties in a final push toward peace before deciding to supply lethal defensive weapons. Additionally, the upcoming nuclear security summit and U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council may serve to restore greater U.S.-Russia cooperation. Geopolitical hotspots in the Middle East will ultimately ensure that the United States and Russia at least remain reluctant partners not obstinate rivals to address serious threats to international security.

U.S.-Led Multilateral Summit On Ukraine

In the next several weeks, the United States should spearhead a multilateral summit to discuss the Ukraine conflict and Russian relations with Western nations in the future. Leaders of those countries involved in the Normandy Group, the Ukraine-focused shuttle diplomacy team consisting of representatives from France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia, should be in attendance. As internal debate continues over whether to provide lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian army, the United States should become a formal member of negotiations, leading a final diplomatic push for peace before resorting to broader military engagement.

Despite documented proof of continued Russian backing to separatists in violation of the ceasefire, the Minsk II Protocol achieved some successes, including most notably the gradual withdrawal of heavy weaponry in recent months. The agreement deserves the full commitment of the U.S. government in an official negotiating capacity in order to more directly sway the conflict parties toward a peaceful resolution to hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

At this multilateral summit, frank discussions must occur between Western leaders, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Russian President Vladimir Putin not only to find a constructive path for Ukraine going forward, but also to develop a common vision for European stability. All sides must strive to achieve mutual understanding of each respective foreign policy and the perceptions gleaned from their consequences. For example, the United States must accept that Russia views the expansion of European Union economic power and the NATO defensive alliance as the growth of a Western sphere of influence threatening Russian national security. Russian aggression will persist in Eastern Europe until this perceived threat is thwarted.

Alternatively, a stark recognition and reconciled convergence of underlying national interests will start putting U.S.-Russia relations back on course within the context of the Ukraine conflict. Announcing the restoration of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission to full working order would be a positive plausible outcome of this multilateral summit to revive important dual initiatives, particularly in the areas of postsecondary education and business development to strengthen ties between American and Russian civil societies and counter increasing polarization propagated through the media.

Upcoming Opportunities To Rebuild Bilateral Trust

The United States should take diplomatic advantage of a couple upcoming opportunities to rebuild trust with Russia. Most recently, the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in May offers a chance for American and Russian officials to begin reengaging on important shared issues related to nuclear security and arms control. The New START Treaty agreed upon in 2011 successfully reduced levels of strategic nuclear forces, but the two countries that possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons must do more. The United States and Russia should work together to pursue a new call to action in preparation for the next nuclear security summit in 2016.

Another forum to reinvigorate bilateral cooperation is the Arctic Council. As chairman in 2015, the United States holds a unique opportunity to coordinate their agenda this year in a way that constructively integrates Russia. Such collaboration in the Arctic would come at an important turning point when the effects of climate change continue to melt northern icecaps and Russia prioritizes the region in its military doctrine. With its consensus-based decision-making structure, the Arctic Council represents an excellent environment to reconnect American and Russian contacts in common pursuit of resolving politically sensitive environmental and social issues, including safe resource extraction, shared waterway practices, and indigenous capacity-building.

Global Issues Requiring U.S.-Russia Strategic Cooperation

A host of global issues, especially localized in geopolitical hotspots across the Middle East, urgently require consistent U.S.-Russia strategic cooperation. The United States and Russia must at least maintain a professional working relationship within the P5+1 negotiations in order to reach a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. Notably, a positive outcome with Iran possesses the potential to eventually morph into a peace process to end the catastrophic Syrian civil war. Washington’s diplomatic weight coupled with Moscow’s recognized experience from earlier attempts to organize peace talks could garner enough legitimacy to spur the international community to action on Syria.

As proven in the past, the United States should count on Russia as a capable counterpart in the domain of counterterrorism. Both countries agree that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the greatest threat to national security. Similar to the United States, Russia fears the return of foreign fighters who may aspire to revive a festering insurgency in the North Caucasus. This alignment of security concerns with an additional focus on counternarcotics also exists in Afghanistan. U.S.-Russia collaboration in Iraq and Afghanistan, possibly extending to other volatile countries like Yemen and Libya, offers another important outlet to bring relations back on track. Ultimately, the answers to most critical global issues, including transnational terrorism, nuclear security, financial stability, and climate change, still run through Washington and Moscow. Though a new Cold War threatens to materialize due to the Ukraine conflict, the United States and Russia must work as reluctant partners not obstinate rivals in order to achieve their most treasured and markedly shared national interests.

Peter J. Marzalik is a 1st-year graduate student pursuing an M.A. in Security Policy Studies with specializations in Transnational Security and Conflict Resolution in Russia and Eurasia at George Washington University. He recently graduated from The Ohio State University with dual degrees in International Studies and Russian Language. As an undergraduate, he traveled to the Russian republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan on a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship, which inspired his senior honors thesis analyzing the ramifications of the 2012 Kazan terrorist attacks. His work has appeared in The Moscow Times, Eurasianet.org, and International Affairs Review, among other publications.

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