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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.





 


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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Apr. 23


Problems facing the elderly are in the spotlight at Senior Generation 2014, an international forum at LenExpo beginning today that focuses on drawing attention to and providing information about some of societys most vulnerable members. An exhibition combined with a trade fair will help those interested be better equipped to help this demographic.



Thursday, Apr. 24


Learn more about Denmark during the Danish Business Delegations visit to SPIBA this evening starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Danish Culture Institute. Danish Consul general Klaus Sorensen will be in attendance and the buffet following a presentation on Danish companies in Russia will be the perfect opportunity to network with the assembled businessmen.


AmChams Human Resources Committee Meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. this morning in their St. Petersburg office. Check their website for more details.



Friday, Apr. 25


Light Music presents the main events for their Cultural Kitchen project at Loft-Project Etagi today. A B2B event that focuses on Finnish food, arts, travel, music and design, the evening will conclude with a dinner by chef Jyrki Tsutsunen and dancing to music by Aino Venna. The event, which began yesterday with presentations by tourism and cultural institutions, concludes today with a preview of Finlands Flow festival and other musical events. Invitations are available from www.culturalkitchen.fi.



Saturday, Apr. 26


At 6 p.m. this evening, stylist Liliana Modigliani offers 50 simple ways to up your style quotient with beauty tips at the Galeria shopping center on Ligovsky Prospekt. The event is part of the final day of the shopping malls Fashion Saturday sales event, this week focusing on top brands located on the ground floor as well as presentation from fashion experts on sprucing up your spring look.



Sunday, Apr. 27


Families shouldnt miss Childhood Planet 2014, the trade fair that started yesterday and concludes today at LenExpo. Not only will goods and services be provided for children and families but the event hopes to promote Russian brands and eco-friendly products using the latest technology available in the childcare industry.



Monday, Apr. 28


The Hotel Indigo will be the site of SPIBAs Acting Skills for HR and Other Managers master class this morning starting at 9 a.m. The event will begin with coffee before moving on to the class itself and conclude with a tour of the recently opened hotel. Confirm attendance by Apr. 24.



Tuesday, Apr. 29


Improve your English at the British Book Centers Interactive English Lesson tonight at 6 p.m. Students at pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are welcome discuss topics that are selected to help learners master the more difficult aspects of English grammar and vocabulary.