From Polar Bears to Nuclear Weapons, U.S. and Russia Still Talk (Even If It’s Past Each Other)

Stylized Russian and U.S. Flags, 200, 1807-2007

(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org – Simon Saradzhyan – March 20, 2020)

Simon Saradzhyan is the founding director of Russia Matters. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

A popular talking point for many watchers of U.S.-Russian relations is to warn that reduced communication between the two countries, caused by the enduring animosities between Moscow and Washington, are increasing risks of a misunderstanding that could cause the world’s two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war. The experts, such as Sam Nunn and Ernest Moniz, certainly have a point. The less Washington and Moscow communicate, the greater the risk of misinterpreting each other’s actions in a way that could lead to a conflict, which could ultimately escalate into a nuclear war. You would be surprised, however, how much the U.S. and Russia still communicate both on government and non-government levels in spite of the animosities. At least that’s the impression I got when I looked into it, compiling a list of such communications1. From checking on each other’s strategic nukes to co-managing polar bear populations, the U.S. and Russia are still talking to each other, even though they might be talking past each other.

Ongoing Track 1 communication includes:

Ongoing Track 2 communication includes:

However, many U.S.-Russian communications channels have been impeded/suspended, including:

Graphic Showing Work Groups of U.S.-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission, adapted from image at state.gov

As the list above demonstrates, the U.S. and Russia are still talking to each other, though not as extensively as they used to during U.S. President Barack Obama’s short-lived reset policy. Would expanding and intensifying lines of communication help reduce risks of a deadly conflict and normalize relations between the two countries in general? Yes, of course. However, unless the sides manage to reconcile their differences over such thorny issues as election meddling and the Ukraine conflict, I would not bet on it in the near future, regardless of who occupies the White House next January.

Footnotes:

  1. This is an evolving list, which is by no means complete, so any suggestions, updates and/or corrections are welcome in the comments.
  2. See list of U.S.-Russian agreements to prevent military incidents here: russiamatters.org/blog/what-stops-us-and-russia-stumbling-war.
  3. On the Russian side, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin will deal with the issue, and on the American side, the head of the American-Russian Business Council, Daniel Russell.
  4. Thomas Graham will probably co-chair the U.S. side, according to Kommersant.

Simon Saradzhyan is the founding director of Russia Matters. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


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