Russia Remains a Country Desperately Centered on America, Shevtsova Says

Vladirmir Putin and Donald Trump Sitting in Chairs with Flags Behind, adapted from image at whitehouse.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, Oct. 12, 2020)

“The world is ceasing to be America-centric,” Liliya Shevtsova says; “but Russia remains” precisely that because as long as America is the most important and its leaders view their relationship with Russia as central, Moscow has confirmation that it is still a world power.

“Dialogue with America or confrontation with America,” the Russian commentator says, “remains a systemic factor in the existence of the Russian state and for which it works.” For its rulers, “Russia must remain for America the most important geopolitical challenge” and not be dismissed or ignored (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/197888).

As a demonstration of its power, Moscow can’t count on defeating weaker neighbors. It needs to be at the center of attention of the most powerful country in the world and that country had better be the United States than China given the history of Moscow’s relations with Beijing in the past and present.

But in “a bitter irony … America is tired.” It wants to pull out of many international relationships and is reducing its attention to Russia. That creates a vacuum that China could fill but that Moscow really doesn’t want, and consequently, Moscow is desperately trying to attract Washington’s attention and get the US to focus on Russia and reify its great power status.

To be sure, Russia would have problems if the US stood up to it, given the power imbalance between the two countries, but now “America has begun to ignore Russia. Washington doesn’t even respond to Russian initiatives! Instead, instead of an American-Russian bipolar world, a tango involving America and China is beginning.”

Russia is thus left to interact with Germany and France, Shevtsova continues. But that is “almost suicide” for a Kremlin elite that thinks of itself as a great power because it has dealt with the United States as one for so long. The devaluation of those ties is undermining the Kremlin’s vision of itself and the vision it wants Russians to accept.

To be sure, she says, “an influential lobby which has devoted its life to relations with Russia remains. This lobby is trying to return to Russia the role as the main threat for America” either as a country with which Washington can cooperate or as one with which it must impose sanctions and other containment measures.

According to Shevtsova, “President Putin understands the importance of the US for Russia’s great power status.” That’s why he has recently called for renewing a dialogue between the two countries. But the US hasn’t responded, thus threatening the Kremlin’s ability to use its ties with Washington as evidence of its great power status.

This is one of the most compelling reasons why the Kremlin leader now hopes for the victory of Biden rather than Trump in the upcoming American elections. He believes that a Biden administration will change course and focus more on Moscow, something Putin needs to maintain his self-image.

“Of course,” Shevtsova concludes, “the Kremlin isn’t interested in the return of America to messianism and efforts to restore its role as the world hegemon.” It only wants to prevent Washington from ignoring Russia and thus reducing its status because of its focus on the rising power of China.

[article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/russia-remains-country-centered-on.html]