RUSSIALINK: “Biden administration’s foreign policy to be based on anti-Russian, anti-Chinese, pro-NATO consensus – U.S. expert [Thomas Graham]” – Interfax

File Photo of U.S. Embassy Moscow, with Russian Foreign Ministry Building in Distance

MOSCOW. Jan 20 (Interfax) – The participants of the fourth expert meeting of the joint project of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) and Interfax titled ‘Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation’, which took place on Wednesday, January 20 in the form of an online event, discussed the consequences for U.S. foreign policy of polarization and divisions in American society as well as the Biden administration’s approaches to strategic stability and arms control and the shape the U.S. sanctions against Russia will take.

During Joe Biden’s presidency in the United States, his administration will continue the sanctions policy toward Russia, but these steps will not be too radical, so as not to harm the global economy and the U.S. itself, in the view of a number of participants in the session.

The United States’ foreign policy under President Joe Biden will be based on an anti-Russian, anti-Chinese, and pro-NATO consensus, Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. and senior fellow at Yale Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, said on Wednesday.

“An anti-Chinese, anti-Russian, and pro-NATO consensus has already been formed. And this consensus will serve as the foundation of the Biden administration’s new policy,” Graham said at a session of a joint project titled Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) and Interfax.

“There will be changes compared with the Trump administration policy, but a new policy by the Biden administration will mostly go along the lines of a typical and traditional American foreign policy, especially after the end of the Cold War,” Graham said.

The changes currently underway in the U.S. will not have that much significant influence on the country’s foreign policy, Graham said. “The polarization’s influence is not that huge, or at least this is different polarization,” he said.

“Polarization as concerns domestic issues is polarization between Democrats and Republicans, between liberals and progressives and conservatives,” he said.

“As for the division concerning foreign policy, it’s rather of different quality. Plainly speaking, it’s a division between globalists and anti-globalists,” Graham said.

“There is an extremely leftist wing in the Democratic Party and an extremely rightist wing in the Republican Party, which support anti-globalist positions, while moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are mostly supporters of globalism. People from this very group of moderate people will occupy the main posts in the Biden administration,” he said.

“These people will also have supporters among the Republicans. I think this group of people will pursue the kind of policy that was pursued under Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton,” the expert said.

Policy of confontation

The U.S. sanctions on Russia during Joe Biden’s presidency will still be in place, but will be of a more strategic and targeted nature, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin said.

“I think that the sanctions will remain in place, but they will become more strategically oriented, more precise and targeted in order to try to achieve maximum effect,” Trenin said at the session.

Along with pressure on the Russian elite, the U.S. will pursue a more open policy towards society as a whole, he said. “While the pressure on the Kremlin, on Putin, on people associated with the current government will continue, attempts will be made to more actively split off, detach certain groups from the political center in Russia, and play with Russia’s internal problems,” the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center said.

The expert also predicts an increase in U.S. activity on Russian borders, in countries such as Belarus, Armenia, as well as in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. In addition, the U.S. will seek to pull Turkey away from Russia, weaken Russian-Indian relations and make India its ally in China’s trend of its policy.

“At the same time, the [Biden] administration will strive to reduce the risks of war with Russia, an uncontrolled arms race, so we can expect a quick extension of the New START and consultations on strategic stability,” Trenin said.

He expressed confidence that, on the whole, the policy of confrontation “probably in a more intense version” will continue in Russian-U.S. relations.

“The approach as a whole will remain, but it will change. First, the U.S. will be a more predictable and more homogeneous player under Biden both in the Russian direction and in all the rest. Yes, there will be some serious changes, but above all, this is a change of style, a change in the nature of relationships on a personal level between the U.S. president and the presidents, prime ministers of other countries,” the expert added.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy towards China was generally approved by both the Republicans and the Democrats, and there are hardly any major changes in this direction either, the Carnegie Moscow Center director said. “Yes, there may be taste and style changes. They will probably pursue a softer approach, there may be a mini-detente in relations with Beijing, there may be some exchanges, some concessions, compromises on both sides, but in principle the American-Chinese confrontation will continue during Biden’s stay at the White House as well,” Trenin said.

The risk of direct military confrontation between Moscow and Washington will decline under President Joe Biden, while the U.S. administration’s rhetoric will remain tough, including that on human rights issues, Thomas Graham, managing director at Kissinger Associates, Inc., said.

“There will be an attempt to stabilize relations, of course, at the current very low level, to refresh regular diplomatic contacts, and to start a dialogue on the most important matters. This concerns above all strategic stability. The New START will be extended, Biden has promised that. Tony Blinken, future secretary of state, has confirmed that this will be so at the Senate yesterday. Most likely, the extension will be for five years,” Graham said.

“The Biden administration has promised to try to return to the Iranian nuclear deal. This means there’ll be significant and meaningful conversations with Russia on this account. And yet tough rhetoric will continue, in my opinion. Especially as concerns human rights and Russia’s policy toward former Soviet states, primarily Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia. It’s hard to predict now what this is going to end up with,” Graham said.

“However, the policy will be more predictable, and Biden’s team will be more disciplined. There will be something to agree upon not only with the president but also with officials from this administration. Therefore, even though confrontation will continue, I think there is a chance to stabilize these relations and try to manage them more responsibly so as to lower the dangerous risk of direct military confrontation between our countries,” he said.

“What’s going to be next certainly depends not only on the U.S.’ policy but also on reactions from Moscow,” Graham said.

Sanctions against Russia

The U.S. sanctions against Russia will undoubtedly continue with the arrival of the new U.S. administration, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Director General Andrey Kortunov said at the session.

The question is whether they will become more comprehensive, he said.

“Nobody doubts that the sanctions will continue. But there is also certain dynamics and certain logic in the sanctions. The sanctions are getting smarter, and they’re trying to focus them on particular entities. The sanctions should become more flexible, and it’s been said among Biden’s entourage that there should be an opportunity to impose or modify them depending on an entity’s behavior,” he said.

“And now Biden is going to receive recommendations that the sanctions should be made far more substantial and comprehensive. It’s been said often that there should be tougher sanctions on the Russian energy sector, so as to put Russia actually on a par with Iran and prevent Russian gas and oil from reaching global markets,” Kortunov said.

“Some say Russia needs to be ousted from the SWIFT international interbank communication system and that very tough restrictions need to be imposed on transactions denominated in U.S. dollars between all Russian state-owned systemic banks. Of course, there’ll be attempts to make these sanctions universal, that is, to make sure that America’s partners and allies unconditionally support and observe them, and to minimize the number of loopholes that the sanctioned entities could resort to,” he said.

“Biden won’t agree to this, and not because he doesn’t want to cause damage to the Russian economy (of course, there is such desire), but sanctions of this level might also pose serious political risks to the United States itself and to the international economic and financial system. It seems to me that, given other economic problems he has to deal with, Biden is unlikely to venture to cause additional serious risks to the American economy and stability of the global economy on the whole,” Kortunov said.

The U.S. earlier experienced this problem by imposing sanctions on Rusal, “causing major damage to stability of the entire global aluminum market,” he said.

Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, also referred to discussions on Russia’s possible disconnection from SWIFT several years before. “Fear for Russian cyberattacks was a serious argument against such disconnection. That is, it would be wrong to assume that this would be a one-way traffic, and the attacks of which the Americans have reported suggest that some things won’t be left unanswered.”

Trenin also doubted that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project would be completed. “Frankly speaking, I am getting increasingly more confident that this project is unlikely to be completed, or even if it is completed, it won’t be functioning.”

Trenin mentioned a commentary Gazprom made recently in a memorandum for a Eurobond offering, in which it allowed for the possibility that, if the political conditions worsen significantly, it might postpone or annul some of its projects. Trenin said this was the first such statement from Gazprom he had seen.

In fact, Gazprom has regularly made this reservation in the Risk Factors section in all of its memoranda since the end of 2017.

“I think this is a serious indication that, even despite the officially optimistic position that we’ll complete it and everything will be fine, Moscow bears in mind, as quite a realistic scenario, the possibility that this ‘stream’ might not be completed, or even if it is completed, it might not be launched. Therefore, I don’t know. In my view, the situation is getting more complicated, and the ‘stream’ is going to be part of a complex compromise, perhaps between the United States and Germany, and the relationships will be based on some mutual agreements and possibly mutual concessions, and I wouldn’t rule out that the abandonment of Nord Stream could be among such concessions that the United States might demand from Germany,” Trenin said.

Feodor Voitolovsky, director of IMEMO and the session’s moderator, said in conclusion, “Nevertheless, there has always been political logic and business logic, and minimization of costs and the preservation of a profitable and appealing price is a very substantial bonus for the European and German business community. This is a very significant factor for European voters, and therefore, of course, the governments of European countries, primarily the German government, will also have to attach significance to this, no matter how strong Washington’s pressure is.”

‘Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation’ is a new joint project of IMEMO and Interfax. A series of expert meetings dedicated to the most important events in global politics and economics take part within the project’s framework. Discussions involving scientists, public figures, and officials take place monthly in an online format and broadcast on YouTube.

[article also appeared at interfax.com/newsroom/top-stories/70866/]