A new relationship between Russia and the United States has been touted in the press after the meeting of Russia President Dmitry Medvedev with President Obama. Business deals and a new understanding on what to do with Iran are being tossed out as evidence of a reset on the relations between the two former rivals. But has anything really changed?
For one thing, Russia has changed much more than the United States over the past two decades. An early hope in becoming a vibrant democracy and capitalist state has given way to reality and rampant corruption. Indeed, many human rights activists have been concerned about the direction that the country has taken under Vladimir Putin. Moscow have been actively suppressing rival political parties, and considering the level of corruption that companies must put up with to operate inside Russia, it is a wonder that large Silicon Valley companies such as Cisco Systems are planning on setting up shop there.
Actually, it isn’t that much of a surprise, companies in developed countries are actively looking for ways to expand their market share into developing economies, especially the so called “BRIC” countries, of which Russia is one. Russia does have a highly educated workforce, and opportunities in the tech sector are wide open. However, recent economic changes Russia has made are due more to an internal need for foreign investment than a thaw with relations with Washington.
So why has Washington been so cozy with Russia recently? The big reason is that the U.S. needs Russian support for future action on Iran, if it is indeed taken. Russia recently supported a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran, and has canceled the sale of antiaircraft missiles to the country.
Why have relations between Russia and Iran suddenly cooled? For one thing, in purely economic terms Russia could get more by partnering with Europe and the United States than by supporting Iran. Russia has supported Iran in the past in part as a measure to contain the United States and its allies in the Middle East.
However, since Iraq will in a relatively short time become a modestly independent country, Moscow’s world view has changed somewhat. Added to this Moscow’s fear that eventually Iran will develop long range nuclear weapons, and the Kremlin is stuck in a sort of diplomatic stalemate over the Iranian issue. At any rate, Moscow is currently making much pragmatic, and economically oriented, decisions than in communist times when ideology trumped practicality at every turn. So to has Washington decided to cozy up to Russia a little bit more than in the past, out of the practicality of having Russia side with them on Iran, while overlooking some of the more glaring human rights abuses occurring in the country. Such a similar relationship has been forged with China over the past decades. However, should oil prices rebound, a big question is will the friendship with Russia last?