In Putin’s mindset, the United States has no legal or even moral right to raise these issues, given the many problems with the US political system that manifested themselves over the last couple of years.
This sensitivity explains why the Russian side was so persistent in its attempts to engage the US into some kind of bilateral consultations on cyber. While in the United States, they consider the alleged Russian cyber-attacks as unprovoked unilateral hostile acts, within the Russian leadership there is a genuine anxiety about what it believes to be a systematic and large-scale US interference into the Russian political life, including multifaceted activities of American media, foundations, NGOs, think tanks and so on. With elections in the Russian State Duma scheduled for September, this anxiety is likely to get even higher within the next three months. No comprehensive solution for the "interference" problem between Moscow and Washington is likely to emerge anytime soon, but the US agreement to start working with Russia on cyber matters is already a significant victory for Russian diplomacy.
The two sides agreed in Geneva to bring their respective ambassadors back to Washington and Moscow. This is a necessary, but not a sufficient precondition for restoring the diplomatic dimension of the relationship. Just like even the best generals cannot accomplish much without their armies, ambassadors cannot serve as a substitution for the Embassy staff. Anatoly Antonov and John Sullivan are not going to stamp visas, manage media relations, meet with mid-level local bureaucrats and do many other things on their own: they will need their people back.
At his press-conference in Geneva, President Biden argued that the next couple of months will make it clear whether the new model of US-Russian relations can work or not. One can only hope that it will, demonstrating the ability of two very different nations to find a mutually agreeable modus operandi.
If the United States and Russia are successful, their experience could be applied to a broader multilateral framework. In a way, the US-Russian puzzle is nothing but a specific reflection of a universal challenge that the contemporary international system faces today. On the one hand, the world is getting more and more diverse, and the West no longer has the monopoly on setting the rules or on pointing humankind into the right direction. On the other hand, the world, the setbacks of globalization notwithstanding, is moving towards more interconnectedness and more interdependence. The need to make everybody play by the rules is greater than it has ever been.
Therefore, we have to define rules in such a way that they will be generally acceptable to liberal democracies and to illiberal autocracies, to mature and to emerging economies, to great and to small nations, to the West and to the East, to the global North and to the global South. These rules could be less than perfect; they will not exclude competition and even confrontation. But they should be perceived by international players as fair and legitimate. If we define such rules, we will enjoy more stability, albeit at a low level. If we do not, we might get into a shipwreck of an epic scale.
Copyright: Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP
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