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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sealing a New Era in U.S.-Russian Relations

The majority of commentaries on the U.S.-Russia summit have devoted most attention to arms-control issues. The signing of a treaty cutting the number of strategic nuclear warheads is portrayed as the central event of the summit.

In reality, as the summit clearly demonstrated, issues of nuclear balance have lost not only their military significance, but also their political significance. For the United States and Russia, the number of warheads the other side will retain and respective counter-strike capabilities, etc., have long lacked practical importance. What is important is the willingness of the two countries to continue conducting a strategic dialogue.

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The significance of the summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush lies in the fact that it served to seal the colossal changes that have taken place between the two countries. In a nutshell these are: (1) Russia's acknowledgement -- and the United States no longer trying to conceal -- that bilateral relations are asymmetrical; (2) Russia's renunciation of the costly and prospect-less contest in strategic (ABM Treaty and national missile defense) and geopolitical (CIS/Baltic countries, the Balkans, and the Middle East) spheres; (3) the agenda bequeathed by the Cold War has been put on the back burner and in its place there is a list of completely new issues (and new risks) requiring active and close cooperation between Washington and Moscow.

Thus, U.S.-Russian relations have in fact taken on a new dimension -- we are now seeing an unstable but developing partnership between the world's sole global power and an important regional power. The character and terms of this partnership are determined by a new common agenda.

The main points on this agenda are: the gradual integration of Russia into the Western community; the joint guarantee of strategic stability in the context of ongoing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the fight with terrorism and with regional instability in Asia; energy partnership; and trilateral cooperation with China.

For Russia, integration with the West is a historical necessity after the 500-year tsarist/imperial "Eurasian" period in the country's history. Russia has ceased to be a closed, autarkic entity. The period of Russian integration with the international community has begun; however, institutional integration (membership of the G-8 and the WTO, partnership with the EU, the NATO-Russia Council, etc.) for all its importance is of secondary significance compared to the internal transformations that must take place in Russia -- in economic life, the political regime, domestic institutions, society and with respect to guiding values.

Obstacles on the road to integration within Russia are: the backward mentality of a large section of the political elite (in contrast to the business elite and the economic wing of the government), and the resulting severe shortage of capable and qualified personnel; and the unreformed state of the bodies responsible for conducting foreign and defense policy (the Foreign Ministry and in particular the Defense Ministry have changed little -- for the better at least -- since Soviet times). To overcome these obstacles, sweeping administrative reform and radical military reform are necessary.

Strategic stability, at the start of the 21st century, depends not on the balance of strategic offensive and defensive weapons between the United States and Russia, but on the behavior of other states with WMD capabilities and those states striving to obtain such capabilities. The growing danger of further proliferation of WMDs and their use in regional crises, in particular in south, northeast and west Asia, is a threat to Russia no less than the United States. Tackling this threat should involve not only closer political and diplomatic cooperation (including reaching mutual understanding on Iran), but also the direct participation of Russia in the U.S. missile defense program.

Fighting terrorism and containing regional instability require military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries at different levels -- from efforts to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and cooperation in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict to coordination between the two countries' armed forces in Central Asia. With Asia now geographically the source of many new threats, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the United States and Russia to ensure their security without close cooperation. Moreover, on a number of issues Russia is the only effective partner for the United States, and vice versa.

Energy partnership between Russia and the West is based on the premise that instability in the Middle East will continue and maybe even get worse, and that medium-term prospects for development of the internal political situation in Saudi Arabia, the key oil-producing country of the region, remain unclear. Based on this premise, Russia could assume the role of stabilizer of the world energy market. As a major oil producer, Russia identifies itself with the industrialized world, i.e. the West, and fashions its oil policy accordingly. Acknowledging this role for Russia, the United States can facilitate the development of Russia's energy sector.

The character of triangular relations between the United States, Russia and China has changed fundamentally from what it was in the 1990s. The traditional tripartite game of playing on contradictions between the parties has now become a thing of the past -- and Russian abandonment of the foreign policy concept of "multipolarity" has cemented this turn. At the start of the 21st century, the United States and Russia have an interest in successful continuation of the de facto post-communist transformation of China (initiated long ago), and its transformation into a responsible and predictable player on the international stage.

Beyond the above-mentioned five points, there are many extremely important issues, including economic and technical cooperation, interaction at the nongovernmental level, etc. Nonetheless, the "big 5" are the key to building a robust partnership. Moreover, what is at stake is laying the foundation for "special relations" between Russia and the world's sole global power.

Exactly 30 years ago, in May 1972, President Richard Nixon came to Moscow. This marked the beginning of regular U.S.-Soviet summits reflecting the reality of nuclear parity. Following the end of the Cold War, for 10 years from August 1991 to September 2001, Russia and the United States were looking for a new framework for their relations. Now, this new framework has practically been determined.

Nevertheless, for those who are opposed to it, it is important to bear in mind that the alternative to uneven partnership is not a partnership of equals, but no partnership at all.

Dmitry Trenin is the author of "The End of Eurasia: Russia on the Border Between Geopolitics and Globalization." He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.