Dmitry Suslov gives lecture in the Red Pit on current US-Russia relations

By Michael Levy ’18

In a tightly-packed Red Pit in Kirner-Johnson on Thursday Oct. 1, Deputy Director for Research at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Dmitry Suslov presented a lecture on current US-Russia relations. Suslov’s lecture— titled “The New US-Russia Confrontation: Causes and Future Prospects” — was sponsored by the Dean of Faculty, the Government Department and the Levitt Center. At the crux of Suslov’s lecture was his conviction that the current state of US-Russia relations is not a “New Cold War,” yet both states have in fact become “systematically adversarial” toward each other as a result of two fundamental disagreements between “the rules of the game [international politics]” and Cold War historical narrative.

Unlike many of his peers, Suslov is hesitant to label the current state of US-Russia relations as “The New Cold War,” as he suggests in his lecture that the term is inherently “misleading.” Suslov contends that calling current tensions between the two countries by this term is categorically incorrect for three reasons.

A new Cold War between the US and Russia, Suslov argues, could happen only in an international environment dominated by two separate and inherently adversarial spheres of influence. Simply put, a bipolar power structure in the international system does not exist today as it did during the Cold War (1947–1991). Power in the post-Cold War international system, as defined by Suslov, is more nuanced and diffused among various “state and non-state actors.” The narrative behind current tension between the US and Russia is dissimilar to that of the Cold War in that today, there is an absence of ideological animosity between the two states. As Suslov states, “the very existence of the US [during the Cold War] was a grave threat to the existence of Russia, and vice versa.” Applying an expired term to current developments is unfitting, as Suslov further notes that globalization was nonexistent or rather nascent during the Cold War and, as a result, the international system was less nuanced— dissimilar to the “chaotic and increasingly non-linear” international system of the 21st century.

As Suslov notes, a “systemically adversarial” relationship between the US and Russia presents a very different sort of conflict. The US and Russia both have recently become more aggressive in undermining each other in places where their converging and vital interests intersect the most. These proxy conflicts—intersections between US and Russian strategic interests—have most recently escalated in places like Syria, Crimea and Ukraine.

Suslov argues that the recent hostilities between the US and Russia are proxies of a much larger and more fundamental conflict. Suslov describes two deep-rooted sources: the US and Russia disagree upon the “rules of the game of international order” and spheres of influence in the post-Cold War international arena, as well as the very narrative of the Cold War. The US and Russia never agreed upon new spheres of influence after the power balance was suddenly shifted following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Furthermore, as Suslov argues, the terms under which Russia was agreeing to join the West differed drastically from Western view. Americans understand the Cold War to be an “American victory,” yet for the Russians, Suslov added, the Cold War is understood to be “mutual victory.”

The unipolar power structure in global politics, post-Cold War US hegemony, as Suslov contends, has been diffused among various “state and non-state actors.” Suslov suggests that Russia is using the diffusion of power, and subsequently weakened US diplomatic clout to its own advantage in reasserting itself as a major world force.

In regard to US involvement in Eurasia, Suslov suggests that the US has failed to take Russian concerns and threats seriously. Suslov argues that an American aversion to Putin and Russia, along with the lack attention to Russian concerns and threats, is the cause for America’s continual violation of both international law and constant threat to Russian strategic interests.

The difference in the case of Russia is in its non-capitulatory response to, as Suslov described it, America’s propensity for antagonism. It follows that, for Suslov, the US is to be blamed for the current hostility—not Russia. Russia is the victim of American antagonism— a victim who, unlike other victimized countries, refuses and will continue to refuse to capitulate— regardless of the Western economic sanctions’ considerable effects on the Russian economy (which has taken a substantial hit as a result). Suslov cited the tense standoff between Russian soldiers and NATO officials at Pristina airport in 1999 as an example of Russia’s long-standing and aggressive refusal to submit to perceived Western antagonism even amidst economic turmoil domestically.

Suslov is “pessimistic” about improvement in US-Russia relations— that is, at least until 2024 when the next American presidential and Putin’s own election cycle in Russia comes to a close. Only then, Suslov anticipates, will joint systematic reform in both the White House’s and the Kremlin’s foreign policy strategies occur.

According to a Hamilton News article published on Oct. 1, Suslov has co-authored more than 150 analytical papers for government agencies concerning the internal development of the European Union and relations between Russia and the European Union. In 2013-14 Hamilton College Professor of History Alan W. Cafruny was a Fulbright Scholar at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, where Suslov was a Senior Lecturer. Since then, Professor Cafruny and Suslov have together been involved in several collaborative projects on US-Russia-EU relations.

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