By Guan Zhaoyu & Zhang Tingting Source: Global Times Published: 2018-3-22
Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election victory with 76.65 percent of the vote in Sunday`s election. His annual State of the Union address this year revealed that the Russian president will review domestic and foreign policies in his fourth term. US-Russia ties, an important link in Kremlin`s foreign affairs, will likely cause a domino effect and affect Russia`s relations with Washington`s allies. US-Russia slipped into a dark period with the Ukraine crisis and the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. So, in Putin`s fourth term, will Moscow-Washington ties encounter new hurdles?
Anti-Russian sentiment is deeply rooted in the US. The allegation of Russian interference in 2016 US presidential election demonstrates that popular anti-Russian sentiment has changed to political correctness. The US-Russia trade volume, standing short of $20 billion, lacks an economic buffer and convergence of interests. As long as the strategic rivalry between the two countries lasts, tensions are unlikely to die down.
For Russia, the disappointment with Trump has deepened its elites` distrust for the US. However, Washington is the key to cooperation between Moscow and the West. As a pragmatic leader, Putin will not close the door of cooperation, nor will he damage bilateral relations. But he`s expected to staunchly resist Washington`s strategic squeeze.
Ukraine remains a major cause of antagonism in Russia-US ties. The 2015 Minsk agreement has derailed and become defunct. In December 2017, the Trump administration approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, increasing the possibility of the conflict escalation in the country.
Somewhat like in Ukraine, Russia and the US got embroiled in the Syrian conflict. The Russian military has helped Syria regain almost all its lost territory after two years of warfare. Putin announced troop withdrawal from Syria in December, leaving Russia at a temporary competitive advantage. The US does not consider troop withdrawal, and Russia will set up two permanent military bases in Syria`s port of Tartus and Khmeimim air base. In the future, therefore, Russia-US competition in this region will continue but will not turn into a conflagration.
The intensity of Russia-US rivalry in Northeast Asia is lower than in other regions. However, whether on the North Korean issue or the THAAD deployment row, the US has a strategically central role. Considering US` special influence on its allies` foreign policy, Washington will maintain a strategic initiative in the competition in Northeast Asia.
The Arctic region will become a new area of Russia-US competition due to its unique geography. In 2017, Russia announced that the "Arctic Trefoil" military base has begun to start operations, further shortening the missile range between Russia and the US.
In addition, Russia has made significant progress in setting up military organizations and bases in the Arctic and developing weapons, which will be a major threat to US security as its military bases in the Arctic are mainly based in Alaska. The US released a National Strategy for the Arctic Region in 2013, elevating the importance of the region. The region will become a new area of competition between the two countries.
Besides, China and Russia have made significant progress in jointly constructing the "Silk Road on Ice" with the launch of Yamal LNG project. After Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev`s visit to China, it is clear that China and Russia will continue cooperation in the development of the Arctic Northeast Passage, which will become a challenge for the US.
The US is China`s largest trading partner and has intertwined economic interests with Beijing. Russia is China`s largest neighbor. It is of great significance for China to well handle ties with the US and Russia, grasp the "changed" and "unchanged" factors in US-Russia relations and give shape to a favorable triangular relationship between China, the US and Russia.
Guan Zhaoyu is an associate research fellow with Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. Zhang Tingting, visiting scholar of the Eastern Institute, Russian Far Eastern Federal University.