That the feeling of estrangement between Russia and its Western partners has eased was very much in sight at the G20 summit in Antalya, Russian President Vladimir Putin said afterwards. He stressed that the idea that Moscow had never turned its back on good relations with its partners either in the East or in the West. “If our partners do believe that time is ripe for making some changes to our relations, we will surely welcome that. We have never refused to work together or slammed the door tightly shut,” Putin said.
“All world mass media of authority have unanimously pointed to two phenomena,” columnist and political scientist Leonid Radzikhovsky writes in the government-published Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The West changed its attitude to Russia after the Paris massacre and Russia’s air bombing raids against the Islamic State. Nevertheless, the EU countries show no intention of cancelling sanctions against Russia.”
Russia’s drastic intervention in the war in Syria, he said, has changed the puzzle a great deal. “It was a demonstration of ultra-modern weapons — not at a test site, but in action. It was a show of political will. And it was a clear sign that Russia would easily find allies in the Middle East, if need be — without caring a bit about how the United States or the European Union might react.
“What is really new about the current situation is that this time Putin is confronted not with a ‘united West.’ A window of opportunity to cooperation is open widely. It was the Islamic State terrorists that smashed it and thrust it open. This rapprochement has manifested itself in a hundred different ways. The climate at the G20 summit was fundamentally different from what was seen a year ago. France’ President Francois Hollande called for creating a new ‘broad coalition,’ including the United States, France and Russia. Even the US Secretary of State mentioned “more than cautiously” the possibility of cooperating with Russia. Lastly, the most sensitive barometer — the Moscow Stock Exchange. Russian securities developed a steep climb from the very first day of the G20 forum. The RTS index has been up 8%, although the price of crude oil keeps falling! That’s how businesses reacted to the very sign of hope for a ‘new rapprochement’.”
Radzikhovsky believes that the emotional background has changed, too. But the question “What’s next?” remains.
“Relations are not changing cardinally. Saying there has been a warming will be wrong,” the deputy chief of the European security section at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, Dmitry Danilov, has told TASS. “But the West has developed greater awareness that Russia’s role in handling many international issues is very large, and no success can be achieved without cooperation with it. This understanding is certainly changing the attitude, but getting back to the pre-Ukrainian level in the foreseeable future will be impossible.”
That the harshness of criticism addressed to Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis has eased is a hard fact, though. “Whatever the complexities, a concerted policy by Russia and the West geared to achieving a way out of the crisis is an undeniable reality. This may produce a point of agreement. Alongside this the problem of Crimea is pushed into the background of practical politics regardless of sanctions,” Danilov said. “The way the West sees Russia’s policies remains unchanged, but the conflict now is less acute and mutual accusations have eased. This is quite an achievement. The West has developed the pragmatic understanding it would be far better not to inflate unsettled problems and to cooperate there where such interaction will benefit both sides.”
“For the time being changes in relations have been purely tactical and local,” senior research fellow Sergey Mikhailov, of the Center for Euro-Atlantic and Defense Research at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, has told TASS. “That the sanctions against Russia are still there is clear evidence of that.”
“There was a certain period of time when the ruble was in crisis and the West apparently thought (it was well-seen in some of Obama’s remarks) that Russia was on the brink of economic and psychological collapse, that it will no longer be able to conduct an independent policy and that from now on it will prefer to ‘toe the line.’ The situation in Syria has shown that Russia is capable of conducting an independent foreign policy. It has shown to one and all that it is a far stronger player than it looked to the West just a year ago.”
But as a matter of fact, Mikhailov said, neither the United States, nor Europe have revised their attitude to Russia. “They have realized, though, that Russia should be treated more delicately. In some respects it can be cooperated with, for instance, in Syria. Nothing of the sort would have happened, but for the terrorist attacks in Paris. A common enemy is capable of uniting its opponents for some time, but as soon as the enemy is gone, everything will get back to square one.