How US presidential elections 2020 to affect EU-Russia relations

Author : Carnegie Think tank

Source : Carnegie Moscow Center

Even a partial restoration of transatlantic unity is a blow to the picture of the world that is already familiar and convenient for the Russian leadership. The new, albeit purely temporary, consolidation of the West does not in any way fit into the official Kremlin narrative about the steady movement of the international system in the direction of polycentric world order
17:01, 29 October 2020

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Open source

For several long years now, the European Union has been conducting heavy positional battles on two fronts at once. On the eastern front, since 2014, Brussels has been confronting an insidious Moscow: it does not allow lifting of sanctions against Russia, it defends itself against all new information attacks by the Kremlin and seeks out traitors, collaborators, and capitulators in its discordant ranks.

On the western front, for almost four years now, Donald Trump has been pressing the European Union - a kind of bête noire of world politics, who insists on a revision of trade relations between the United States and Europe, supports Eurosceptics and dissidents within the European Union, and demands loyalty from the latter, bordering on a complete renunciation of European sovereignty...

History teaches that wars on two fronts, as a rule, do not end well - at least in the European theater. Brussels is still lucky that Moscow and Washington do not coordinate their operations with each other. But all the same, Europe has not yet succeeded in concluding a separate peace or at least achieving a stable ceasefire on any of the fronts. Numerous attempts to negotiate with the Kremlin or the White House without surrendering their positions, for various reasons, were unsuccessful.

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The diplomatic demarches of Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Ursula von der Leyen end up over and over again with another disappointment and paroxysm of Euro-pessimism. Geopolitical opponents of the European Union, both in the East and in the West, are not inclined to make any significant concessions, not to mention the readiness to discuss the issue of paying due reparations and indemnities to Brussels for the grievances and humiliations of past years.

After the sad incident with Alexei Navalny, the next round of negotiations on a separate peace in the East has been postponed indefinitely. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has generally questioned the advisability of continuing contacts between Moscow and Brussels. The Kremlin is hardly satisfied with the "new normalcy" in relations with Europe, but clearly, no one is going to discuss the terms of their surrender, even an honorable one. "War to the bitter end!" - the famous slogan of Pavel Milyukov seems to have not lost its relevance for the Russian leadership over the past century.

If Donald Trump is re-elected for a second presidential term, then there will be every reason to assume that the EU war on two fronts would continue for another four years. It would be naive on the part of European politicians to hope that after re-election to the egocentric master of the White House, a sudden illumination will descend and he will repent of his past sins, imbued with common Western values ​​or ideas of transatlantic solidarity.

Rather, the opposite is true: the inevitable difficulties of economic recovery after the crisis and the likely aggravation of confrontation with China will push the Republican administration to even tougher pressure on Europe. "They are worse than China, but less" - this categorical judgment of the 45th US President about the European Union reflects his basic beliefs, and therefore is not subject to revision. Trump considers a decisive course towards European allies one of the main achievements of his administration, and he intends to develop these achievements until 2024 inclusive.

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If Democrat Joe Biden takes over the White House next January, then change on the Western front will be inevitable. It is no coincidence that Europe is so closely following all the vicissitudes of the American election campaign. Of course, the many political, economic and strategic differences between Washington and Brussels will not go anywhere under the Democratic administration; a return to the good old days of Barack Obama or Bill Clinton is in any case not in sight.

But Joe Biden, with his background in foreign policy, with his understanding of European realities, with his penchant for compromise, will work hard to thoroughly restore the transatlantic relationship. We will not only hear the polyphony of pro-European rhetoric pouring out generously from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.

Most likely, we will also see more flexibility in Washington's trade negotiations with the EU, a new level of willingness to take European opinion into account in US approaches to global problems, America's increased attention to European positions in relation to regional crises, and so on. In short, the Democrats are ready, if not for eternal peace, then at least for a stable truce with Europe; they are definitely determined to unite with the Old World in the fight against the growing common geopolitical adversaries.

What does this mean for Moscow? First of all, even a partial restoration of transatlantic unity is a blow to the picture of the world that is already familiar and convenient for the Russian leadership. The new, albeit purely temporary, consolidation of the West does not fit into the official Kremlin narrative about the steady movement of the international system towards a multilateral (polycentric) world order. In general, the thesis about the inevitable onset of the "post-Western world" is losing its former credibility: it is possible that the revival of transatlantic unity will give the collective West a second wind and confidence in its strength. Even the fading Roman Empire experienced long periods of internal stabilization and recovery.

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In addition, the prospects, albeit not quite sincere reconciliation between Europe and America, inevitably change the internal balance of power within the European Union. Such prospects, among other things, are a severe blow to various Eurosceptics, to European populists and nationalists who are guided by Trump as a role model. It is also a blow to many of the Kremlin's political partners on the European continent. Biden's victory is a kind of doping for stubborn supporters of the very Western liberal values, which Moscow has already declared hopelessly outdated.

The change of administration in the White House (especially if it is complemented by the triumph of Democrats in Congress) will to some extent reduce, although it will not nullify, the EU's interest in normalizing relations with Russia. Having achieved an armistice on the western front, Brussels is quite capable of carrying out an operational transfer of its forces and assets to the eastern front.

USA Today

The American Democrat President, of course, will in every possible way encourage and support such a strategic redeployment, proceeding from the fact that the common confrontation with Russia should once again become one of the most important means for cementing the transatlantic partnership. If under the ostentatiously anti-European President Trump there was always an open window of opportunity for a mini-reset of relations between Moscow and Brussels, then under the Europhilist President Biden this window will inevitably turn into a window.

In all likelihood, Biden's victory will significantly limit the freedom of maneuver for Russian foreign policy in the European direction. Perhaps not only in Europe. The consolidation of the "aggregate West" will take place not only on the anti-Russian but also, to no less extent, on the anti-Chinese platform.

In its opposition to Beijing, the Biden administration will undoubtedly seek to expand the geography of its alliances and alliances beyond the North Atlantic. Building new US partnerships in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East will primarily target China, but will indirectly affect Russia as well. As far as one can judge, this should accelerate the movement of the international system towards bipolarity, increasing the level of Moscow's dependence on Beijing, with all the ensuing consequences.

Does all of the above mean that the coming to power of Biden and the strengthening of transatlantic interaction do not bode well for Moscow at all? Not at all necessary. It cannot be ruled out that the restoration of ties with Europe will restrain in some areas the destructive impulses emanating from Washington today.

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For example, one can count on the revival of the US interest in arms control, on some softening of the current uncompromising position on Iran, on a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian settlement. It is even possible that Biden will be more cautious about sanctions against European companies involved in the implementation of Nord Stream 2, although the United States, of course, will not abandon attempts to stop this project in one way or another.

In general, it can be assumed that US policy under Biden will become more professional, rational, consistent, and predictable. In some cases, the results of such a transformation will be more likely positive for Moscow, in others - more likely negative. America's new foreign policy style will generate both new opportunities and new challenges.

Of course, predicting US foreign policy under the Biden administration is a very risky business. It is difficult to predict what kind of relationship the Democratic president will have with the Republicans in Congress. It is unclear how much authority Biden will be willing to delegate to his team and who exactly will be appointed to key foreign policy posts. It is difficult to say what will be the foreign policy role of the ambitious and energetic Kamala Harris, the first-ever female vice president of the United States. It is not entirely clear what will happen in the coming years in the world.

However, taking into account all these and many other factors of uncertainty, it is permissible to put forward the hypothesis that Biden's victory could mark an important turning point in the development of the system of international relations in the first quarter of the 21st century. Turn from the accumulation of elements of instability and chaos in the system to gradual, albeit slow and inconsistent, systemic stabilization.

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Such a turn, no doubt, would mean a new reality for Moscow as well. The reality is more than complicated, calling into question some of the well-established ideas in Russia about the direction in which the world is developing and whose sails are filled with the wind of history. Continuing the analogy with military history, it can be assumed that in this reality, the idea of ​​a new Brest-Litovsk Peace for Russia would no longer seem completely absurd.

Andrey Kortunov

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