Those who care about U.S.-Russian security cooperation have been forced since the early 2000s to keep finding fresh ways to describe each downward step. Relations have repeatedly hit “their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.” A recent Washington Post op-ed opened with the vivid image of U.S.-Russian relations being “deep in a ditch.”
The most recent round in the downward spiral began last year, when the Obama administration responded to strong evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by seizing two diplomatic compounds and expelling 35 Russian diplomats, among other punitive actions. President Putin initially hoped that President Trump would make good on his campaign promises to repair relations with Russia and cooperate closely against shared threats by returning the compounds and lifting U.S. sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine. As questions mounted in Washington about possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, though, the political costs of making friendly overtures to Russia became prohibitively high. In late July, Russia ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic staff by more than 60 percent and seized some of its diplomatic property. The United States then ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two other offices, while describing the move as carefully calibrated to avoid causing further escalation.
This type of Tit-for-Tat behavior does look cartoonishly Cold War-like. But it has real-world consequences that extend far beyond the two countries’ diplomatic relations. Most of the forums, working groups, and other mechanisms through which U.S. and Russian officials have traditionally exchanged views, raised concerns, and coordinated policies were suspended after the annexation of Crimea. The types of interactions that CISSM has been conducting with the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies (ISKRAN) in Moscow for the past 15 years have become one of the few long-standing mechanisms through which current and future U.S. and Russian security experts can routinely interact. But this has been made more difficult too, because a low-visibility consequence of the deep cuts in U.S. embassy staff in Moscow was the cancellation of most visa appointments, including one for Oleg Kripolapov, the ISKRAN Ph.D. student who had been chosen to spend the fall semester at CISSM.
After a month delay, we learned today that Oleg has finally gotten his visa interview rescheduled. We hope it will go smoothly, and that he will be able to join us soon. Each of the previous ISKRAN students who spent a semester at CISSM exposed our students to different perspectives on world events, from the Beslan School siege in 2004 through Trump’s election in 2016, and developed an appreciation for non-Russian perspectives. The diplomatic value of these exchange programs was captured well in an op-ed published in the Moscow Times by Ekaterina Kudrina (our 2014 ISKRAN visiting fellow) after Russia pulled out of the FLEX student exchange program during the downward spiral set off by the crisis in Ukraine.
To ensure continued dialogue between American and Russian experts, scholars, and students in spite of the tensions, CISSM is launching a new blog, The Bear and the Eagle. Our hope is that this space can serve as a platform for current and former researchers and students at CISSM and ISKRAN, as well as others who care about U.S.-Russia security cooperation, to share ideas about how relations might be lifted out of a deep ditch and put back on an upward path again. We plan to feature new opinion pieces and commentary on current events, as well as previously published work that remains relevant today. We invite readers to submit their own contributions to email@example.com