Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US needs to engage Russia with carrots, as well as sticks

While it was inevitable that the two countries would find themselves in a standoff, a think tank president argues interaction is essential to stop further escalation

By Richard N. Haass

What more should the US do, beyond reducing the vulnerability of voting machines and requiring technology firms to take steps to prevent foreign governments from trying to influence US politics?


First, Americans must recognize that defense is not enough. Congress is right to call for additional sanctions and US President Donald Trump is wrong to refuse to implement sanctions that the US Congress has already passed.

The US government also needs to find its voice and criticize a Russian regime that arrests its opponents and reportedly murders journalists.

If Trump, for whatever reason, continues to coddle Russia, then Congress, the media, foundations and academics should publicly detail the corruption that characterizes Putin’s rule. Circulating such information might increase internal opposition to Putin, persuade him to hold off on further interference in US and European politics and, over time, buttress more responsible forces within Russia.

At the same time, the objective should not be to end what little remains of the US-Russian relationship, which is already in worse shape than it was for much of the first Cold War. Diplomatic cooperation should be sought whenever it is possible and in the US’ interest.

Russia might well be willing to stop interfering in eastern Ukraine in exchange for a degree of sanctions relief, if it could be assured that ethnic Russians there would not face reprisals. Likewise, the Kremlin has no interest in a military escalation in Syria that would increase the relatively modest cost of its intervention there.

At the same time, Russian support is needed to tighten sanctions against North Korea. Maintaining arms-control arrangements and avoiding a new nuclear arms race would be in the interest of both countries.

There is thus a case for regular diplomatic meetings, cultural and academic exchanges, and visits to Russia by congressional delegations — not as a favor, but as a means to make clear that many Americans are open to a more normal relationship with Russia if it were to act with greater restraint.

The US and its partners have a large stake in greater Russian restraint while Putin remains in power — and in a Russia characterized by something other than Putinism after he is gone.

Richard N. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, served as director of policy planning for the US Department of State from 2001 to 2003, and was former US president George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and coordinator for the future of Afghanistan.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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