One of Donald Trump’s few unambiguous foreign-policy commitments when he took office last year was to mend Washington’s relationship with the Russian Federation, which had been worsening for the previous half-decade. Trump’s opposite number in Moscow, Vladimir Putin, seemed eager to reciprocate. Instead of improving, however, U.S.-Russian relations have continued to deteriorate. Old notes of disagreement have been sharpened and new ones—in geo-politics, geo-economics, and geo-ideas—have emerged. What are the reasons for this downward spiral? How far will it go? Is it fair to say we are witnessing a new Cold War? What are and will be the consequences for international peace and stability? Professor Colton will address these questions with reference to the broad agenda and to specific points of conflict, including the now chronic Ukraine crisis, American and Western sanctions, Syria, Iran, arms control, energy, and dealings with China. He will also share thoughts on the domestic determinants that increasingly complicate the relationship, especially on the U.S. side, and may well be locking in its most adversarial aspects for the indefinite future.
On June 7, 2018, Timothy J. Colton, Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies, of the Department of Government at Harvard University, delivered a public lecture on the future of US-Russia relations. The talk began with a detailed overview of their bilateral relationship, beginning from the early stages of the Cold War just after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, to a recent interview given by current Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Austria. US-Russia ties have endured highs and lows, driven by a combination of mutual distrust, ideological differences, mutual threat perceptions, strategic beliefs, as well as domestic politics. For Professor Colton, the failure of the anticipated US-Russia rapprochement - referred to as the “thwarted ‘reset’” – had been driven by four elements. These were: (1) international systemic factors; (2) leadership factors in both the White House and Kremlin; (3) domestic resistance to President Donald Trump’s pronounced early interest in the reset in relationship; and (4) Factor X, namely, alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. He then noted that the public polls in both countries indicated the lowest reciprocal popularity levels following the 2014 Ukraine Crisis. Despite the many challenges, Professor Colton remained optimistic. He did not think that bilateral relations were at their lowest point and believed that phrases like the “New Cold War” and “Hot Peace”, while increasingly popular, did not necessarily paint an accurate picture of the current US-Russia relationship.