The U.S. foreign policy towards Russia has evolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Different U.S administrations employ different policies such as diplomacy, cooperation, trade relations, and economic sanctions. Since the inauguration of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Russia has developed into a formidable player in global politics, competing with the U.S for influence. This essay’s thesis states that the U.S. foreign policy towards Russia has shifted from soft to hard power exacerbated by events such as U.S. rejection of Russia’s sphere of influence, Ukraine war, Crimea annexation, and Russian cyber-attacks against the U.S. government. The paper will focus on the different U.S administration’s foreign policies towards Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The paper will first analyze the U.S. bipartisan foreign policy towards Russia through the cooperation between presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton. The main element of the foreign policy included cooperation through treaties and diplomacy. In addition, the paper analyzes president Dimitry Medvedev and Barrack Obama’s diplomatic relations and economic policies after the 2008 financial crisis (Wallin, 2017). The second part of the paper analyzes events that led to the deteriorated relationship between the U.S. and Russia. The first element was the U.S. rejection of Russia’s sphere of influence which extended to post-Soviet states. Russia views the frontiers of the post-Soviet states as the major security threat to the country.
In addition, the essay focuses on the effects of NATO’s extension of its operations to Russia’s sphere of influence. The paper also analyzes the context of the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 on U.S. foreign policy (Mackinnon, 2021). Furthermore, the paper will discuss the implications of Russia’s cyber-attacks on U.S. government agencies, including the 2016 U.S election and the 2020 SolarWind attack. Lastly, the paper will discuss hard power instruments such as economic sanctions against Russia following the collapse of bilateral relations between the two countries.
U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Russia
The U.S. foreign policy is the collection of policies that determine America’s relation with other countries. It includes; diplomacy, military, and security policy, international human rights policy, and economic policies. The U.S. foreign policy goals include providing security, creating prosperity, and a better world by protecting human rights. This essay’s thesis states that the U.S. foreign policy towards Russia has shifted from soft to hard power exacerbated by events such as U.S. refusal to accept Russia’s sphere of influence, Ukraine war, Crimea annexation, and Russian cyberattacks against the U.S. government. The paper will first focus on the soft power the U.S. foreign policy towards Russia utilized after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The second part will discuss the changes in U.S foreign policy to hard power due to NATO influence in Russia’s sphere of influence, the Ukraine war, Crimea annexation, and Russian cyber-attacks against the U.S. Finally, the paper discusses the hard power instruments imposed on Russia.
U.S. Foreign Policy After the Collapse of Soviet Union
According to an article by Wallin (2017), the U.S adopted a bipartisan foreign policy to promote foreign investment and facilitate global cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The U.S supported Russia’s European integration and bilateral partnerships in military cooperation to reinforce stability. The West assumed that Russia had shaken off the shackles of Soviet communism and that its citizens favored freedom of political expression and access to free markets, elements that were reserved for Americans and Europeans. The U.S. foreign policy towards the Russian Federation pursued changing Russia’s political patterns through soft powers such as treaties and agreements. The then Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, and the U.S president forged close relations as their collaboration was instrumental to advancing each leader’s interests. According to Mackinnon (2021), Yeltsin was eager to shrug off political constraints in Russia’s political scene, and Clinton aimed to open Russia’s economy to western investments.
The U.S sent diplomatic convoys to Russia to work with officials in the developing Russian private sector to foster political and economic partnerships. In addition, the U.S utilized soft power strategies to try to woo Russia to become a democratic nation. The first treaty signed was the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II) in Moscow in 1993 between president George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin (Rumer & Sokolsky, 2019). The treaty aimed at reducing nuclear weapons in their respective nation’s arsenal. The two cold war adversaries also signed a multilateral treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), aiming to reduce troops and arms in Central Europe.
Furthermore, the two nations negotiated German reunification and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After the Cold War, Russia and the U.S also agreed on a charter for Europe’s security and stability called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The two countries cooperation also extended to the middle east conflicts where they worked together to deal with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait led by Saddam Hussein. There are two prominent periods where there was enhanced diplomatic cooperation between the U.S. and Russia; the Afghanistan war post 9/11 and the reset period during the Obama administration. First, Russia supported the U.S military in the first phase of the Afghanistan war by providing Soviet-era maps and intelligence collected from its decade-long war.
Second, the Obama administration changed the U.S. foreign policy, leading to the diplomatic relation between Russian president Dimitry Medvedev and resident Barrack Obama. The Obama administration sought to change the previous foreign policy where the U.S acted unilaterally without regard for the United Nations (U.N.) authorizations, such as the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003. As a result, U.S-Russian cooperation improved as the Obama administration wanted Russia’s influence to promote nuclear arms non-proliferation. On the other hand, Russia wanted to increase western capital to resolve the consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis and diversify the economy.
Changes in U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Russia
One of the most critical aspects of the U.S. foreign policy that led to the deteriorated bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia was the European-initiated security infringement into the Eurasian space. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the satellite states that were part of the USSR broke off and gained independence, further undermining the emergent Russian Federation. The U.S. foreign policy did not consider Russia’s right to a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet states. Russia defined its security perimeter as the borders of the former Soviet Union, thus demands that the U.S and European Union acknowledge this right.
The U.S rejected this proposal of a sphere of influence and demanded that Russia’s satellite states have a right to choose their policy orientation. Russia views the security of its frontiers occupied by the past Soviet states as crucial for the homeland’s security. The security apparatus in Russia believes that Russia’s security can only be ensured through Russia’s maintenance of a reliable sphere of influence over its neighbors (Stent, 2020). Russia had spent the last three decades attempting to restore the country’s power when the Soviet Union collapsed. According to Moscow, the original sin in the U.S -Russia relationship is the expansion of NATO to include former members of the Warsaw Pact. The US-Russia relations deteriorated further in 1997 when the Alliance leaders invited Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary to join NATO.
NATO was initially formed to counter the Soviet Union threat. The Soviet Union engineered the creation of the Warsaw Pact to counter the growing influence of NATO. The original members included the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Albania. Russia did not conceive that the former Soviet Unions could join NATO since it would diminish their influence over the Eurasian region (Edmonds, 2019). A consistent goal of Russian foreign policy has been to rebuild the close ties with neighboring states that were once part of the Soviet Union. Many observers interpret this policy as laying claim to a sphere of influence thus reject the move.
The event that led to the deterioration of the current U.S. foreign policy towards Russia was NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. NATO’s intervention was elicited by Yugoslavia’s ethnic cleansing of Albanians, a situation that threatened the region’s stability. However, NATO launched its campaign without the U.N.’s approval. The then-incoming President Vladimir Putin viewed the decision as contrary to international law and as a threat to the security of Russia (Snyder, 2017). Furthermore, the U.S. -Russian cooperation reached its nadir after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea and the interference in the 2016 U.S presidential election.
Russia has faced U.S. sanctions following its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. In addition, Russia was accused of violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries such as Ukraine. Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The importance of Ukraine to Russia is embedded with the makeup of the Ukrainian people and their history as a former Soviet Union territory. Most people who live in the center and West of the country speak Ukrainian, while Russian-speaking people dominate the south and have stronger ties to their former soviet identity.
Ukraine was an integral part of the former USSR, during which the Russian culture and language were at the forefront of everyday Ukrainian life. During the cold war, the former USSR created a massive nuclear arsenal, and a lot of it was part of the then-Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Nuclear weapons remained in the country after the country’s independence in 1991. However, Ukraine gave Russia its nuclear weapons in 1995 for a promise to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. In 2000, Russia signed a deal with the European Union to reaffirm Ukraine’s independence once again. In addition, Russia stated it would allow Ukraine and any other former Soviet states to make treaties with any nation they wanted. However, this agreement fell apart in 2014 when the democratically elected government of pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych announced that it was not signing a long-negotiated association agreement with the European Union. The deal would give Ukraine political and financial support, but Yanukovych was going forward with a Russia-focused Eurasian economic model. As a result, protests erupted in the capital, Kyiv, and the Euromaidan Revolution ultimately led to Yanukovych fleeing the country.
The geographical location of Ukraine is critical to both Russia and the European Union. There are two possible scenarios; one, if Ukraine leans towards the E.U., it puts European and NATO influence on another of Russia’s border and two, if it allies with Russia, it brings Moscow’s influence deeper into European territory and also threatening NATO (Karaganov & Suslov, 2018). Since the 2014 crisis, Ukraine strengthened ties with the European Union signing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) in 2016, which allowed Ukraine access to parts of the E.U. single market.
In April 2014, pro-Russian separatists took control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, thereby violating the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russian-backed separatists and Russian troops with no insignia occupied the conflict zone known as Donbas ousting legitimate authorities. More than 10,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. The escalation of violence and protests across the region as Russian troops increase has Ukrainians feel that Russia has invaded their country and targets other pro-Russia regions. The United States is a strong ally of the new Ukrainian government, accused Russia of violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries. The U.S. responded by imposing economic sanctions on Russian citizens close to Putin and Russia’s ability to access financial markets.
Amid the Ukrainian political unrest, Russia sent special forces into the Crimean Peninsula, strategically located dividing the sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Most Ukrainians residing in the peninsula claimed the Russian language as their mother tongue and felt stronger ties to their eastern neighbors. The Crimea Referendum of self-determination conducted in 2014 backed secession from Ukraine to join Russia, where approximately 93% of Crimea citizens backed the secession. Western observers claimed the election was rigged and that double voting was going on as those who voted were not citizens of Crimea.
Western observers claimed that the majority of those who voted were Russian citizens. The Russian government denied these reports as they stated that the referendum results portrayed the feelings of Crimea citizens. Russian President Vladimir Putin also put across the democratic argument that states that people have a right to self-determination, enshrined in the United Nations charter. Putin has also been flirting with the idea of the Russian-speaking people of southern and eastern Ukraine. Western observers are keenly analyzing whether Putin will use this claim of self-determination to take that former Soviet Union land.
The U.N. General Assembly, Ukraine, and many world leaders rejected the vote citing numerous international agreements where Russia had pledged to uphold the geographical integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine (Götz, & Merlen, 2019). However, Russian president Putin defended the move as complying with the will of the people. Since the annexation of Crimea, Russia gained control of both sides of the Kerch Strait, the only waterway connecting the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The Russian army constructed a bridge connecting the two sides and cutting off Ukraine from the passage. Ukraine and Russia have had an agreement dating back to 2003 that allows both countries to use the waterway. There were reports that Russia has already crossed into Southern Ukraine trying to grab some natural gas facilities. The invasion is particularly due to the geographical location of Crimea since it is attached to Ukraine. There are only two bridges in and out of Crimea; thus, the area must rely on Southern Ukraine and Kyiv to provide them with gas and electricity.
Cyber Attacks Against the U.S. Government
In 2016, Russian intelligence was accused of meddling in the U.S. democratic process by the Obama administration. A declassified report by the top U.S intelligence agencies accused the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a unit directly under Vladimir Putin’s control, of the perpetrator. The report states that Putin ordered the cyber-attacks and social media campaigns to disrupt the 2016 elections. The disruption had two prominent elements; online propaganda, hacking into and exposing political organizations, and individual emails. The Russian disinformation campaign sprawled over Facebook, Google, and Twitter through a web of automated social media bots and accounts. Twitter and Facebook identified a troll farm in St Petersburg called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) that created and operated some accounts.
The agency had a history of pushing pro-Kremlin agenda and waging social media campaigns against the U.S. In addition, Russian hackers used phishing attacks to penetrate the Democratic National Committee and individual emails, such as the Hillary Clinton campaign manager. The hacked information was released using Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 Persona, affiliated with the Russian military. The U.S. intelligence agencies determined the hacks to undermine confidence in the elections and actively help Trump win the presidency (Sloan, 2020). In 2020, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) perpetrated the SolarWinds cyber-attack where government agencies were targeted. SolarWinds Corp is a major US technology firm that was hacked, spreading the virus to its clients such as Microsoft Inc, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Treasury Department.
Sanctions Imposed on Russia
The U.S. foreign policy towards Russia shifted to a hard power after Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S elections, its stance on Ukraine and Crimea annexation, and the SolarWinds attack. The U.S. has focused on financial and personal sanctions on business people working for the Russian government. In addition, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions intended to isolate Russia from taking part in the global economy. In 2014, the U.S treasury placed Ukraine-related sanctions on eight Russian citizens who were instrumental in annexing Crimea, four of whom had close ties with the Russian president. In addition, companies that had close trade ties with Crimea were sanctioned, thus increasing the cost of occupying Crimea.
Western sanctions on Russia have been quite effective in two regards. First, they stopped Vladimir Putin’s preannounced military offensive into Ukraine in the summer of 2014. Secondly, they significantly damaged the Russian economy and reduced foreign direct investments and credit. Since 2014, the Russian economy has grown by an average of 0.3% per annum compared to the global average of 2.3% per annum, leading to a $50billion loss per year. In addition, the sectoral sanctions deterred the trade in the energy sector, exacerbating the loss. Russia also imposed counter-sanctions on foodstuff from the U.S. The 2014 sanctions aimed at striking a balance between cautioning Russia’s disruptive behavior in Ukraine and avoiding plummeting the US-Russia relations.
In 2021, the Biden administration imposed further sanctions on Russia after interfering with the 2016 U.S presidential election. The most critical economic sanction imposed on Russia’s economy was the prohibition of U.S institutions from buying Russian bonds, thus making it harder for Russia to borrow money on international financial markets (Foy, Manson, & Peel, 2021). In addition, the Biden administration barred U.S financial institutions from participating in the primary market for the newly issued ruble sovereign bonds. The limitation of Russia from accessing the international financial market exploits Russia’s weak economy, which is overwhelmingly financed through the sale of oil and gas.
Oil is a critical Russian export commodity contributing 30% of the country’s GDP. The drop in the global price of oil has exposed Russia’s vulnerability to sanctions targeting sovereign debt. The U.S. government also expelled 10 Russian diplomats, some of whom represent Russian intelligence services. The executive order also directs sanctions against six Russian companies for providing technical support to the Russian intelligence service. In addition, the Treasury blacklisted 32 companies and individuals that aided the Russian government’s attempt to influence the election through misinformation.
The U.S. foreign policy towards Russia has evolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result, this essay’s thesis states that the U.S. foreign policy towards Russia has shifted from soft to hard power exacerbated by U.S. rejection of Russia’s sphere of influence, Ukraine war, Crimea annexation, and Russian cyber-attacks against the U.S. government. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. embraced bipartisan relations through improved diplomatic relations and cooperation. However, the U.S. government’s refusal to accept the Russian sphere of influence, Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and Crimea annexation, and Russian cyber-attacks against the U.S. have led to a deteriorated relationship culminating in the imposition of sanctions.