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  The U.S. and Russia: the Geopolitical Twins?

Maksym Khylko, PhD in Philosophy, MA in International Relations, Research Fellow at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University
2012 05 14

On the eve of each election traditional passions are inflamed over the "global confrontation" between Russiaand the U.S. But if to look at both states with unbiased external view, it becomes evident that great French philosopher Raymon Aron was right when half a century ago in his "Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations" called Russia and the U.S. "the enemy partners".

In the trap of false geopolitical imperatives

During their relatively short histories Russia and the U.S. have shown an amazing ability to alternate tremendous success with talentless defeats, charming appeal with a complete reprobation, but still maintain youth of national spirit, aggressive persistence, unwavering ambition and... irresistible urge to repeat the mistakes of each other.

Comparative evaluation of the history of birth and growth of Russia and the U.S. as colonial transcontinental empires allows to discover more common than different features. Both Moscow and Washington have inherited geopolitical missions from their former parent states, the first one—from the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, the second one—from the British Empire. Russia and the U.S. both expanded geographically toward the Pacific Ocean, where they met in Alaska, the destiny of which both empires determined peacefully.

Since times of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Halford John Mackinder geopolitical theory has been dominated by the ideas, later enthusiastically picked up by Eurasians and Atlanticists, of eternal confrontation between Russia and the United States as their geopolitical destiny—as confrontation between the Land and the Sea, between the Tellurocracy and the Thalassocracy. Paying tribute to the mentioned outstanding thinkers of the past, one should note that technological progress, development of communications, leveling of distances importance, proliferation of mass destruction weapons, omnipresent international terrorism, cyber attacks, interlacing of governments and transnational corporations, and shifting of world politics epicenter from Trans-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific region, nullify attempts to adapt to modern realities geopolitical schemes, which have survived their usefulness half-century ago.

In fact there are no radical differences which could doom Russia and the U.S. to perpetual hostility. On the contrary, the domination of common features makes these states to be inveterate competitors and indispensable partners simultaneously.

Imperial mentality of the winners

Seeing in any part of the world tourists who don't know the local language and customs, there is no doubt they are either Americans or Russians who sincerely believe that the locals must understand them, not vice versa. It is exactly the way Russian and American leaders behave it the international arena, being convinced that their ideologies and social models should be adopted by other nations, their languages should be the languages of international communication, their currencies should be means of international payments, and the presence of their troops is a great boon for the country of their location.

Americans sincerely believe that they protect post-Soviet nations from Russia and protect Asia-Pacific countries from China. Russians also believe that all post-Soviet nations should be happy to remain under their "brotherly" care.

Both Moscow and Washington have deeply rooted imperial ambitions, feelings of messianism and exceptionalism; they strongly intend to impose their lifestyles to other countries. Americans and Russians sincerely believe that have the right and even obligation to sermonize nations of much older cultures. Although the U.S. and Russia have given the world the whole constellation of truly outstanding figures of culture and art, at the state level they cultivate rather primitive pop cultures, using them to spread their ideologies and lifestyles in the world.

Possessing brilliant forward-looking strategic foreign policy thinking, Moscow and Washington prefer global geopolitical projects. For Russia now it is the Eurasian Union and for the U.S. it is the "America's Pacific Century" project as Hillary Clinton called it.

For almost half a century Moscow and Washington compete in attempts to tame the millennial Chinese dragon that just has found a recipe of its revival. Wise Chinese are the only beneficiaries from this mutually destructive competition: Russia helps China to strengthen its political position while the United States do the same in the sphere of economy. Exactly for these positions Beijing may soon set them aside, claiming for the political position of Russia in Eurasia and for the economic position of the U.S. in the world.

Adherents of the Realpolitik and of the Hard Power

Possessing the world's largest nuclear arsenals, Russia and the U.S. are probably the only countries that have no reason to fear direct military invasion. At the same time both states don't hesitate to use force to achieve political purposes, and both do that hiding behind the humanitarian intervention rhetoric (just recall Yugoslavia and Georgia etc.).

Being Realpolitik and Hard Power adherents, the U.S. and Russia often interfere in the internal affairs of the countries considered as their "spheres of influence". Numerous coups d'etat in Latin America and Africa, "colored" revolutions and counterrevolutions in a number of post-Soviet states are vivid examples. Established by the Monroe and Brezhnev doctrines politics does not lose its relevance, just geographical contours of spheres of influence are changing.

Ascribing to themselves similar merits of "fighters for liberation from imperialism", Russia and the U.S. with varying success continue to divide spheres of influence. After the collapse of the USSR mutual penetration into previously untouchable spheres has happened: Washington got allies in Eastern Europe while Moscow strengthened ties with Latin America. In addition the U.S. decided to repeat the Soviet Russia mistake of entering Afghanistan—with almost the same "success".

By strong support it the right time Russia and the U.S. easily find their allies, but over time they lose them with the same ease, alienating them with excessive patronage and with attempts to assign the right to act on behalf of the protégé it the international arena. Moreover, the allies of Washington and Moscow could not help noticing that their patrons are interested in permanent tensions that artificially produce a demand for their protection and military presence. Without instability in the Caucasus it would be difficult for Moscow to prove Armenia the need for its support as well as without the constant tensions in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula it would be difficult for Washington to prove the value of its support for Israel, Japan and Korea.

Greatness requires responsibility

Playing irreconcilable rivalry aimed at attracting patriots' votes, the U.S. and Russia, however, support each other on key international issues, understanding mutual dependence. Washington was the major promoter for the Russian WTO membership, and Moscow provides its territory for transit of the U.S. troops and military equipment to Afghanistan.

If Europe would prefer to deal with a weak Russia, which would not frighten Europe with its power (famous French political thinker Emmanuel Todd clearly writes about it in his book "After the Empire. The Breakdown of the American Order", Chapter 7 "The Return of Russia"), the U.S. on the contrary needs a strong Russia as an opponent (to keep allies toned and to justify bloated military budgets) as well as a partner (to solve together such serious problems as the proliferation of mass destruction weapons, the international terrorism, etc.).

Today's Russia also needs strong United States with active foreign policy since Moscow doesn't want to stay alone with rapidly rising China, which peacefully but firmly ousts the Russians from their traditional area of ​​influence in Central Asia, actively upgrades relations with Belarus and Ukraine, and gradually populates the Russian cities in the Far East.

Civilized world needs both strong U.S. and Russia, because exit of one of them out of great international game would lead to geopolitical disequilibrium, global power imbalance, chaos burst risks in some regions, a number of local wars, and the growing influence of other, more aggressive claimants on world domination.

The question isn't "whether the world needs the U.S. and Russia", but rather "what should they be" to correspond to their geopolitical status in the world.

The world is not interested in the U.S. and Russian antagonism similar to the Ancient Greek Athens and Sparta conflicts, but as well the world does not need a union aimed at distribution of spheres of influence similar to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In today's world leadership should be deserved but not conquered.

Egotism, arrogance and adventurism of both empires reject from them even those allies who owe them a lot but don't intend to pay an exorbitant price for that anymore. Europe, Japan and Israel are increasingly displeased with Washington making key international politics decisions without taking into account their positions. Arrogant attitude of Moscow and exorbitant appetites of Russian business make even Russophile governments in Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia countries seeking support elsewhere.

It is worth for Washington and Moscow to think over reducing the intensity of mostly imaginary and insincere struggle, which gives benefits only for the political populists and for the military-industrial complex circles. The U.S. and Russia should stop consider they are allowed to decide fates of other nations and to impose their models of governing and economics development. And finally they should learn to hear their allies who have the will to support them, but do not agree to lackey.

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