The notion that Russia is ideologically opposed to democracy flies in the face of its robust ties with India, Israel and Japan and the U.S. must work with the Kremlin on matters of common interest, said George Beebe, former director of CIA’s Russia analysis. Mr. Beebe is currently Director for Intelligence and National Security at the Center for the National Interest, a think tank in Washington.

“Russia does not oppose democracy per se. The very fact that Russia has strong relationships with India, Israel, Japan… many other countries is proof that they are not concerned whether a country is democratic or not. I think what Russia is concerned about is evangelical democratisation on the part of the U.S. Attempting to democratise Russia or countries around Russia in ways that Moscow believes have destabilising effects and also hurt Russian security. That they oppose. I don’t believe at all Russia is opposed to democracy in any ideological way.”

Mr. Beebe said President Donald Trump of the U.S. and President Vladimir Putin of Russia should not get very ambitious in their goals, given the domestic divisions in America on relations with Russia. The Presidents are scheduled to meet in Helsinki this week.

“There are many people in the country who have a hard time understanding how Trump could have become President. For many people, it is easier to believe that the election result was a product of some extraordinary collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign than it is to believe that Trump actually won a majority in the electoral college. Those divisive feelings… have limited the Trump administration’s ability to conduct a normal diplomatic relationship with Russia,” Mr. Beebe, who was a special advisor to Vice-President Dick Cheney for Russia/Eurasia and Intelligence Programmes, told
The Hindu
in an interview.

Conflict of interest

“There are a number of issues on which Washington and Moscow have a real conflict of interest. But the state of the overall relationship is much much more harder and dangerous than it should be given the areas of disagreement. I think it has reached a point where it has become quite dangerous.”

Mr. Beebe said there are many issues that require the U.S. to cooperate with Russia. “One is strategic stability. Washington and Moscow are the world’s largest strategic nuclear powers and hence we have a special responsibility to the world, to maintain their relations in a way that brings broader stability to the world order. However, the strategic order is changing, with China growing its nuclear power and new nuclear powers assert. India is one among them,” he said.

Changing order

“Russia and China have an interest in maintaining stability in this changing order. The second area of common interest is counterterrorism. Nuclear non-proliferation is the third area. Russia has a different way of dealing with this as we see in the case of Iran. Those are legitimate subjects for diplomatic engagement.”

According to the expert, American efforts to isolate Russia were bound to fail and it should not try to do that. The U.S. should not be troubled by the fact that its friends such as India or Israel have good relations with Russia. “In principle, there should not be a problem. It becomes a problem only when the U.S. tries to deal with Russia by seeking to isolate it internationally. And we did attempt to do that in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”

“We imposed sanctions and tried to isolate Russia. At the moment, we are not trying to do that and I don’t think it is possible to isolate a country that is so large and so influential, with so many connections around the world. That kind of an approach was bound to fail. So, given that we can’t isolate Russia, the fact that friends and allies of the U.S want productive relationship with Russia should not be troubling to us.”

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