photo by Reuters/Mikhail Metzel/RIA Novosti/Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference in Moscow's Kremlin
This commentary appeared on Voice of America Russian Service on December 31, 2013.
2013 has been a tumultuous year in U.S.-Russian relations — but that isn't unusual. Over the last decade or so, the two countries have continued a pattern of both cooperation and tension, with each new example leading some to ask if a page has been turned, but it never has. In its own way, the relationship is quite stable — the two countries have divergent interests in some areas, over which they clash, and aligned interests in others, where they collaborate. Add to this the tendency on Russia's part to seek opportunities to present itself, at home and abroad, as “standing up” to the United States and its international agenda, and it seems safe to predict that this pattern will continue.
Of many notable events this year, I want to highlight three as emblematic of the worst, the oddest, and the best in this relationship. Worst is probably Russia's ban on adoptions of Russian orphans by American families, which came in response to Congress' passage of the Magnitsky Act. This cynical action played on Russian public opinion, and has doubtless left children far worse off this holiday season than they could have been otherwise. The oddest is Russia granting asylum to Edward Snowden. Whatever one may think of the morality of his acts, Snowden's leaks of classified information would have been no more legal in Russia than they were in the United States. It is thus difficult to see the Russian action as anything other than twisting an opportune thorn into America's side. The best, however, was the deal over Syria. With the United States and its allies poised to take military action against the Assad regime, Russia, which had stayed firm in its opposition to military strikes, found an eleventh-hour solution, averting foreign intervention (although the bloody conflict continues). This deal truly was a triumph of Russian diplomacy, which found common ground between sides where there had seemed to be none.