Five ways Russia-U.S. cooperation is already making the world better

Russia and the United States are already working together to improve the world in various fields of diplomacy.

Despite extensive claims that Russia-U.S. relations are at Cold War levels of hostility, the two countries are already cooperating to make the world more stable. These areas include fighting terrorism, addressing climate change, combating cybercrime, delivering humanitarian aid, and stabilizing Afghanistan. The summit meeting between President Putin and President Biden in Geneva on June 16 also showed that arms control and a prisoner swap are on the agenda.

1. Fighting terrorism

Russia’s intervention in Syria has remained a point of tension in the Russia-U.S. relationship, but the development of “U.S.-Russian military-to-military ties” became possible. Though the extent to which counterterrorism cooperation was fully realized is debated, there is some modest achievement of bilateral relations in the Syrian conflict. Both actors were mostly able to honor spheres of influence and avoid any large-scale escalation. Each country undertook their own campaigns in defeating ISIS, and any cooperation has largely been labeled counterproductive. However, Central Asia may become the next region where a partnership can be productive – especially considering the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Further cooperation on counterterrorism and peace talks could look to past initiatives. The U.S.-Russia bilateral working group established in 2000 is one such example. Ekaterina Stepanova recommends: “This group should be restored in its initial format, as a U.S.-Russia Working Group on Afghanistan, regardless of whether any top-level institutionalized bilateral formats are.” Of course, new dynamics have emerged as the Biden administration pursues a new Afghanistan policy. So far, the EastWest Institute­ has hosted meetings of the Joint U.S.-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism in Afghanistan. This dialogue brings together “American and Russian experts … to assess major in the bilateral relationship, as well as the current security and political situation in Afghanistan, and consider the implications for joint counterterrorism efforts going forward.”

2. Addressing climate change

Sensationalist headlines such as “Climate is the only thing Russia and the US can agree on right now. That’s how bad it’s got” from CNN only serve an anti-Russia agenda. The minimization of such a key issue is a prime example of how rampant and commonplace Russophobia has become in American media. Instead, the historic joint statement on the issue of climate change should be celebrated as a landmark in Russia-U.S. relations. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Russian Special Presidential Representative on Climate Issues, Ruslan Edelgeriyev, will work together to address the climate crisis.

Part of the statement reads: “They are committed to the robust implementation of the Paris Agreement and its temperature goals, including through significant efforts in this decade and the global pursuit of net-zero emissions, recognizing the importance of enhancing carbon sequestration by forests and other ecosystems. They will work together and with others to actively promote a successful COP 26 in Glasgow, UK, and a G20 that contributes to such success. In addition, they will cooperate on climate-related issues in the Arctic.”

Russian diplomats have evaluated Kerry’s visit to Moscow as “a very important and positive step to alleviate tensions between the two countries. “

3. Combating cybercrime

As Russia and the U.S. attempt to build a constructive relationship, cybersecurity is a key element of relations. Following alleged attacks by Russian hackers in July 2021, President Putin and President Biden continue to have a dialogue on the issue. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke to journalists: “The two presidents expressed their wish to act together and continue the mechanism of consultations on cybersecurity, which has actually begun to function.” Though many American officials are skeptical that Russia will compile with cyber norms, the Biden administration maintains that Putin will follow through with “crack[ing] down on criminal hackers working in Russia that have been targeting American institutions and businesses.” It is now a waiting game to see how the June 2021 summit will pay off. The White House remains optimistic in spite of the ransomware attacks from inside Russia. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke with TIME on July 6: “The meeting with the Russian President was just a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had ongoing meetings at an expert level pretty much since that point in time.”

4. Delivering humanitarian aid

The United States and Russia have reached an agreement on preventing “the closure of a humanitarian corridor from Turkey to an insurgent stronghold in Syria.” This extension of humanitarian aid is essential for Syrian civilians. There has been great concern about a Russian veto of the UN Security Council resolution, but the positive results of the Biden-Putin summit have been credited with the success. Russian permanent representative to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, hailed the “historic moment in which for the first time, Russia and the U.S. were able to not only agree on something, but present a joint text that has been supported by all our Council colleagues.” Though the U.S. supported rebel groups and Russia intervened on Syrian President Assad’s behalf, this development indicates that in the era of Syrian reconstruction, there is more common ground to be found between the two players.

5. Stabilizing Afghanistan

The United States and Russia both have a mutual interest in stabilizing Afghanistan. With the U.S. exiting the country in 2021, the main goal will be combatting terrorism and preventing spillover of the conflict into other Central Asian countries. Russia has taken steps to ensure this: “President Vladimir Putin in June offered U.S. counterpart Joe Biden the use of Russian military bases in Central Asia for information gathering from Afghanistan.” The U.S. has yet to respond to this offer, but it indicates that Russia is interested in security concerns in the region and is willing to cooperate with American forces. After more than 20 years of U.S. involvement, it is now time for a new method of guaranteeing the future of Afghanistan is peaceful. This will have to include American and Russian cooperation in peace talks as the two most critical actors in Afghanistan. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirms this: “I would like to confirm Russia's interest in facilitating dialogue between Afghanistan's warring sides with the aim of ending the years-long war and establishing Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and neutral state.”

Katrina Kalamar is a Policy Analyst at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC).