Building a strong Russia-U.S. relationship is not just beneficial for cooperation between the two countries, but the rest of the world. Here's how their cooperation can help solve the conflicts in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Syria.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President Biden in Geneva, Switzerland for a historic bilateral summit on Russia-U.S relations and cooperation. While sweeping and vast improvements to the relationship between the countries were not achieved as a result of the summit, Presidents Biden and Putin successfully identified key areas of mutual interest. Alongside discussions of trade, climate, cybersecurity, and other key areas of potential cooperation, an emphasis was placed on collaboration on common interests in the realms of security and global stabilization.
Cooperation between Russia and the United States on matters of global security and conflict resolution would not just improve bilateral relations between them, but also is key to solving some of these conflicts. Three conflicts seemed to be of the highest priority to both leaders at the Geneva Summit: the impending withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, ongoing violence in Ukraine, and the conflict in Syria. While current cooperation between Washington and Moscow varies between these conflicts, their cooperation would assuredly help with resolving all three of these conflicts. By cooperating on addressing conflicts in which Russia and the U.S. can find a common interest in, they can work towards solving them.
Preventing the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan
The impending withdraw of American troops from Afghanistan was one of the issues at the forefront of national security talks at the Geneva summit. Previously, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu expressed fear that a civil war could break out in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops. With the majority of the over 4,000 troops of the main American military force stationed in Afghanistan are on track to be withdrawn well before President Biden’s September 11th deadline, cooperation between Russia and the United States is imperative to ensure that peace remains in the region. Both countries have a vested interest in preventing the resurgence of the Taliban and maintaining a stable and secure Afghanistan. Although the U.S. is slated to pull out its forces from the country, Washington has recently reassured its commitment to supporting the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Russia’s diplomatic ties to the region and geographic location make cooperation with Russia on Afghanistan uniquely valuable for American interests.
In order to maintain relative peace in a post-U.S. troop withdrawal Afghanistan, the U.S. and Russia should collaborate on securing the borders with neighboring countries, including Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. One of the main sources of the Taliban’s income is the cross-border drug trade. So, a collaborative U.S.-Russia effort to share intelligence, security technology, and capabilities would effectively cut off the Taliban from their main source of funding, thus hopefully preventing their resurgence. Moreover, Russia is uniquely vulnerable to spillover effects of increased terrorist activity in Afghanistan after a U.S. withdrawal due to its geographical location, so securing borders with neighboring countries is of utmost importance.
Bringing stability to Syria
One of the major international conflicts that was received the most attention from President Biden and President Putin at the summit in Geneva was the future of the conflict in Syria. While the United States and Russia currently hold specific policy positions concerning Syria that are irreconcilable with one another, such as on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the fate of his government, they share similar overarching goals when it comes to Syria. It is in both the United States' and Russia’s interests to bring long-term stability to Syria and prevent the reemergence of ISIS-like terrorist organizations. Earlier this month, U.S. National Security Advisor to the President, Jake Sullivan, even expressed the United States’ willingness to cooperate with Russia on strategic stability and access to humanitarian aid in Syria.
In Syria, Russia and the United States should focus their cooperation on aspects of the conflict that most align with their common interests. For one, the United States should lift its harmful sanctions on Syria, such as those that went into effect under the Caesar Act of 2019. Lifting these sanctions would not only improve the humanitarian and economic conditions of Syrians but would likely make it more feasible to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia on the issue, which has stated strong sentiments against the sanctions imposed by the Caesar Act. Additionally, U.S.-Russia cooperation on counterterrorism measures, such as selective intelligence sharing and joint operations, would be productive in efforts to stabilize Syria and prevent the resurgence of radical terrorist groups. The use of the combined military and diplomatic pressure of both the United States and Russia could bring peace and stability to Syria and ultimately, the Middle East as a whole.
Ending the conflict in Ukraine
In recent years, the issue of Ukraine has been at the center of driving the hostility between Russia and the United States. However, there is some hope for at least a gradual shift in U.S. policy towards Ukraine, especially in light of recent developments and cooperation at the Geneva summit. At the summit in Geneva, the United States has already committed to taking fairly substantial steps to bring peace to Ukraine in light of its historically harsh stance. Both President Biden and President Putin committed to implementing the Minsk and Minsk II Protocols, signed in 2014 and 2015 respectively. These agreements set in place protocols to solve the conflict in the Donbas, which grants Donetsk and Luhansk the ability to exercise self-governance.
While this bilateral commitment is a positive development, further cooperation between the United States and Russia is key to solving the conflict in Ukraine. Surprisingly, both Russia and the United States in fact share some common interests when it comes to Ukraine. Both would benefit from bringing stability and peace back to Ukraine. So, the United States should join Russia in recognizing the results of the Crimean Independence referendum. Just over 95 percent of Crimeans freely and fairly voted to join Russia in the landmark 2014 referendum, and 89 percent of Crimeans noted that they would cast a vote to join Russia if another referendum was held in 2019. While the conflict in Ukraine is one of the areas of greater contention between the two countries, cooperation between Russia and the United States would bring unprecedented peace to the region.
Alana Cross is a Policy Analyst at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC).