Biden Administration Should Aim to Bring Positive Change to a Tense U.S.-Russia Relationship

FSI Stanford
Jan 27 · 3 min read

On the World Class Podcast, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer says we can expect a consistency between the president’s behavior and policy toward Russia.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Getty Images

While we should expect some big changes over the next four years when it comes to U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, President Joe Biden will be willing to cooperate with Russia on select issues, Steven Pifer told Michael McFaul on the World Class Podcast.

Pifer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000, pointed out that while President Donald Trump had a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, relations between the two countries did not significantly improve during Trump’s presidency. Pifer said he thinks Biden’s experience working in the region during his time as U.S. vice president puts him in a solid position to bring positive change to a tense relationship.

Listen to Steven Pifer on the World Class Podcast

Key Differences

Biden will also professionalize the dialogue between countries and will be prepared for a meeting with the Russians, should one occur. Biden and his team will do their homework and will be prepared to get work done, he added.

The Russians will likely find that Biden is willing to cooperate with them on some issues, Pifer said. One example is the extension of the New START Treaty, which was signed by President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in 2010 and caps the number of strategic missiles and heavy bombers that the U.S. and Russia can possess.

“There will be pushback, and there are going to be some problems, but I think there is also going to be a more serious dialogue than we’ve seen in the last four years,” Pifer said. “That won’t change things overnight, but it could chip away at some of the tougher problems.”

New START as a Priority

Pifer told McFaul that he supports extending New START, as it will limit Russian strategic forces and will allow the U.S. to continue with its strategic modernization plans, which are all designed to fit within the treaty.

Pifer is also in favor of beginning discussions with Russia on topics like space cybersecurity and nuclear arms reductions, as well as other issues related to nuclear weapons that are not covered by the New START Treaty,

“A lot of those issues are not going to lend themselves to an immediate negotiation, but if you have detailed periodic talks, there’s a chance to at least exchange concerns and better understand the other side,” he said.

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Sanctions as Part of a Policy

“You want to have sanctions fit in a policy that includes deterrence and containment, but you also want to have a dialogue, and sanctions can be used as a tool,” he said. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves, they’re a tool to achieve a policy goal.”

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