Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2009

Re-setting US-EU-Russia Relations. Moving Beyond Rhetoric

Riccardo Alcaro, Emiliano Alessandri

June 2009

Istituto Affari Internazionali


After a period of severe turbulences, the United States, Europe, and Russia seem willing to start out on a new course. ‘Pushing the reset button’, as suggested by US Vice President Joe Biden, is an alluring formula, but it is no guide for action. A new US and European arrangement with Russia is more likely to endure if all parties learn from the troubled experience of the last few years. At the root of the disagreements and tensions of the past years is, in fact, the lack of a shared vision of Europe as a single security space. Russia is blatantly dissatisfied with the political and security outline of post-Cold War Europe. In particular, since Vladimir Putin’s second term as president, Moscow has opposed a number of US-led initiatives ever more vehemently, and has presented the defense of an area of ‘privileged interests’, largely coinciding with the former Soviet space, as a legitimate claim. While rightly rejecting the notion of spheres of influence as an outdated Cold War relic, the United States and its European allies need to recognize that a stable security order for Europe can hardly be achieved without involving Russia as one of its constitutive parts. Such a new system would probably increase Russia’s cooperation on issues of vital interest for the United States and Europe, such as nuclear nonproliferation (e.g. Iran) and the fight against Al Qaeda (e.g. Afghanistan).