Continuity and Change in Russia-U.S. Relations during Putin's Fourth Term, 2018-2024

Document Type : Research Paper


Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran



The main purpose of the article is to examine the reasons of change and continuity in Russia-U.S. Relations during Putin's fourth term, 2018-2024. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these relations have been characterized by various fluctuations, including enthusiasm about promoting mutual understanding and collaboration during the dominance of the Euro-Atlantic discourse in the early 1990s, and the heightened tension during the realist discourse led by Putin. The U.S.-Russia relations have been deteriorating as a consequence of the uncertainties and insecurity which have increased due to the international order transition. The 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War, as the greatest challenge in the relations between the United States and Russia in the post-Soviet period, is a clear manifestation of the gloomy situation. Russia considers this conflict to be a proxy war which is only part of the broader U.S. grand strategy to limit Russia’s geopolitical influence by lessening its strategic depth. The West’s support for Ukraine is viewed as a continuation of Washington’s previous attempts—including inciting the color revolutions in the post-Soviet space, gradually infiltrating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), interfering in Russia's internal affairs, supporting the war in Yugoslavia, NATO's Eastward Expansion, and the establishment of an anti-missile shield — aimed at containing Russia without resorting to direct confrontation. On the other hand, American policymakers who seek to maintain U.S. supremacy in the international system, view Putin's Russia as a challenging and destructive actor that has improved its international position and has been trying to change the regional and global balance of power to the detriment
of Washington by acting as a revisionist force, individually or collectively in collaboration with other members of the international revisionist front.  In  this  context,  the U.S. has adopted the strategy of ‘broad offensive deterrence’ (BOD) against Russia. Out of an abundance of caution, Moscow is pursuing the strategy of ‘active offensive defense’ (AOD) in the hope of reviving and strengthening its great power position. The adoption of these two competing strategies has intensified tension in the bilateral Russia-U.S. relations, and have had repercussions for other states.
The author tries to answer the following research questions: 1. What are the causes of the persistence of  conflict and tension in the U.S.-Russia relations? 2. How has the confrontation between the two strategies of ‘broad offensive deterrence’ (BOD) of the United States and ‘active offensive defense’ (AOD) of Russia led to the escalation of tension in their bilateral relations? Using the theoretical framework of neoclassical realism, the analysis is focused on three inexorable variables (i.e., geopolitical power competition, security, and political culture) in order to find conclusive answers to the two questions. In the research hypothesis, it is argued that the persistence of tension in the U.S.-Russian relations is caused by three tension-generating variables of geopolitical power competition, security, and political culture. The method of qualitative textual analysis of the official documents and previous works on the subject revealed the impact of these variables on the nature of the relations between the two rival powers. The findings show that transformative variables (e.g., the circulation of the elites) had a positive effect on the bilateral relations between the United States and Russia in the short term, but the three above-mentioned factors have caused tension to prevail.
However, Russia and the U.S. will probably continue their cooperation in three issue-areas:  1. Maintaining security and strategic stability in the international system as manifested in their support for the nuclear non-proliferation regime; 2. Confronting certain destabilizing regional challenges, particularly in the Middle East and the CIS; and 3. Dealing with asymmetric security threats such as international terrorism and cyber security. Nevertheless, the failure of the conciliatory approach and the perceived NATO-U.S. belligerent approach to Russia (including the "Reset" project), as well as the continual U.S. aggressive actions against Russian national interest have deepened their mutual mistrust. This perception of the U.S. intentions has been strengthened in Putin's third and fourth terms; and the Kremlin continue to believe inactions, restraint, and disengagement in response to the U.S. actions will not lead to a mutually-advantageous balanced relations. Russian leaders are concerned that a flexible and appeasing attitude towards the U.S. might result in  increasing use of coercive and aggressive foreign policy instruments by Washington. This perception has forced Russia to adopt a posture of resistance and the strategy of ‘extensive aggressive defense’ against the U.S. It is expected to see the continuation of the tense bilateral relations and the situation of mutual mistrust between the two great powers in the medium term.


Main Subjects

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