The state department spokesperson in Washington claimed on Thursday that there is an “increasing convergence” between the US and Russia over the Syrian situation. Interestingly, the remark appeared in a dense week in US-Russia ties during which Moscow disclosed the historic possibility of giving access to Russian airspace and to the base in Ulyanovsk for transporting the US and NATO’s military supplies for Afghanistan, and Washington held out the tantalising offer to share with Moscow top-secret data relating to the US missile defence programme.
But these straws in the wind are of less importance in the long run for the US-Russia relationship than the move by the Barack Obama administration to approach the Senate for repeal
of the Jackson-Vanik legislation of 1974 which restricts the scope of normal trade relations between the two countries. The legislation is a relic of the Cold-War era and Moscow has been pressing hard for its repeal, but successive US administrations (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, et al
) stalled so far.
The US senate finance committee chairman, Sen. Max Baucus visited Moscow last month
and held discussions with Russian officials on the issue even amidst the brouhaha over the Russian elections. But Moscow kept its fingers crossed till Thursday when the US senate began hearings
on the Administration’s request to repeal Jackson-Vanik.
Unsurprisingly, Cold Warriors on the Hill want any trade bill with Russia to be linked to the human rights issue. But they won’t get far. The Administration is projecting the initiative as a move that will help American companies to hugely expand their business in the Russian market. In the prevailing climate in US politics, any proposal that promoted American business interests would sail through.
Moscow will be delighted. Even the Russian opposition is rooting
for the moment that J-V will be repealed, including such critics of the Kremlin establishment like Boris Nemtsov, Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Ryzhkov and so on.
In sum, it is now a matter of time before the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is dumped into the dustbin of Russian-American history. Obama sees Putin as a statesman he can do business with
Obviously, Putin can be expected to press the pedal to accelerate Russia’s neo-liberal economic policies and Obama anticipates massive business opportunities
opening up for American business in the Russian market. Maybe it’s a ’selective’ reset, but is a reset nonetheless.