Azeri.Today interviews Steven Sestanovich, senior research fellow of the Council on International Relations, Columbian University professor,U.S. State Department's ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union (1997-2001).
- Mr. Sestanovich, in your opinion, how should the Washington's relations develop with Moscow?
- The new administration should develop its relationship with Russia based on a careful assessment of clear problems and possible opportunities. It’s hard to ignore three years of aggression in Ukraine, continuing inflammatory rhetoric toward the United States and its allies, violation of an important arms control treaty, military intervention in the syrian civil war, cyber-hacking during our election campaign, and more. This kind of behavior has generated very negative opinions of Russia in Washington today — and they make it difficult to explore areas of possible common interest.
- Do you think Trump and Putin will join efforts to combat terrorism in the Middle East ?
- I'd be somewhat surprised. There are some common interests here, of course, but Moscow and Washington see the problem differently. It may actually be better for the U.S. to conduct the campaign against ISIS on its own — and in coordination with its traditional allies — without trying to solve the difficulties of working with the russian military. Russia’s continuing support for Assad — even after this week’s chemical weapons strikes — means that our goals are not the same.
- Do you think that the post-Soviet space in the foreseeable future will be the sphere of influence of Russia or the U.S.? Which of these powers will play a dominant role in the territory of the former USSR?
- My strong impression, from conversations over many years with government officials in post-Soviet countries is that they don’t want to be part of anyone’s “sphere of influence.” The United States has never sought such a sphere. In this respect, I believe American policy coincides with the interests of governments in your region. Does anyone in Azerbaijan want Russia to play a “dominant role” in the region?
- What are your expectations of the U.S.-Azerbaijan relations under Trump?
- The new administration faces so many unresolved questions about its international strategy that it will probably not turn soon to the issue of relations with Azerbaijan. (the Trump family’s past business dealings in your country do not make the problem any easier.) Hopefully the president and his senior advisers will be able to appoint officials who have the time, knowledge, and authority to focus on this issue.
- When will the new US administration begin to pay attention to the territorial conflicts in the post-Soviet space, in particular, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- Only when it comes to believe that the two governments have a serious interest in making progress on this question — and that American involvement can help to achieve such progress. Having paid attention to this issue for twenty years, I know there are many reasons to be skeptical. Domestic political tensions in each country are always an obstacle to a diplomatic settlement that both societies could consider advantageous.