The Asia-Pacific region is of growing importance for both the United States and Russia, each of which seeks to “pivot” or “rebalance” its global commitments toward Asia. Yet the focus of U.S.-Russia relations remains on Europe and the former Soviet Union, and neither country has paid sufficient attention to the implications of their respective Asian pivots for the bilateral relationship. Since U.S.-Russia relations in Asia and the Pacific remain underdeveloped, the region holds the potential to act as a sort of laboratory for trying out new mechanisms for bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
Both countries are turning to Asia primarily to benefit from Asia’s economic dynamism. At the same time, they recognize that Asia’s growth is imperiled by a range of traditional and nontraditional security threats, from the nuclear-tipped standoff on the Korean Peninsula to territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea to terrorism, climate change, migration, and other transnational challenges. Among the most important drivers of change in Asia is the continued rise of China, which is in different ways a critical partner for both Washington and Moscow.
Because Asia’s economic and security landscape remains in flux and the legacies of mistrust hanging over U.S.-Russia relations in Europe are less pronounced, Moscow and Washington have an opportunity to build more effective forms of cooperation from the ground up. This will require efforts from both sides. The United States must reconcile cooperation with Russia with its existing commitments, including long-standing alliance relationships and growing security cooperation with several states in the region. Russia’s challenge lies mainly in convincing states and regional institutions that it is an important player in the region—which in turn requires it to more fully integrate Siberia and the Russian Far East into Asia’s regional economy—and more than a regional satellite of China.