Thomas E. Graham, Kissinger Associates

| U.S. Foreign Policy | China |

Although some countries are more important on specific issues, none, not even China or any ally, plays on a greater range of U.S. foreign and security interests than Russia.  Russia is indispensable to our interests in strategic stability and nonproliferation; it is important to our goals in Europe, the broader Middle East, Northeast Asia, and the Arctic, in energy security and climate change. Along with other powers, it has a central role to play in combating international terrorism, transnational crime, and similar threats. We can cooperate, or we can work at cross-purposes, but we cannot ignore one another. As a general rule, we will be better off if we can find a way to cooperate with Russia at an acceptable cost.

Construct the Missing Framework

U.S.-Russian relations are now a laundry list of issues and grievances outside a strategic framework that places both countries in the broader flow of global developments, identifies common opportunities and threats, relates issues to one another, and sets priorities. Any effort to create sustainable constructive relations must begin with the construction of that missing framework. That task cannot be left to the bureaucracies in both countries. They cannot think boldly, creatively, or holistically about relations as each agency or department pursues goals on a narrow set of issues within its purview. It is the task for a group of senior officials or former officials, working directly under the auspices of the two presidents, charged to move beyond day-to-day and tactical considerations to a broader vision of how each country could advance its own long-term interests by helping the other advance its strategic goals.

Thomas E. Graham is a Senior Director at Kissinger Associates.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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The U.S.–Russia relationship matters for many reasons, both immediately and over the long term.  Most pressing, the United States has a very important national security interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon—and Russia’s cooperation is key in maintaining united international pressure on Iran to negotiate as well as limiting or shutting off the supply of advanced conventional weapons to Tehran. Moscow’s assistance is also valuable in conducting the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Strategically, America’s relationship with Russia can play a significant role in defining the twenty-first century international system and in sustaining U.S. global leadership. As China has grown in influence, it has increasingly challenged some aspects of the U.S.-led international system. However, Beijing is unlikely to be in a position to rewrite international rules without considerable backing.  As the second-largest world power dissatisfied with elements of the current system, Russia can either support this effort or not. For Americans who see China as America’s principal foreign policy priority, effectively managing U.S.-Russia relations is a critical building block in dealing successfully with Beijing in the decades to come.

The first priority for Washington and Moscow in repairing their fraying relations must be to stop and reverse the sharp deterioration in tone. Improving the tone of the U.S.–Russia relationship was the first step in the Obama administration’s reset policy and—until 2011—was in some ways its most significant accomplishment.  President Obama’s recent comments about Mr. Putin’s body language are not helpful; nor is officially encouraged anti-American sentiment in Russia.

To improve relations significantly, however, both sides will need to do much better than avoiding gratuitous mutual criticism. To succeed, the two governments must define a shared vision for their relationship that advances each nation’s individual national interests, they must make achieving that vision a priority in a manner that shapes decisions on some other issues, including on issues that may be politically painful for each, and they must explain their policy approaches convincingly to their citizens and to skeptical elites. Thus far, the U.S. and Russian governments have failed at the first of these tasks and have applied limited effort at best to the last two. Most damaging has been the mutual failure to make clear why the U.S.-Russia relationship matters to both countries.

Paul J. Saunders is Executive Director of the Center for the National Interest.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Russia is essential to completing our mission in Afghanistan. Given sharp increases in the pace, number, and intensity of global challenges requiring collective action, Russia and the United States have the unique ability to act around the globe. Without our cooperation, organizations tasked with addressing these issues do not function effectively.

We have shared aspirations to address global challenges such as nonproliferation and terrorism. China, India, and Brazil hold no such aspirations. Europe seems uncertain.

Russia and the United States alone occupy Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific security spaces and are central players in the Arctic, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Russia has a voice in organizations where the United States is not represented—the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

We have solid experience upon which to build to a new stage.

It is a cardinal principle of dialogue that it is most important to talk when a relationship is threatened. We need to talk about the relationship at ALL levels.

Hal Saunders is Director of International Affairs, Charles F. Kettering Foundation.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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February 6, 2014

Russia Depends on the Russians

The relationship between the U.S. and Russia lacks a secure mooring and is therefore subject to upheaval and uncertainty. Both sides are to blame for this.

The Obama administration’s “reset” policy is strategically vacuous. For their part, not a few in Congress seem to be focused on reacting to authoritarian trends in Russia and on fostering democracy as an antidote. The reality, however, is that we can affect Russia’s political future at the margins at best. What happens in Russia depends on the Russians. What we should do, instead, is to define concrete foreign policy issues on which there is a convergence of interests and try to foster bilateral cooperation on them, to the extent possible, with realistic expectations, and in a manner consistent with American interests.

As for the Putin government, on the one hand, it wants Russia to be treated as a great power but, on the other, ascribes many of its difficulties to Western (especially American) machinations. (In fact, the real problem facing Moscow is that Russia seems to matter less and less to the United States.) The result has been the rise within Russia of an anti-Western nationalism.

Until Washington and Moscow stop this destructive, ideologically-driven pattern of behavior, the bilateral relationship will continue to be characterized by instability, unpredictability, polemics, and blame-games. That, in turn, will limit the achievements possible, even in areas where there is some (though in truth very little) cooperation, Syria being a case in point.

But if the two sides can find a few specific areas of cooperation that are modest to start with but on which cooperation would produce demonstrable mutual benefits, the relationship can (slowly) become more predictable and productive. Grand gestures such as summits and catchwords won’t make a difference. Any improvement that occurs in US-Russia relations will require quiet, persistent, and prolonged diplomacy.

Three Questions Should Guide Our Russia Policy

Scholars and policymakers are inclined to believe that the countries or regions or problems that preoccupy them professionally are of supreme, even urgent, importance. American experts on Russia are no exception in this regard.  The reality, though, is that U.S.-Russian relations will never have, for Americans or Russians, the salience that the U.S.-Soviet relationship did. To refuse to accept this fact is to invite delusion or wishful thinking. It’s also true that a positive transformation of what is today a rocky U.S.–Russian relationship will not occur during what remains of Barack Obama’s presidency: domestic politics in Russia and the United States and the divergent worldviews of the two governments conspire to rule that out. What is feasible, however, is an improvement over the current state of affairs.

The United States should attempt to stabilize its relationship with Russia and to place it on a better footing because neither the Russians nor we stand to gain from its continued deterioration. But unless efforts are made to prevent that outcome, it is all but assured to occur. To allow that would be foolish.

Whatever one may think of Vladimir Putin, his policies and pronouncements have more support in Russian society than is often assumed or asserted in American discourse about Russia. Yes, he is less popular in Russia than he was in his first term as president, and it is true that some of his antics are becoming tiresome to many Russians. But he remains the most prominent, powerful, and popular leader in Russia; and there is no sign that his position is in jeopardy. We either deal with him or we make the choice to write Russia off until someone more to our liking takes the helm.

But Russia can’t be written off given that it: i) is a nuclear power, still retains substantial and powerful conventional forces, and trails only the United States as an exporter of weaponry; ii) is a major energy producer, one that supplies many countries in whose future the United States has a stake; iii) still wields significant, even if diminished, influence in many “post-Soviet states” (Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Armenia, and the Central Asian five) in which the United States has interests of various sorts; iv) has formed a multifaceted “strategic partnership” with China, the state that is considered most likely to become America’s peer competitor; v) can either help or hinder progress in hotspots such as Iran, the Korean peninsula, Syria, and Afghanistan; vi) is too important to ignore simply by virtue of its massive size and its strategic Eurasian location.

What Can Be Done to Improve the Relationship?

While this will be hard for any American president to sell to Congress and to the various interest groups engaged with matters Russian, we have to learn to delink our larger relationship with Russia from our views about the nature of the political order that Putin has built. The latter is not to most Americans’ liking; but it would be foolish to insist, in effect, that a change of regime in Moscow is necessary before we can develop a relationship with Russia that advances our interests. That amounts to putting our Russia policy on indefinite hold and is irresponsible.

The United States has dealt extensively with many countries whose politics and values we find distasteful (consider China under Mao, or even China today; or think of Saudi Arabia)—and will continue to do so. Nothing is to be gained by making Russia an exception to this pragmatic practice or by insisting on standards on human rights and democracy that the current Russian leadership will never meet. Reconfiguring the internal order of countries should not be a priority for our foreign policy. Instead, we should focus on finding areas of cooperation (to the extent that they exist) with important states and on reducing the chances of confrontation on issues where we have divergent interests.

Three questions should guide our Russia policy: What are America’s important national interests? In what ways, and to what extent, does (or could) Russia affect them? What, realistically, can be done to find common ground or to avoid conflict with Russia once we have reasoned, sober answers to the first two questions?

When it comes to U.S.–Russian relations, there are several issues that we should focus on, using these three questions as a frame of reference: arms control, nuclear proliferation, climate change, terrorism, stability—i.e., the absence of war—on the Korean peninsula, violent conflicts in countries that matter to us and to Russia, and the trajectory of post-American Afghanistan. Each will be easier to manage if we can work cooperatively with Russia; each will be harder to manage if we cannot.

The point is not that a Russian–U.S. partnership will ensure that the problems related to these issues are resolved; it’s that they can be addressed more effectively if our relationship with Russia is less volatile and more predictable.

A starting point for getting to a better place with Russia’s current government would be to convene a midlevel U.S.–Russian working group on the bilateral relationship. It should be charged with setting aside differences over human rights and democracy and trying, despite the disagreements over such matters, to identify areas where American and Russian interests do (or might) overlap and developing an agenda for cooperative action, with modest steps to start the process. The group should not include senior policymakers at the initial stage: they should be involved only after progress is made in the dialogue and concrete areas of convergence are identified.

This enterprise should not commence with fanfare and highfalutin proclamations heralding a new beginning. That risks arousing expectations that cannot be met under current conditions and breeding cynicism or despair when setbacks occur. Catchy monikers—such as “reset”—should also be avoided; they, too, generate unrealistic hopes and reduce something that is complex to marketing clichés. Quiet, realistic pragmatism is what’s needed. The president should be candid with the American public about the differences that still divide Russia and the United States and explain why the U.S.–Russia relationship is nevertheless important and worth improving.

Rajan Menon is Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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February 6, 2014

On Sochi:

My inclination in 2007 was, for both political and security reasons, to think it was a mistake for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award the 2014 Winter Games to Russia. However, the political reasons were undermined by the earlier decision to award the 2008 summer games to China, which is a much more repressive country than Russia. The security concerns were still relevant, but they were not insurmountable. One can certainly argue that Sochi was not the best Russian city for the games because of its temperate climate, but in Russia decisions about which city to put forth are made at the center under Vladimir Putin, with scant input from localities. If the IOC bought into it, so be it.

Putin has given extraordinarily high priority to the Olympics and depicted the IOC’s decision to hold the games in Sochi as a triumph for Russia and, implicitly, for himself. Far more than other national leaders in host countries in the post-1945 era, Putin has used the Sochi games as a vehicle to cement a lofty position for himself on the international scene. This dynamic can be seen in the way Putin greeted the arrival of the Olympic flame in Moscow in early November 2013, as recorded by the BBC: ”When the Olympic flame first arrived in Moscow, [Putin] was at the centre of an elaborate ceremony on Red Square. With rousing music playing, he strode out of the Kremlin gates on live television and marched up a long red carpet to receive the flame personally. He then stood there, torch in hand as the national anthem played.”

All the symbolic measures surrounding the Olympics—­­sending an Olympic torch into space for a spacewalk and sending another torch to a Russian icebreaker moving through to the North Pole—have been linked to the glorification of Russia as a world power and, implicitly, to the exaltation of Putin as the supreme leader of this great power. This sort of gloss is distasteful, yet it is important to remember that the Chinese authorities engaged in their own disingenuous manipulations when hosting the games in 2008, depicting them as a tribute to the Communist system in China.

Abhorrent though the Russian government’s campaign against gays and lesbians has been, calls for a boycott of the Olympics over the vicious homophobia in Russia never seemed persuasive. The Summer Games were held in China in 2008 despite much worse human rights problems there than in Russia, and it would have seemed hypocritical to have boycotted the Sochi games. Moreover, despite the IOC’s strictures, some athletes are bound to use the games to criticize the anti-gay campaign—or at least I hope they do. But even if a boycott would have been inappropriate, it is good that numerous Western leaders are staying away from the opening ceremony on February 7th. That will send a message to the Russian authorities—and to other undemocratic regimes—without penalizing athletes who have trained hard for many years.

On U.S.-Russia Relations:

“Why does the U.S.–Russia relationship matter at this time?” This would be a good question to ask Vladimir Putin. From his perspective, it was more important to engage in grandstanding than to seek a constructive relationship with the United States. Putin was evidently hoping that a trade could be arranged for Viktor Bout (a notorious criminal who has caused mayhem and misery in large parts of the world, apparently in collusion with the Russian security services), and when the Obama administration turned down any such exchange, Putin responded with pique. Obama’s decision to cancel his September 2013 meeting with Putin was justified under the circumstances.

For the time being, U.S.–Russia relations will be at their lowest point since the spring of 1999 (during the war with Kosovo).  The much-ballyhooed “reset” may have achieved a few modest results early on, but it has turned out to be a colossal failure. Nonetheless, over time the United States and Russia do have important reasons to try to establish a better relationship. The two sides share an interest in preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for Islamic terrorists. They also share an interest in preserving stability in South Asia and East Asia.  Both countries stand to benefit from cooperation on environmental issues, questions of public health, efforts to combat human trafficking and illegal arms dealing, and counterterrorism.

At the same time it would be wrong to gloss over the major issues that divide the two sides. The internal clampdown in Russia over the past year-and-a-half is bound to cause friction and to inhibit cooperation. The Russian government has been unwilling to take a firm stance on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and seems perfectly willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran (even if, on balance, the Russian authorities would prefer that Iran not acquire nuclear weapons).  The Russian authorities have done all they can to prop up the Assad regime in Syria and to prevent any effective international action regarding the civil war in that country. Russia continues to behave in a domineering manner toward its neighbors, such as Georgia and the Baltic countries. On all of these issues, if the United States can obtain concrete favorable action by Russia, it will certainly bolster U.S. interests and put relations back on a sounder footing.

After the dismal experience with the reset, the best step will be to avoid such gimmicks in the future. Far too much of the reset was public relations rather than substance. The two sides should candidly acknowledge the many issues on which they disagree as well as those on which they agree.

The steady emergence of the United States as one of the world’s largest energy producers (and eventually one of the largest energy exporters) will give U.S. officials a valuable source of leverage they have not had in the past.  Because the Russian economy remains so heavily dependent on extractive industries, especially oil and natural gas, the United States should begin as soon as possible (which probably will not be before 2017) to export energy to European countries that currently import almost all of their needs from Russia. By edging in on these markets, U.S. officials over the longer term will have greater leeway to push for Russian concessions on a range of issues.

So long as Putin is president of Russia, it is hard to see how the bilateral relationship can change fundamentally. Both sides deserve blame for this dismal situation, but it is too late now to undo past mistakes and to foster amity and close cooperation, at least while Putin is around. Instead, the United States should use what leverage it can wield to seek Russian concessions on issues of importance to U.S. interests.  Over the longer term, there may be an opportunity to forge a genuine partnership and genuine friendship with Russia—something the United States failed to do in the 1990s—but at this point the best that can be done is to minimize damage and preserve the significant areas of cooperation that still exist.

Mark Kramer is Program Director, Project on Cold War Studies, Davis Center for Russia and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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To answer the first question we should first understand why these relations matter for 1) the United States; 2) Russia; 3) the world.

My American colleagues have already given an exhaustive answer to the initial part of the question: the very existence of Russia critically affects the provision of national interests and national security of the United States. As for the significance of the United States to Russia, in my personal opinion, it is not the politics and economy, although these areas are also very important, but above all social psychology that defines the attitude of Russians to America. During the last century, people in Russia (then the USSR) perceived the United States as a kind of landmark for the state upsurge and entity for their self-identification.American dynamism, initiative, and thirst for freedom have always attracted the Russians. The slogan “catch up and overtake America” was not just an ideological stamp, but one of the driving forces for the country’s development (and not only in the military field). America has always been a role model to compare against, a worthy opponent to compete with, as well as an honored object to criticize.  Perhaps the strong words produced energy…

The same is true today. Americans should not overreact to the current anti-Americanism in Russia: it is rather a force of habit than the actual state of mind.On the other hand, are there many reasons for a typical Russian to love America today? Only for the fact that it is rich and democratic? Because it teaches him or her how to live? For Yugoslavia, Iraq, and the support of Chechen separatists? For the sad results of reforms in the 1990s, which many in Russia identify with the recipes made by the U.S. advisors? The image of the country, its reputation, is dependent on many factors. Not only Russia, but the United States must recollect this fact constantly. Unfortunately, the inertia of thinking greatly influences the policies of both countries toward each other. Moreover, their political elites and leaders are mired in the routine of the present and seldom look to the future, unlike the leaders of China, who see decades ahead.

A couple of words about the importance of Russian-American relations to the rest of the world. I am not going to repeat the well-known truths about our countries’ responsibility for the world’s future. Both have enough resources either to ruin mankind or to ensure its stable development. The important thing is that as long as Moscow and Washington are busy debating each others’ merits, other countries and violence-prone nongovernmental groups are increasing their hazardous potentials. I consider another factor equally important: the competition between Russia and the United States. In the 20th century, their race, though not always peaceful, was one of the major driving forces of technological progress and our civilization’s development. The current situation in Russia means speaking with a certain irony of its ability to compete with the United States. However, as we used to say, “it is not over yet!”

What do both countries have to do to fix the relationship, change it from the customary “aggravation–warming” duality to steady, constructive, and cooperative relations?

First. Each side must perceive the world as it is and not as they would like to have it, must stop blaming the other side for the emergence of problems, and not avoid looking in the mirror for sources of friction. They should not “look into the neighbor’s garden” and teach the other side how to live. Russians are much better at seeing their problems, and hate them much more than the Americans do, but these evils need a long time to overcome.

Second. The time has come to shift the focus of U.S.-Russian relations from Europe and the Atlantic, where they are weighed down by the burden of age-old mistrust and unresolved frictions, to the Pacific Ocean. There are a lot of prospects as well as many common problems that require bilateral and multilateral cooperation to solve in this region. Thus it is very important to shift the emphasis in bilateral dialogue from the issues that divide the parties to those that unite them.

Third. Both the United States and Russian civilizations are pioneering cultures, predisposed to great achievements and usually impatient of the routine. To build the relationships for the long term we need major breakthrough projects, like the Soyuz-Apollo mission from the 1970s. It is only in such ventures that both nations are able to show their best qualities, patience and wisdom.

Victor Larin is director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History, Archeology, and Ethnology of the Peoples of the Far East

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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The “reset” now, to many people in Russia, sounds like a curse due to the perpetual decline in Russia-U.S. relations. However, Russia was able to pull relations out of the deadlock that occurred in 2008. Since then, the process of transformation of our relationship has been witnessing ups and downs. Inspiring, though limited, progress in managing the Syrian crisis in recent months opens doors for cautious optimism. Why do both countries need to develop it into success?

There are many reasons for that. The world, which is now a unified political space, is clearly in a state of disorder and is full of uncertainties. I’ll confine my analysis to only one example. The swift and always thrilling turns of the “Arab spring,” with serious global consequences, leave no doubt that our common house needs to be made up. The overstretched America, with all its might, cannot govern it alone. The attractiveness of the Western model has been severely shaken due to the weakening of its economy along with the rise of China and the partial loss of its moral credibility after two wars in the Middle East. Interventionism proved to be disastrous for the situation in the region and global order. The Iraqi and Afghan traumas of America make it no longer fit for managing the world system. The forthcoming American withdrawal from Afghanistan is a meaningful achievement, but nobody can be sure that the mission has been completed.

Russia and the United States face common threats coming from this region, such as international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, religious extremism, illegal drugs production and trafficking, illegal migration, and destabilization of the oil market. So far, we are natural partners in confronting them. Both our countries have a comprehensive global outlook, have international weight, and possess adequate capabilities. Needless to say this partnership can be provided through relying upon collective leadership—with other partners—and universal international norms. Unilateral use of force and violation of sovereignty of independent states (unless it is approved by the UN Security Council) have to be excluded.

Should the outdated reset in our bilateral relationship be replaced by a restart or repair?

It depends on how we identify the existing difficulties and obstacles. I believe that the main issue rests in already deep mistrust, exacerbated by adversarial rhetoric. Meanwhile, as my co-chairman in the Dartmouth Task Force, Hal Saunders, likes to say, leaders sign agreements but citizens fulfill them. Many of the agreements remained on paper by virtue of the lack of support at the grassroots level. That’s why building trust among citizens, in my view, is the main condition for restarting a comprehensive partnership or repairing our relations. By the way, there is no personal friendly relationship between our leaders.

That’s why, first of all, it is necessary to enhance exchanges between citizens—students, youth, intellectuals, women, civil society in general, to conduct joint sports and cultural activities. More second-track workshops, seminars, and roundtables should be organized to contribute to better understanding of each other.

The United States has also to support Russia in opening its market for Russian trade and economy and to provide free access to modern technologies. In turn, Russia should substantially improve its climate for U.S. and other foreign investors.

Our countries have to prepare—through consultations—to cooperatively confront possible threats emerging from Afghanistan under the worst-case scenarios in the aftermath of the withdrawal of American troops.

Given the opening in the P5+1–Iran talks on Iran’s nuclear program, our countries have to bridge differences in their positions and combine their efforts in order to solve this problem peacefully. Syria is another case where the emerging new understanding should be further developed on the two nations’ common interest in stopping violence and restoring peace there.

I stop here, though I could suggest a lot of other things in the realm of the above-mentioned “restart” or “repair.” For implementing them, only one thing is needed—political will.

Prof. Vitaly Naumkin is Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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On U.S.-Russia Relations and Sochi:

Finding ways to mend the U.S.–Russia relationship requires a clear understanding of the benefits it can bring to both sides. Moscow and Washington need to rethink their expectations about potential gains from mutual engagement. Unmet expectations have repeatedly led to crises in relations between the United States and Russia. And yet trimming expectations down does not necessarily mean preparing for confrontation.

Significant reassessment of the prospective gains has to occur on the Russian side. Understood as bargaining, pragmatism has repeatedly failed Russia as the foundation for its relationship with the United States. History has shown that, short of a formal alliance, engagement with the United States can only bring two long-term benefits. First, trade with and investment from the United States can foster economic growth and social development in the counterpart country. In order to fully profit from this opportunity, the counterpart country needs to put in place a system that guarantees the safety of U.S. investment and reasonable predictability of legal changes. In the absence of robust institutions and the rule of law, American businesses would seek to minimize payback periods while most of their investments would remain short-term and/or speculative.

The second long-term benefit can be derived from reducing the danger of a direct military confrontation with the United States. As a result, the counterpart country would be able to economize on defense expenditures and often also expand economic ties with the United States. In the U.S.-Russia case, nuclear weapons reductions hold out the promise of substantial budget savings for both sides, should the two governments exercise the necessary political will. (To put this argument on its head, the United States, as the most powerful nation, can also be conveniently cast as an enemy, helping to justify increases in defense spending.)

These opportunities are not hard to identify. What is more difficult to realize is that neither economic interdependence nor mutual security arrangements are likely to give the counterpart country (with the possible exception of China) additional strategic leverage over Washington. The United States is reluctant to engage in great-power bargaining to reward its partner for an agreement on other issues. This largely results from the constraints placed on the executive branch by the Congress in foreign policy. Washington is unlikely to sacrifice its interests in one area for gains in another—this is why Russia’s calls for “respecting mutual interests” (for example, in post-Soviet Eurasia) usually do not go down well among the U.S. policymaking community.

What Russia seeks to achieve through “pragmatic bargaining,” that is, uncritical acceptance by Washington and Moscow of each other’s statements of interests, can often be obtained by showing to the United States why conflict over a certain issue does not serve U.S. interests. It is much easier for both sides to assert their interests and ask for respect than to rationally identify the losses that they (and usually other actors as well) incur from confrontation by default. The U.S.-Russia dialogue needs to be disentangled from unproductive debates on whether the world is better off unipolar or multipolar and focus on what is lost in concrete cases by the sides opposing each other for no good reason.

In a similar vein, the United States should acknowledge that its own interpretation of what actually constitutes Russian interests does not always correspond to the view popular among the Russian public and policymaking community. For example, on many international and global issues Russian diplomacy is by default much more committed to the existing status quo than may seem reasonable to Washington. However, the Russian posture is largely defined by deep-seated fears of “destabilization” and “unpredictability” that are rooted both in recent Russian history and widespread convictions among the country’s political community. Making the benefits of change clear to the Russian side through persuasive arguments can work better than attempts to isolate Moscow or paint it into a corner. The U.S. could also factor in Russia’s concern with maintaining the status quo as a way of gauging how a number of influential players could react to Washington’s proposals for dealing with international issues.

Among other implications, diverging views of the benefits of change translate into a gap between Russian and U.S. policymaking cultures. While Russian policymakers often assume that the mere existence of a shared problem (e.g. transnational terrorist networks or the uncertainty about the future of Afghanistan) creates a firm enough basis for cooperation, their U.S. counterparts usually focus on policy, that is, concrete actions that are required to address the problem. For the U.S. side, a mere statement of commonality of challenges is not enough—cooperation is only possible when it is rooted in shared policy approaches.

With its potential security threats affecting all participating countries, the upcoming Sochi Games present a good opportunity for Russia and the United States to learn more about each other’s policymaking cultures and possibly bridge the gap between them.


The U.S.-Russia relationship remains important to both sides because of its significant unused potential. It would not be difficult to turn it into a positive-sum game in many cases if the bargaining paradigm is dropped and impartial analysis is undertaken of the unnecessary losses from conflict. At the end of the day, the U.S.-Russia relationship is not about status, but about addressing a concrete, even if limited, number of international issues to mutual benefit.

Mikhail Troitskiy is an associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York, in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Igor Zevelev, Moscow Office, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

| U.S. Foreign Policy | China | NATO | Putin |

The U.S.-Russia relationship still matters in today’s world, but in a way that is very different from historical patterns. The importance of the bilateral relationship does not look the same from the perspective of Washington and Moscow. America remains a significant “other” for Russia, though Russia has ceased to be one for the United States.

Vladimir Putin’s return to office and concerns over maintaining stability in the country in the spring of 2012 brought about a situation where domestic political considerations began to increasingly affect Russia’s foreign policy course. Today, that course is characterized by a combination of several conflicting narratives, which coexist in a general space of rhetoric on national identity, domestic and international security, and civilizational divisions. A relatively new and ascending narrative includes a mystical belief in Russia’s destiny to be a bulwark of traditional conservative values and moral principles rooted in Christianity.  It is accompanied by anti-Western rhetoric and continuing securitization of the relationship with the United States.  The Kremlin strives to preserve Russia’s constructed identity with the help of its great power status in light of what the Kremlin perceives to be attempts to establish American domination behind the rhetoric of universal values. Russia’s leaders are obsessed with preserving the great power image and with resisting the liberal West led by the United States at any cost. The United States is portrayed as a power attempting to meddle into Russia’s domestic affairs. In sum, for the Kremlin, the United States is an imagined important actor in both cumbersome domestic politics and international system that is increasingly viewed in “civilizational” terms.

The current American vision of Russia is much more down-to-earth. It emphasizes concrete security issues, where the two countries’ interests overlap, in spite of the differences in political systems. When the Obama administration made strategic stability the centerpiece of its Russia policy, it effectively reduced the bilateral relationship to the Cold War-era issue. The rest of the agenda is about securing Russia’s assistance in solving the problems that are important from Washington’s point of view.

Making U.S.-Russia relations hostage of Russia’s domestic politics and reducing them to the old-fashioned interactions in the fields of arms control and selected regional flashpoints are equally counterproductive. This should be fixed.

Russia’s national interest demands a de-ideologization of the Kremlin’s view of the world. Political realism must be freed from the chains of outdated dogmas and from Russia’s ambitions to oppose the imaginary and abstract “West” led by the United States.

U.S. national interests demand strategic vision and long-term foreign policy planning. Limiting cooperation with Russia to addressing a “crisis of the day” is short-sighted. The role of Russia in U.S.-China relations in the 21st century must be seriously discussed.  Under certain circumstances, the Kremlin may try to position Russia as a “swing state” in relations between the U.S. and China, a role that neither India nor any other great power can effectively claim. Russia may either choose to expand common ground with the United States, or try to balance its global leadership by cooperating with China. This range of choices is important for the United States on many policy levels. The United States is watching China closely and cautiously; part of this caution will be keeping an eye on Chinese relations with the rest of the world. Not losing sight of Russia will be a priority for the United States.

The U.S.-Russia relationship matters at this time because both countries face, in very different ways, the unprecedented challenge of adjusting their policies to a rapidly changing environment, which is increasingly shaped by other actors and where global governance is in shambles. “Fixing” this relationship requires creating a moment that will set the tone for the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship, as was done at the Obama-Xi summit in June 2013. An informal summit creating a positive, mutually agreed public narrative of a new type of relationship would help to overcome many difficulties arising from strikingly different visions of each other and the world. The expert community, not the bureaucracies, should prepare the “philosophical side” of the summit, such as the two countries’ relative power positions in the international system and their visions of global affairs.

Igor Zevelev is Director, Moscow Office, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. All views expressed are his own and may not necessarily reflect those of The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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The relationship with Russia is a matter of continuing importance. For all its weaknesses, Russia remains a major power.  It is, among other things, a member of the UN Security Council, possessor of the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, a leading producer of energy, and an important neighbor of China. Russia has the capacity to help or to hinder the United States in the pursuit of many of its most important foreign policy goals: nuclear arms reductions; nuclear nonproliferation; European security; the fight against terrorism; stability in the Middle East (including the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian civil war). It is a relationship that needs to be cultivated over the long term, not something to be attended to only as the occasion demands. It has to be assessed in light of the general strategy—easier said than done, of course, but nevertheless the right approach.

What can and should both countries do to “fix” the relationship?

I don’t know that the relationship can be “fixed.” I prefer a gardening metaphor to a handyman’s.  It’s a relationship that needs to be tended and cultivated. It is now going through a difficult period and the difficulties are embedded, to simplify grossly, in two different narratives.  The Putin narrative is one of resentment, of Russia exploited in the past and threatened in the present by the West. To many Americans (and Russians too), Russia is a country that has lost its way, to the point where one can ask whether the Cold War is over. Though misleading in important respects, these narratives exercise a powerful influence and make it difficult to identify a “quick fix.” This is a long-term project. Max Weber’s description of politics as “the slow drilling of hard boards” seems to fit here.

David Holloway is the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History and a senior fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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At the most basic level, these are still the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals in the world, and overtly hostile relations between them are therefore not particularly good for anyone.  In a more pragmatic sense, there are many ways that Russia can help (or hinder) U.S. foreign policy interests, and vice versa.  Both countries are interested in how events unfold in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the trajectory of international terrorism, and the long-term rise of China.  And of course both countries continue to be interested in developments in Europe, even if not quite to the same extent as during the Cold War.  In many (but of course not all) of these cases, cooperation between the United States and Russia can help both countries achieve important goals.  Finally, the UnitedStates has long been seen as a friend of the Russian people by certain segments of the Russian population, especially those with more liberal political outlooks; some of these people may be the leaders of Russia in the future.  What the United States does today vis-à-vis Russia and the way it treats its own citizens may affect how those citizens feel about the United States in the future.

What can and should both countries do to “fix” the relationship?

Clearly, dialogue between the two countries is important if relations are going to improve.  But it may be time to think about the difference between getting things fixed in the short term and in the long term. Clearly, both sides face temptations to use their relationship to play to their own domestic audiences, and President Putin has undoubtedly made antagonizing the West a part of his strategy for maintaining support at home. In the short term, in the aftermath of the public decision to cancel the summit, the United States may find it can best advance its foreign goals by quietly re-establishing contact with the Russians at lower levels. (And to be clear, I think tying the future of U.S.-Russian relations to the fate of Edward Snowden would be a mistake.) But in the longer term, the United Statesmay want to consider ways to convince Putin that there are consequences to “playing the American card” so often for domestic consumption, especially in terms of using it to demonize his opponents at home as somehow un-Russian. Taking a firmer stance with the regime now might end up paying dividends down the road, although this will of course be tricky in practice.

Joshua A. Tucker is Professor of Politics and Russian and Slavic Studies, New York University.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Information that emerged recently regarding the further shift of the United States’ foreign policies toward the Asian region and diminishing U.S. attention to the Middle East (with the exception of the Israeli-Palestinian track) has already caused widespread reaction. If Washington truly intends to carry out the policies of the U.S. pivot toward Asia that was announced several years ago, this does not represent a significant disengagement by this leading global player from the effort to support stability in our restless world. In turn, emphasis on the Asian Pacific region cannot but have an impact on global and regional dynamics. It also serves as a testament to the United States’ increasing attention on relations with China.

No matter how one views the rebalancing of U.S. foreign policy, relations with the United States will remain at the heart of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. Recent progress toward the resolution of the crisis in Syria demonstrated that there are new advantages for those who support the strengthening of Russian-U.S. relations.

It is not by chance that last September, during the Valdai Forum, the Russian minister of foreign affairs made it clear that successful efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis will lead to the restoration of strategic cooperation with the United States on a wide array of important bilateral and multilateral issues.

In Russia the issue of respect for international law and adherence to UN decisions, including those pertaining to the use of military force, are of particular importance. Any attempts to circumvent international law will be perceived with extreme sensitivity in Moscow, and may affect relations with various countries and organizations.  Therefore, agreement on this issue between such prominent players as Russia and the United States will facilitate the improvement of bilateral dialogue.

The future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces represents an extremely important challenge for Russia. This issue is of concern to Moscow and its partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It would be useful to gradually establish contacts between the Collective Security Treaty Organization and NATO. Such contacts would have a positive effect on Russian-U.S. relations due to the United States’ leading role in NATO. Certainly there are many obstacles, primarily stemming from the West, but it is worth considering.

Recently signed bilateral documents related to cyber security represent an important event. Our two countries should continue to actively consult with one another in order to expand agreements in the sphere of Internet governance and cyberspace on an international level, in order to overcome serious common threats. The voices of those who proclaim the importance of strengthening the economic foundation for Russian-American relations and of moving toward a significantly higher level of interaction in that sphere are becoming more prominent these days. Given all the obvious difficulties on this path, this would enhance predictability in Russian-American relations and diminish the chance of sudden changes.

Related to this, the ongoing formation of new trade and economic partnerships between the United States and EU, with the participation and under the auspices of the U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), should be noted. Thus far, it’s too early to assess the risks for Russia in this regard, but we must consider ways to jointly overcome possible misunderstandings. That may be facilitated by the strengthening of cooperation and mutual understanding at such important venues as the G-20 and G-8. But on the whole, it is useful to place economic considerations in the top tier of the agenda for Russian-American relations.

Igor Yurgens is chairman of the board of the Institute of Contemporary Development.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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It is still unclear what Russia and the United States want from each other, or what strategies these two countries have in respect to one another. The practice of their bilateral relations shows that Moscow and Washington pretend to be partners, keeping a bead on one another at the same time.

The leaders of Russia and the United States have repeated on multiple occasions that their bilateral relations are based on pragmatic approaches and that their countries fruitfully cooperate in fields of mutual interest or concern.

On the one hand, this allows the bilateral dialogue to keep going under any circumstances. For instance, the cooperation in Afghanistan is still unchanged despite several serious crises in U.S.-Russian relations, including the recent one related to the Snowden case. There is also the example of counterterrorism cooperation, recently proved by the help provided to the United States by Russia in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings.

One the other hand, the superfluous pragmatism can make U.S.-Russia relations fragile and limited, in addition to the obvious inability of a pragmatic approach to end the contradiction between partnership and threatening posture in U.S.-Russian relations. The dependence on several projects can help save the relations between countries in the short run, but it cannot create a basis for a long-term partnership.

So far, Russia and the United States continue to use the foundation that was built during the Cold War. That is why it is no wonder that these countries still exercise mutual nuclear deterrence, which is based on a threat of inflicting unacceptable damage on one other. But it also means arms control, predictability, transparency, and, equally important, a strategic dialogue, which existed between Moscow and Washington in all weathers.

Nuclear deterrence looks obsolete. But it would be impossible and improvident to just throw it away, since without it Russia and the United States may be left without predictability and transparency in their relations.

The question is how to transform U.S.-Russian relations in such a way as to depart from nuclear deterrence and at the same time save predictability and transparency between these countries. This can be possible in the framework of a long-term transformation of the basis of Russia-U.S. relations.

This transformation may include an expansion of the arms control dialogue to emerging issues such as ballistic missile defense, precision-guided conventional weapons, and cyber warfare. Though one can hardly count on the likelihood of an agreement covering nuclear arsenals plus these weapons, there are many options aside from the START treaties to separately take on these issues, including implementing confidencebuilding measures and signing memorandums of understanding.

In some areas it is possible to expand the dialogue to third countries. Ballistic missile defense (BMD) can be a case for this. Russia and the United States could initiate two tracks of the BMD consultations: Euro-Atlantic with NATO, and Asian with China and other regional powers. This is but an example from the arms control field to demonstrate that the U.S.-Russian dialogue can be a focus for regional security, too.

The number of U.S.-Russian initiatives will depend only on political will in Moscow and Washington. An urgent need for such initiatives is evident.

Petr Topychkanov is an associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationshipproject produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Relations in the Russia-China-U.S. triangle promise to have a significant impact on world politics.

What role can Russia play in this?

In my view, this implies a few important moments.

1. Russia should seek to ensure that this geopolitical triangle is as equilateral as possible.

To paraphrase Dr. Henry Kissinger, it is necessary that Russia’s relationship with each of every pair of countries is not worse than their relationship with each other.

At this time, this rule is not being observed: the relationship between Russia and the United States is worse than the U.S-China relationship. An obvious imbalance is occurring in favor of China and in detriment to the United States. This imbalance must be eliminated.

I see no reason why our relationship with the United States could not reach the level of U.S-China relations. Except, perhaps, for a few not very compelling domestic political considerations.

2. Similarly, constructive U.S.-China relations are in Russian interests. All analysts agree that these relations represent a combination of cooperation and competition, which will continue into the future. Russia should be encouraged by the former and not incite the latter, and it should not be taking advantage of potential U.S-China conflicts.

3. Russia should do all that it can to avoid confrontation between the United States and China. In what way? By making it clear that it is not going to join one side or the other. Otherwise, that side, which Russia would support, will experience a greater temptation to resort to force.

Frankly, judging by current Russian politics, the possibility of Russia joining with the United States against China is practically impossible. There is discussion of Russia siding with China against the United States. This must not be done in any case, including for the benefit of China itself. The neutrality of Russia will work against extremist tendencies within Chinese policy.

This, of course, does not exclude that, with regard to specific international problems, agreement between Russia and China against the United States, and vice versa, may be possible.

4. Russia is currently enjoying a very favorable international environment, because it has no such enemies as a single powerful country or a group of countries. However, the Russian mentality, which is actively manipulated by authorities, broadly interprets the notion of an enemy by including those who simply do not agree with Russian politics in that notion. In any case, the United States and China are preoccupied with each other and are too busy to be masterminding harming Russia. Such circumstances should be used for solving the problems of domestic development, as they are quite serious in Russia.

Siding with China in any pointed confrontation would mean acquiring an enemy in the United States. This would be theoretically true in any other combination as well.

If China and the United States act in accordance with the rules outlined above, the triangle may play a stabilizing role in world politics.

Ambassador Anatoly Adamishin, president of the Association of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, was ambassador in Italy and in Britain, first deputy foreign minister, and State Duma deputy. He is the author of several books, including “The Decline and Revival of a Great Power” and “The White Sun of Angola.”

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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To be intellectually honest, we must admit: the relations between Russia and the United States do not have much chance to be radically improved. Unless of course, you do not take into account the possibility of dramatic changes of the international situation that cannot be predicted, such as a sudden attack from Mars or a threat from an approaching asteroid. Vladimir Putin considers the relationship with other countries in the spirit of the 19th century realpolitik. He sees them as ruthless—not a game—but a zero-sum fight. “First, we will eat what is yours, and then each will eat their own,” as Putin recently described the policy of Russia’s partners in the European Union. Moscow is sure the ultimate goal of the United States is to “weaken” Russia as much as possible. The Kremlin believed (alas, quite sincerely) that the protests of citizens and their struggle for political rights are the result of an American conspiracy. This attitude virtually eliminates long-term trust between Russia and the United States.

On the other hand, the growing burden of unresolved domestic and international problems (opposition from Republicans on health care reform, conflicts with closest allies, the uncertain future of Afghanistan) removes Russian-American relations from the sphere of foreign policy priorities of the United States. Washington simply does not have the time and resources to deal with them. To complete this gloomy picture one should add that our two countries do not have any serious economic interdependence, such as the United States has with China. Moreover, it is possible that in the future the United States will begin to export natural gas to Europe and will become a direct competitor to Russia in this most important area of its economy.

However, the unfortunate and obvious fact that the relationship is unlikely to improve does not mean it should be ignored. But the goal (if not to lie to ourselves) should be formulated differently: how to prevent further deterioration and degradation of mutual relations when there are clear contradictions in basic values ​​and interests. Unfortunately, if you stay on the ground of reality, the recommendations can only be given to the American side. Being a victim of its own stereotypes, the Kremlin does not think it needs any advice “from the outside.” Moreover, such recommendations will be perceived by it as interference in its inner sanctum—its foreign policy kitchen.

As to the U.S. side, it is obviously necessary for it to revise its policy regarding Russia. It is hardly necessary to question the highest principle of this policy, existing almost from the time of the Clinton administration: we must work together where our interests coincide, and argue where they are not the same. The question is how the United States determines Russian interests. It seems that the attempts to estimate these interests based on rational assumptions seriously mislead the American side. Here is just one example. In September 2013, speaking in Berlin, President Obama offered to continue a joint reduction of nuclear arsenals, to 1,000 warheads. This would seem to be a remarkably generous offer. Russia cannot reach the ceilings of the new START treaty, so real reductions in both warheads and delivery vehicles would have to be carried out only by the United States. All Russia would have had to do would be to give up its extremely expensive nuclear buildup program. However, Moscow resolutely rejected the U.S. proposal, simultaneously accusing Washington of its intention to achieve total military superiority over Russia by the implementation of the concept of Prompt Global Strike.

I think it was a mistake to try to consider Russian interests from a purely pragmatic point of view: that Moscow was granted the opportunity to keep nuclear parity with the United States at a lower level, while saving several dozen billion dollars. The Kremlin sees its interest in an entirely different sphere—in self-affirmation in the international arena as a country equal to the most powerful country in the world, the United States. From this point of view, the public announcement of U.S. proposals without prior approval from Moscow was initially doomed to failure. From the Kremlin’s point of view, if Russia agreed it would have looked to be obediently following the recommendations of Washington. It could have been different if possible reductions had been discussed in the course of secret negotiations (Putin genuinely respects only something secret) in order to carry out not a unilateral, but a joint initiative of Russia and the United States. Yes, this approach could deprive President Obama of laurels for being the single person striving for nuclear disarmament. Yes, maybe applause in Berlin would go in this case not only to him but also to Putin. But now, in the midst of a scandal (that U.S. intelligence bugged the Federal chancellor’s phone), who remembers the standing ovation at the Brandenburg Gate? And this important agreement, if it had been achieved, would be in force today.

In this sense, the Russian-American road map for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons looks like an almost perfect model, since it came in the form of a joint initiative that was based on Senator Richard Lugar’s proposal previously rejected by Moscow.

I suspect someone will accuse me of cynicism. He or she can say that in order to achieve positive results, I urge indulging the Kremlin’s ambitions. It is not true. I am just calling for a correct assessment of Moscow’s motives. In this sense,  Washington’s tough decision to “take a break” in relations with Russia has been extremely positive. In this situation it seemed Moscow was likely to take a tough stance. But none of this happened. The decision by the White House to take a break caught Kremlin strategists off guard. Moscow has no ideas of its own in the field of foreign policy. All that Russian diplomats are able to do is to immediately declare any American initiative hypocrisy and perfidy. Washington proposes to reduce nuclear arsenals—then it wishes to obtain superiority through conventional weapons. The White House abandoned the fourth phase of European missile defense deployment—this masks the intention to get a strategic advantage. However, all of these arguments make sense if the dialogue with Washington is continued. And with no dialogue, these complaints are losing value. Russian foreign policy, which has been and remains “America-centric,” turns into a dull recitation of certain phrases in the void. China will be completely indifferent to Russian complaints about American missile defense.

Thus, the improvement of relations with Moscow is possible if Washington manages to assure Moscow that this would strengthen the idea of ​​Russia as a great power, equal in caliber to the United States. The main problem is to reach something real positive from this improvement.

Alexander Golts is the editor-in-chief of the Internet publication Yezhednevny Journaland is one of Russia’s leading journalists specializing in military issues. He has authored several books, including “The Russian Army: Eleven Lost Years,” also published in English by MIT Press.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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