The U.S.-Russia relationship will always be a critical component of U.S. foreign relations.  Unfortunately, neither the United States nor the European Union has been particularly effective over the past decade in recalibrating its views of Russia from a net consumer of foreign assistance to an economic and geopolitical co-equal among G8 nations.  The relationship going forward must be based on principles of parity and mutual interest, without an assumption that Russia, which increasingly sees itself as neither western nor Asian, will emulate a U.S. or EU political model.

Current textbook accounts of U.S.-Soviet relations in the 20th century are notably limited and largely unchanged since the time of the Cold War, which contributes to a persistent perception of the relationship in both countries in “zero-sum” terms.  As was the case in Germany and Japan, new and increasingly nuanced historical narratives are required to enable younger generations in both countries to comprehend past sacrifices and contributions of Russians and Americans in order to envision a common, cooperative future.

The U.S.-Russia dialogue is still defined by the symbolism of high-level meetings, rather than the substance of a rich exchange of entrepreneurial, scientific, cultural, social ideas across regions and municipalities.  Educational and research exchanges have decreased significantly over the past eight years, as have joint research projects with American universities.

A recently inaugurated university-based U.S.-Russia Innovation (Biomedical) Corridor between Maryland and Nizhnij Novogorod provides an example of the untapped potential for scientific, educational, and entrepreneurial cooperation at the region-to-region level, in this case genome-based cancer treatments.  Three more university-based economic clusters in the areas of new materials, “clean” engineering, and climate change research are proposed for 2013 to 2014.

Region-to-region collaboration is of clear benefit to U.S. and Russian partners.  It tends to draw on younger-generation researchers and entrepreneurs for implementation, stimulates local economic development (including small and medium enterprises), and is relatively protected from the vicissitudes in relations among central authorities in either country.

Dan E. Davidson is President and co-founder of the American Councils for International Education and professor of Russian and Second Language Acquisition at Bryn Mawr College.

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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