A Unique Point That Could Be Productive

It can be argued that a positive and productive U.S.-Russia relationship is perhaps more critical now than at any point in the long history of the U.S.–Russia/Soviet dialogue. Strikingly relevant at this point is the opportunity for the two nations to interact as equal partners in an atmosphere that is not inherently ideologically adversarial. In short, we are at a unique point in the relationship that could be productive in ways never before possible. The long history of ideological polarization, followed by a period of economic inequality, has given way to an environment where the two nations should be able to address shared interests on relatively equal footing. Regrettably, these important shared economic, social, and security concerns have taken a back seat to highly visible political events that have produced a tangible chill in the relationship.

The current chill in the political arena is not one that can be easily dismissed. Moreover, it is unrealistic to expect that future differences in foreign and domestic policies will not cause rifts in the relationship.  The current and previous administrations of the Russian Federation have been very clear that their policies and actions are based on self-interest. Taken at face value, this position requires that productive engagement must be based in areas of mutual self-interest. It can be argued that certain activities have been effective tools of diplomacy even in the most tempestuous moments of U.S.-Russia/Soviet relations.  Collaboration across a broad spectrum of levels in scientific, scholarly, and cultural exchange has been a mainstay in public diplomacy.  In the current environment—where an equal partnership should be the basis for the relationship and where subjects of exploration and research do not face the same historical taboos (at least in spirit) as in the past—the potential for productive dialogue between individuals, institutions, and intellectual and cultural leaders has never been greater and should be aggressively pursued.

Sensitive issues certainly exist between the two countries, and these will continue to arise. However, even the thorniest issues are resolved over time. It can be argued that it is of critical importance to maintain an open dialogue in areas of shared interest in order to maintain a platform for discussing matters where interests appear to diverge.

David Patton is Executive Vice President of the American Councils for International Education.

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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