US has to be more realistic about Russia

US has to be more realistic about Russia

February 29, 2008

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At a time when the United States and Russia are increasingly at odds on major world issues such as Kosovo, Iran and energy security, Washington must shed old illusions about post-Soviet Russia and develop a more realistic policy towards Moscow, finds a study by the Cato Institute.

According to “Parting with Illusions: Developing a Realistic Approach to Relations with Russia,” “a review of America’s post-Soviet strategy toward Russia is long overdue.”

“What is needed is a dispassionate approach to Russia, wherein Americans would neither magnify nor excuse the virtues and vices of the Russian Federation,” writes Nikolas Gvosdev, editor in chief of The National Interest and senior fellow in strategic studies at The Nixon Center.

To develop an effective policy, the United States must give up the illusion that Russia could become fully integrated in the Euro-Atlantic community. In truth, says the author, “Russia, as a Eurasian-continental power, [is] going to have different interests and priorities than either the United States or Western Europe. Therefore, there could be no expectations that Russia would automatically support the general Western consensus on any given issue.”

Washington must realize that “selective partnership,” where the nations cooperate only when their interests coincide, is not a viable option. “For selective partnerships to work, both sides must have similar perceptions of threats, and the benefits of cooperation.” As Iran has proven, the U.S. and Russia do not have a similar perception.

Finally, the United States must recognize that even a shift away from the increasingly authoritarian trend in Kremlin politics will still not align Russia with U.S. interests. The fact is that President Vladimir Putin’s policies have strong popular support. “Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of any Putin foreign policy decision of the last several years that would have been reversed by a more democratically accountable Russian government.”

Once the United States parts with these illusions, it has two options. It can relinquish the possibility of Russian assistance in achieving its key foreign policy objectives or “it can negotiate a series of quid pro quos with Russia.”

“Russia will never be a perfect partner to the United States; but very few nations are,” concludes the author. “Any U.S. policy toward Russia is going to require trade-offs. [Yet,] seeking an accommodation with Russia is more likely to guarantee American success in promoting its core national interests.”

This study can be found at: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9229