Parting with Illusions: Developing a Realistic Approach to Relations with Russia

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A review of America's post-Soviet strategy towardRussia is long overdue. The illusions that onceguided policy are now at an end. What is needed isa dispassionate approach to Russia, whereinAmericans would neither magnify nor excuse thevirtues and vices of the Russian Federation butwould accept the following realities:

  • Russia is unlikely to become integrated intothe Euro-Atlantic community and is unwillingto adjust its foreign policy prioritiesaccordingly;
  • There is broad-based support within Russiafor the direction in which Vladimir Putinhas taken the country;
  • Russia has undergone a genuine—if limited—recovery from the collapse of the 1990s;
  • Washington lacks sufficient leverage tocompel Russian acquiescence to its policypreferences; and
  • On a number of critical foreign policyissues, there is no clear community of intereststhat allows for concepts of "selectivepartnership" to be effective.

Any approach to Russia must be based onrealistic expectations about the choices confrontingWashington. The United States has twooptions. It can forgo the possibility of Russianassistance in achieving its key foreign policy prioritiesin an effort to retain complete freedom ofaction vis-à-vis Moscow. Or it can prioritize itsobjectives and negotiate a series of quid pro quoswith Russia. The latter choice, however, cannotbe indefinitely postponed.

Seeking an accommodation with Russia ismore likely to guarantee American success in promotingits core national interests while minimizingcosts—but will require U.S. policymakers toaccept limits on what can be demanded of Russia.

Nikolas Gvosdev

Nikolas Gvosdev is editor in chief of The National Interest and a senior fellow in strategic studies at The Nixon Center. The views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of The National Interest or The Nixon Center.