U.S.-Russia Relations: Facing Reality Pragmatically by Thomas Graham
U.S.-Russia relations are now at the low point of the second cycle of great expectations and profound disappointment since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. In both countries there is a widespread belief that things have gone terribly wrongand that the other side is largely at fault. But an objective look at the United States and Russia, and the world more generally, would have laid bare the formidable obstacles to building far-ranging positive relations, no matter what experts were writing and political leaders were saying about the end of history, the lure of free markets and democracy, and the democratic peace.
Thomas Graham argues in this report that there are no easy paths to improved U.S.-Russia relations. The disappointments of the past 15 years have taken a heavy toll, and the global uncertainties of the present make it more difficult to overcome the distrust that frustrates improvement. What is needed now is a focus on the challenges we face, pragmatic approaches to those challenges, and hardnosed assessments of what each country can bring to their resolution. We need not ignore the very real differences that divide us, but we should acknowledge that they pale in comparison to those common challenges. As new administrations settle in in both countries, we need to avoid rhetoric and actions that suggest we are irreconcilable rivals on different sides of an existential divide. And, should relations improve, we need to resist the temptation to declare easy victory and talk of partnership that cannot be supported by actual behavior, even if we aspire to far-reaching cooperation; otherwise, we risk initiating a third great cycle of expectations and disappointment. We must face reality: Ours will be a relationship of cooperation and competition. That is only normal for any two major powers, but normal relations on a foundation of respect are all we need to begin dealing with the challenges we both face.
This study is part of a series being published by the joint CSIS/IFRI project "Europe, Russia, and the United States: Finding a New Balance," which seeks to reframe the trilateral relationship for the relevant policymaking communities.