Russia and the West in a New Century

Under the current U.S. administration, relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated, U.S. policy towards Russia has become more hostile, and negative attitudes towards Russia in the U.S. media have become a pattern. Perpetuation of these tendencies will drive Russia out of Western alliances, cause serious difficulties for America's international strategy; distract US attention and resources from the war on terror; create new and unsustainable geopolitical burdens for the US; and risk encouraging new conflicts in parts of the former Soviet Union between local American and Russian proxies.

In a word, America's present official attitude toward Russia is contrary to the vital interests of the United States.

To reach this conclusion, one does not have to agree with the Putin administration's authoritarian tendencies. Nonetheless, a sensible view of U.S. policy towards Russia should be based upon at least four principles:

First, constructive engagement with Russia is in the long range interest of the United States, and our relationship should be structured on that basis;

Second, the view of the Russian economy, legal system and business climate expressed by leading Western investors is much more positive than the picture of Russia presented by most of the US media. In fact, there have been growing levels of international investment in Russia in recent years. This trend is the best evidence that, over time, Russian society will be transformed in a modern, democratic direction;

Third, the US has pursued, and continues to pursue, successful co-operation with many states that are a great deal more tyrannical than Putin's Russia. Indeed, we have formed close alliances with some of them. A close relationship with Russia along the lines of our relationship with Great Britain, for example, should not be the standard. But, a businesslike relationship that will serve both countries' interests and provide for the successful management of points of disagreement is the normal diplomatic standard;

Fourth, the current U.S. administration's policy of giving covert support to groups and strategies aimed at undermining the present Russian government will have a highly negative affect on that government's behavior towards the US in other areas, including ones of vital interest to the United States.

"Selective co-operation" with Russia, as this course is currently being pursued by the Bush administration, and supported by some elements of the Democratic Party, are contrary to America's best interests. This approach assumes that the US can act against what Russia sees as its vital interests in one area while receiving Russian help for what the U.S. sees as its own vital interests in another. This is contrary to diplomatic history, to America's own behavior when faced with such demands from other states, and indeed to basic common sense.

As is clear from the condition both of the US military and of the US budget deficit, America's leading geopolitical role is placing great strains on America's resources. In these circumstances, assuming new burdens -- even potential ones -- can only be justified if these are indisputably in the vital interests of the United States. We do not believe that assuming responsibility -- through NATO enlargement -- for the defense of Ukraine, Georgia and other former Soviet states comes close to meeting that test, especially given the strong Russian hostility it is guaranteed to produce.

No vital interest of either Russia or the United States divides our two countries today. Our disputes can be managed and contained by mature statesmanship on both sides. Terrorist groups threaten both the US and Russia. Faced with this common threat, and with the importance of patient engagement of Russia with the West, to continue to permit anti-Russian sentiments to undermine this relationship crucial to our interests is folly.