Get our latest essays, archival selections, reading lists, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
The Russian–U.S. relationship has yet to hit rock bottom, although it continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Despite the amicable official meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in early July, Congress codified and expanded executive-branch economic sanctions against Russia and verbal sparring then forced reductions in diplomatic staffs and shuttered facilities in both countries. Indeed, talk of a second Cold War is now common.
Mainstream thinking in the United States places the blame squarely on Putin, who, so the argument goes, ended a promising period in relations that began in the late Soviet era under Mikhail Gorbachev and extended into the first post-Soviet decade under Boris Yeltsin. With this viewpoint, Putin’s Russia is our foe, and things will change for the better only with its passing.
At the core of Russian identity is the deeply held belief that Russia must be a great power and that it must be recognized as such.
This view fuels ever-harsher steps against Russia, blocking any effort to reduce tension. This past spring, as recent news shows, Washington refused to move on a detailed Russian plan for rapprochement because of deepening concerns about the Kremlin’s destabilization of Ukraine and interference in the U.S. election, among other things. But this thinking rests on a mistaken assessment of the challenge we face. We do not simply have a Putin problem. Instead, we face a larger question, one that we have grappled with for decades: how does the United States constrain Russia when and where it threatens our interests while still cooperating with it, as we must, on looming transnational problems?
A survey of the Russian–U.S. relationship since the mid-1980s shows that much has gone wrong between the two countries—including under Gorbachev and Yeltsin who are viewed more favorably in the West—but that history also reveals important, mutually beneficial instances of cooperation, particularly during the twilight of the Cold War.
As Russian and U.S. leaders today try to prevent the relationship from deteriorating further and sparking a military confrontation, this history—especially as seen from the perspective of Russia’s ambitions and reactions to U.S. policy—offers important insights on how to proceed. For the United States it should make clear that Putin is not an aberration among recent Russian rulers, as he is routinely depicted to be in the West, and that he stands in line with his predecessors. His policies toward the West are a logical evolution and, in important respects, a continuation of theirs, grounded in a similar understanding of Russia’s destiny.
This continuity suggests that the best approach to Russia today, even during a time of maximum discord, is what we call “engagement leavened by realism.” This approach has advanced our interests in the past with Russia, and it ensures we can manage the consequences of inevitable disagreements while also preventing those disagreements from ruling out cooperation on issues where there is common ground.
• • •
At the core of Russian identity is the deeply held belief that Russia must be a great power and that it must be recognized as such. Ever since Peter the Great brought Russia into Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the belief in Russia’s predestined role in the world has informed Russian thinking and actions.
That is particularly true of the most recent top leaders—Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. (Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012, never escaped Putin’s shadow.) All three were—or are—consumed by Russia’s future as a great power. Though their domestic and foreign policies often differed dramatically, each of these leaders has been guided by an overarching and common vision of Russia as a great power.
Putin attempted to improve relations with the United States in a bid to validate Russia as a major global player.
Russia’s leaders never ceased to think of their country as a great power, even during times of great difficulty. As he rose to power in the 1980s, Gorbachev understood how far the Soviet Union was lagging behind the West, particularly in cutting-edge technology. That lag had been masked in the 1970s by both the Soviet Union’s expansion abroad and the United States' retrenchment after its defeat in Vietnam and the turmoil of Watergate. But the Chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Ogarkov, warned as early as 1982 that the revolution in military affairs underway in the United States would erode Soviet military power. And Gorbachev saw the technological lag first-hand while visiting a mechanized farm in Canada in 1983. He and Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet ambassador to Canada who would soon become one of Gorbachev’s closest advisers, concluded then that without far-reaching economic reform, the West would leave the Soviet Union in the dust.
What Gorbachev and his fellow reformers understood was that the Soviet Union’s predicament could no longer be finessed, especially as the United States regained its confidence and dynamism under Ronald Reagan. To prevent that denouement, Gorbachev launched an ambitious program of domestic and foreign policy reform to modernize and revitalize the Soviet Union, opening up politics to genuine competition and moving a planned economy toward a market-based system. He believed that ending the Cold War, which placed a tremendous strain on the economy, was a perquisite for thorough reform, and he pursued rapprochement with the West. Like his predecessors, he relished his country’s image as an equal of the United States, and he worked with the United States on nuclear disarmament and in reducing tensions, especially in Europe.
In the end, however, Gorbachev’s domestic reforms unleashed uncontrollable forces. Greater political freedom led to critical examinations of the past that focused on Stalinist and Leninist crimes and nourished national movements that challenged the myth that the Soviet Union had emerged as a voluntary association of free peoples. Political and economic reform undermined the institutions of Soviet power and produced an economic crisis. Eventually, Gorbachev’s program to revitalize the Soviet Union destroyed it.
• • •
The breakup of the Soviet Union left its successor state, the Russian Federation, in a weak position. It was shorn of large swathes of territory, millions of people, and valuable natural resources. It lost its superpower status virtually overnight. That unsettled its leaders, but also many Russian citizens, even those who welcomed the demise of the oppressive, inefficient Soviet system.
For Yeltsin, Russia's first president, the question was how to regenerate Russian power. Like Gorbachev before him, he launched a reform effort—one that was focused on breaking with the strictures of Soviet economics, fostering a market economy and private property, and eradicating the influence of the Communist Party. At the same time, he moved beyond rapprochement toward partnership with the United States.
Yeltsin repeatedly turned to the West for ideas, technical assistance, and financing. Hundreds of Western advisers were welcomed to offer advice on transitioning to a market economy and an open political system and to teach Russians the skills needed to succeed in the new environment. Billions of dollars poured in from the International Monetary Fund and Western governments, and the United States and Europe openly used the assistance to bolster Yeltsin and other leaders they considered to be pro-Western.
U.S.–Russian relations grew warmer in Bush's early years, but the optimism was short-lived.
By building a close relationship with the United States, Yeltsin presented Russia as a great power despite the magnitude of its problems. Shortly after the Soviet collapse, he traveled to Washington, D.C., and spoke before an admiring joint session of Congress. “Today,” he declared, “free and democratic Russia is extending its hand of friendship to the people of America. Acting on the will of the people of Russia, I am inviting you, and through you the people of the United States, to join us in partnership, in the quest for freedom and justice in the twenty-first century.”
Yeltsin then worked to forge a tight personal bond with Bill Clinton, and the two countries cooperated when interests aligned, for instance in convincing Ukraine to return to Russia elements of the Soviet nuclear arsenal that remained on its territory. When the United States took actions that Russia opposed, the Unites States tried to assuage Russian pride with symbolic recognition of Russia’s continuing importance. After the U.S. military intervention in Bosnia, for example, the United States ensured that Russia was included in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR).
Yeltsin’s efforts paid off, but there were limits to what the United States was prepared to do to ease Russian concerns, especially as the country grew economically and politically weaker. In 1995 the United States and its NATO allies laid the groundwork for expansion eastward. In a study “on the merits of admitting new members,” NATO concluded that, “the end of the Cold War provided a unique opportunity to build improved security in the entire Euro-Atlantic area and that NATO enlargement would contribute to enhanced stability and security for all.”
Russia vehemently opposed NATO expansion from the outset, but realized that it was powerless to stop it. In 1999 the alliance initiated its first wave of post-Cold War expansion by admitting Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland—a step that moved the military pact 400 miles eastward toward Russia’s border.
Similarly, Russia denounced NATO’s 1999 humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, during which the United States began bombing Serbia, a Slavic and Orthodox Christian country that Russia had cultivated a special relationship with. Joined by the Chinese leadership, Yeltsin blasted the bombing as an “illegal military action,” and his UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov (currently Russia’s foreign minister) slammed the United States for acting like “a global policeman.”
Like Gorbachev, Yeltsin believed that his country’s destiny was to be a great power, and he was furious when the West acted in ways that appeared to disrespect Russia or exploit its temporary weakness. On one occasion Yeltsin vented to Strobe Talbott, Clinton’s top Russia expert, that “Russia isn’t Haiti and we won’ be treated as though we were. . . . I don’t like it when the United States flaunts its superiority. . . . Russia will rise again! I repeat: Russia will rise again.” That would occur, he added, because Russia was a nuclear power but “also because of our economy, our culture, and our spiritual power.”
In Moscow’s reading, the revolution in Ukraine was a U.S.-masterminded dress rehearsal for regime change in Russia.
At another point, Yeltsin was piqued by the Clinton administration’s criticism of the Russian war in Chechnya. While visiting China in December 1999, he thundered, “Clinton allowed himself to pressure Russia yesterday. He must have forgotten what Russia is. We have an arsenal full of nuclear weapons.” (Ironically, it was left to Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, to calm the waters. “I think it is absolutely incorrect,” Putin said at the time, “to say that there has been a chill in Russian–American relations. We have very good relations with America.”)
Russia was too weak and Yeltsin too dependent on the West to resist with much more than rhetoric, but it is important to remember that it was during Yeltsin’s presidency that Russia and China, building on the rapprochement that had occurred under Gorbachev, forged what each described as a “strategic partnership.” Nowadays, Russia’s rejection of U.S. hegemony and its alignment with China are ascribed to Putin. But it was Yeltsin who oversaw tens of billions of dollars in Russian arms sales to China. It was during his presidency that the two countries issued joint statements denouncing policies aimed at “forcing the international community to accept a uni-polar [sic] world pattern and a single model of culture, value concepts and ideology . . . using the concepts of ‘human rights are superior to sovereignty’ and ‘humanitarian intervention.’”
Likewise Putin has been criticized in the West for clinging to a retrograde sphere-of-influence thinking. But it was Yeltsin who was determined to secure Russian predominance in the other ex-Soviet states. His policies toward Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Ukraine—against which he admitted using the pricing and supply of natural gas to gain leverage—are evidence. He even called upon the international community to accord Russia “special powers” to maintain stability there.
Yet for all of Yeltsin’s bravado, the Russia he bequeathed to Putin at the very end of 1999 had suffered through nearly a decade of profound socio-economic crisis and national humiliation. After a long depression that had culminated in the financial collapse of August 1998, the economy had barely stabilized. The central government had little power over oligarchs and regional barons, centrifugal forces were cresting, and Russia mattered little in global affairs. Many Russians feared that their country was on the verge of collapse just eight short years after the Soviet Union had vanished.
• • •
From the beginning, Putin was determined to reverse the decline, rebuild the Russian state, and reclaim Russia’s status as a great power. That was the clear message of his programmatic document, Russia at the Turn of the Millennium, released just as he assumed power. “Russia,” he wrote, “is in the midst of one of the most difficult periods in its history. For the first time in the past 200–300 years, it is facing a real threat of sliding to the second, and possibly even third, echelon of states in the world. We are running out of time for removing this threat.” In this effort he enjoyed widespread backing from the elites and the public, exhausted and angry after a decade of decline at home and humiliation abroad.
Putin’s domestic program focused on restoring the Kremlin’s authority, and he moved with great speed to rein in the autonomous centers of power that had emerged under Yeltsin. Putin installed his representatives to oversee the regional bosses, stripped them of their ex officio seats in the Federation Council (the upper legislative chamber), and broadened the president’s power to dismiss them. Most oligarchs fell quickly into line, accepting Putin’s offer that allowed them to retain their property (much of it obtained in suspect privatization deals) providing they stay out of politics. Those that did not—notably Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky—were harassed by federal authorities, stripped of their major assets, and eventually driven into exile or imprisoned. Fortuitously, rising oil prices, in conjunction with sound fiscal and monetary policy, fueled an economic recovery (GDP increased by an average of nearly 7 percent annually until 2008), which galvanized public and elite support for the Kremlin’s reassertion of authority.
Putin advanced the goals he set for himself seventeen years ago: Russia is stronger militarily, has a higher international profile, and is a power to be reckoned with. But he is now at a crossroads.
Abroad, Putin wanted to improve relations with the United States, the preeminent global power by any measure, and to use the reflected power of the United States to validate Russia as a major global player. To that end, he was the first foreign leader to reach out to the United States after the catastrophic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, offering counterterrorist assistance. Russia provided valuable support in the initial phases of the U.S. war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the two sides touted an alliance against terrorism. Putin even explored the possibility of increasing Russia’s cooperation with NATO.
Under the influence of counterterrorism cooperation, relations drew even closer in May 2002. At the U.S.–Russian summit held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Putin and Bush issued a Joint Declaration proposing a strategic partnership in which the two countries would work together as equals on common interests. At a NATO–Russia summit shortly thereafter, Russia and the alliance signed an accord entitled “NATO–Russia Relations: A New Quality” and created the NATO–Russia Council, on which Russia and NATO allies would work as partners to coordinate policy.
Symbolically at least Russia was recognized as a great power. As U.S.–Russian relations grew warmer, Putin toned down his objections to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the NATO decision to expand to seven countries in Eastern Europe, including the three former Soviet Baltic states.
But the optimism proved short-lived. The turning point came in Fall 2004, with the September terrorist attack in Beslan in the Caucasus and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, which started in November. In Beslan, terrorists seized a local school, resulting in nearly 400 deaths, many of them children. Beslan, Putin believed, would not have occurred if the United States had been a true counterterrorist ally. The United States had refused to work closely with Russia in cracking down on Chechen rebels, all of whom were terrorists in Moscow’s eyes, but some of whom Washington insisted were moderates with legitimate grievances. In remarks shortly after the Beslan tragedy, Putin made veiled references to the United States and what he thought its goals were: “Some want to tear off a big chunk of our country. Others help them to do it. They help because they think that Russia, as one of the greatest nuclear powers of the world, is still a threat, and this threat has to be eliminated. And terrorism is only an instrument to achieve these goals.”
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine exacerbated the situation. In Moscow’s reading, the United States had masterminded the revolution to install a pro-Western figure as president over the candidate endorsed by Putin. Putin soon came to view the revolution in Ukraine as a dress rehearsal for regime change in Russia itself. Putin believed it was part of the United States’ larger effort to construct a unipolar world based on its values and interests, a world that it could dominate with little regard for other major powers. “It is extremely dangerous,” he noted shortly after the Orange Revolution, “to attempt to rebuild modern civilization, which God has created to be diverse and multifaceted, according to the barracks principles of a unipolar world.”
In response Putin began working to fortify Russia against Western influence and interference. The Kremlin sponsored nationalist youth movements—notably Nashi (Our Guys)—partly to provide street muscle in case a color revolution was to emerge. And it clamped down on civil society, especially Western-funded non-governmental organizations, which, as Putin saw it, were promoting a Western agenda in Russia with the guise of fostering democracy.
Putin finally proclaimed his break with the United States at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007. As U.S. officials watched from the audience, he laid out a litany of grievances, including accusing the United States of violating international law, relying excessively on the use of military force and thereby encouraging the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, provoking an arms race, and threatening Russia through NATO expansion. He ended with a warning, which echoed Yeltsin’s words: “Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years. It has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today.”
Two policies in particular dominated Russia’s growing resistance to the United States: preserving Russian preeminence in the former Soviet space and creating and supporting alternative, global institutions. Russia sponsored the first diplomatic meetings of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) so that major emerging economies could increase their influence. And it used its energy exports to put pressure on former Soviet states that sought closer ties with the West, most notably raising prices and cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 and 2009. At the extreme it used military forces against Georgia in 2008 after NATO announced that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become members.
After a brief interlude—during which President Medvedev pursued a “reset” with President Barrack Obama—Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 and advanced an even harsher line against the United States than he had before. The Arab Spring, which Moscow believed the United States had inspired to overthrow regimes out of its favor, resurrected Putin’s fear of color revolutions. He was outraged by the NATO operation in Libya, ostensibly a humanitarian action that morphed into a war against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi and ended in his brutal murder by the rebels. Against this background Putin’s paranoia deepened: after rigged elections in the lower house of the legislature sparked anti-Putin demonstrations in December 2011, he blamed then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and painted the leaders as pawns.
Once he had safely won the presidential election in March 2012, Putin launched an ever-widening crackdown on dissent, arresting opposition leaders, pressuring Western-funded non-governmental organizations, and pushing legislation to narrow the scope for public debate. He vigorously promoted Russian patriotism and railed against external foes in an effort to bolster the regime’s legitimacy when economic growth and personal well being no longer could.
The United States will continue to face the challenge of managing relations with Russia, regardless of who is in power. So how should it do so?
Abroad, Putin ardently pursued closer ties with China, expanding commercial relations (especially energy and arms sales) and conducting joint naval exercises in the South China Sea (2016) and the Baltic Sea (2017). He continued to support insurgents in eastern Ukraine despite Western economic sanctions, and he launched a wide-ranging cyber and disinformation campaign in the West to tarnish the image of Western democracy and sow domestic discord, of which the interference in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign is only the most prominent example.
Indeed, Putin’s assertive strategy abroad appeared to win favor at home. After the Kremlin’s startling success in returning Crimea to Russia in 2014 and in catching the West flatfooted with its intervention in Syria the following year, Putin’s approval rating, which had dipped to 61 percent at the end of 2013, soared to over 80 percent—and even reached an unprecedented 89 percent in June 2015.
Now, in the wake of his failed attempt at rapprochement with Trump, Putin has stepped up his anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions. As presidential elections in Russia loom in March 2018, U.S.–Russian relations have swung from the promise of partnership that emerged under Gorbachev in the 1980s to the unprecedented level of confrontation that exists today. Putin’s Russia stands in stark opposition to the West, particularly the United States, and seeks to rally opposition to the U.S.-led global order. In the United States, animus toward Russia runs high, among Democrats as well as Republicans.
At home, Putin faces a problem not dissimilar to the one Gorbachev did. The economic model based on rising commodity prices and exploitation of idle capacity created by the economic crash of the 1990s fueled rapid economic growth in the 2000s, but it has exhausted itself. The Russian economy stagnated after the 2008–9 global financial crisis and slipped into a recession in 2014. Though there has been a slow, albeit uneven, recovery since 2016, reputable forecasters anticipate low growth rates for years to come.
Consequently, as was true under Gorbachev, sustaining Russia as a great power will require sustained economic reform, and that in turn will require opening up the political system to encourage the creativity and flexibility that lie at the foundations of successful modern economies. Yet Putin must do that without destabilizing the system, as Gorbachev unintentionally did. Modernizing the economy will also require rapprochement with the West, as Gorbachev realized, since the technology and managerial know-how Russia needs is still only available in the West, particularly the United States.
So Putin now finds himself at a crossroads. He has advanced the goals he set for himself seventeen years ago: Russia is stronger militarily, has a higher international profile, and is a power to be reckoned with. But the path forward for sustaining Russia as a great power remains unclear and numerous economic and social problems lie ahead.
• • •
However Putin or his eventual successor decides to deal with the current challenges, the United States should be certain that he will remain committed to Russia’s great-power aspirations. Opinion polls show that most Russians share Putin’s vision of Russia’s role in the world and his negative view of the West. Even Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most famous opposition figure who aspires to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, has a strong nationalist strain. While Navalny characterized Crimea’s seizure as illegal and an “outrageous violations of international norms,” he concluded that “Crimea is now part of the Russian Federation,” and that that would not change. He advised “Ukrainians not to kid themselves,” and in a July 2017 television debate, Navalny lamented the economic burden created by the war there but studiously avoided the question of whether he would return Crimea if he is elected president. (Incidentally, Gorbachev, who is celebrated for his role in ending the Cold War, has supported Putin’s annexation of Crimea, claiming that it reflected the will of the peninsula’s people and that under the circumstances he would have acted as Putin did.)
Russia’s leaders—no matter who they are—will continue to seek predominant influence in former Soviet states and resist any encroachments by the West. They will reject U.S. assurances that the expansion of NATO is not a gambit to contain Russia. They will not be persuaded by Western claims that universally accepted legal and ethical norms have changed the nature of world politics. They will point to the 2003 Iraq war—a preventive attack on a country that posed no threat to the United States and its Western allies—and the widespread use of torture and extraordinary rendition in the wake of 9/11 as evidence that the United States complies with legal and normative principles when the occasion suits it and breaches them when it deems necessary. And amidst the controversy created by Russian efforts to shape the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, they will doubtless point to the numerous times the United States has attempted to sway electoral outcomes in other countries and even to undermine elected governments.
The best approach to Russia today, even during a time of maximum discord, is what we call ‘engagement leavened by realism.’
In other words, Putin or not, the United States will continue to face the vexing challenge of managing relations with Russia. So how should it do so?
One option is to treat Russia as an adversary, reverting to a version of containment and using deterrence and economic sanctions. The guiding assumption would be that there are few, if any, common interests that allow for substantive, sustained cooperation between Washington and Moscow and that the costs of containment to the United States will be negligible.
As during the Cold War this approach risks a future of freewheeling rivalry punctuated by intermittent crises, which will have to be managed in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust, even hostility. Moreover, they could spiral into a confrontation. The breakdown in communication and bellicose back-and-forth rhetoric would increase the probability of misperception and miscalculation during dangerous episodes. Given the conventional military power Russia now wields—to say nothing of its nuclear weapons and cyber capabilities—the dangers should be obvious and are already presaged by the hair-raising encounters in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea between U.S. ships and aircraft and Russian warplanes.
The second option is minimalism, approximately the stance the United States adopted toward the Soviet Union from 1920 until it accorded it diplomatic recognition in 1933. Russia would be kept at arms length on the theory that its present foreign policy reflects its authoritarian domestic political order and that the former will not change until the latter does. This, however, would amount to a non-policy in that there would be no significant political transactions with Russia. This approach could also require a long wait based on little more than the confidence that Russia will inevitably undergo a democratic revolution.
Minimalism also begs a critical question. How precisely does one pretend, in effect, that a state with Russia’s impressive power-relevant attributes does not exist—or that it can be treated as if it does not much matter? Russia now has the world’s twelfth largest economy in nominal terms and sixth largest in purchasing power parity terms, according to the World Bank. Its defense budget, the world’s third largest, underwrites powerful conventional forces (that Putin has spent billions of dollar modernizing), plus 7,000 nuclear warheads (slightly more than the United States has). Then there is Russia’s sheer size: a population of 144 million and a land area of 6.6 million square miles stretching across 11 time zones.
The third alternative—which we call engagement leavened by realism—would proceed from the assumption that containment involves dangerous risks while minimalism is impractical. It would welcome the emergence of democracy in Russia but would not allow quotidian policy to be shaped by the attendant hope. It would assume that the internal differences between Russia and the United States and the dissimilar geopolitical circumstances each faces would inevitably produce divergent interpretations of, and responses to, events—the wars in Ukraine and Syria being examples. It would expect Russia to regard itself as a great power, defend its interests as defined by its leadership, and, even in times of weakness, act on the premise that recovery and resurgence are inevitable.
There would inevitably be crises to manage, perhaps even collisions to avoid. But engagement leavened by realism would also identify shared interests and exploit opportunities for cooperation, even if with modest expectations. Consider, for instance, advancing arms control and nuclear non-proliferation; averting war on the Korean peninsula or unregulated rivalry in the Arctic, the thawing of which has made it a maritime passageway as well as a new energy frontier; coordinating policies against terrorism and climate change; avoiding accidental military clashes; stabilizing Syria; and preventing bilateral crises from escalating into armed, especially nuclear, confrontations.
This, in broad outline, is how the United States and the Soviet Union dealt with each other during much of the Cold War. When Gorbachev’s advent created the context for a much-improved relationship, presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush seized the opportunity. This same approach characterized the U.S.–Russian relationship during Yeltsin’s presidency and indeed the early parts of Putin’s. And ever since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger prepared the ground in the 1970s for a new relationship with China, Washington has adopted a similar strategy toward Beijing. If Russia and the United States wish to avoid a rupture, to say nothing of a military confrontation, engagement leavened by realism would appear to be the best alternative.
Rajan Menon is the director of the Grand Strategy Program at Defense Priorities, Spitzer Professor Emeritus at the Powell School of City College of New York, and a senior research fellow at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute for War and Peace Studies. He is the author (with Eugene Rumer) of Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post-Cold War Order (MIT Press, 2015).
Thomas Graham, managing director at Kissinger Associates, Inc., was the senior director for Russia on the US National Security Council staff 2004-2007.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
Support us with a donation this giving season.
Robin D. G. Kelley on the midterm elections.
What we have achieved this year—and our plans for 2023.