Russia as It Is

A Grand Strategy for Confronting Putin

Red dawn: Russian and Syrian soldiers outside eastern Ghouta, Syria, February 2018. OMAR SANADIKI / REUTERS

Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated to their most dangerous point in decades. The current situation is not, as many have dubbed it, a new Cold War. But no one should draw much comfort from the ways in which today’s standoff differs from the earlier one. The quantitative nuclear arms race is over, but Russia and the United States have begun a new qualitative arms race in nuclear delivery vehicles, missile defenses, and digital weapons. The two countries are no longer engulfed in proxy wars, but over the last decade, Russia has demonstrated less and less restraint in its use of military power. The worldwide ideological struggle between capitalism and communism is history, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has anointed himself the leader of a renewed nationalist, conservative movement fighting a decadent West. To spread these ideas, the Russian government has made huge investments in television and radio stations, social media networks, and Internet “troll farms,” and it has spent lavishly in support of like-minded politicians abroad. The best description of the current hostilities is not cold war but hot peace.

Washington must accept that Putin is here to stay and won’t end his assault on Western democracy and multilateral institutions anytime soon. To deal with the threat, the United States desperately needs a new bipartisan grand strategy. It must find ways to contain the Kremlin’s economic, military, and political influence and to strengthen democratic allies, and it must work with the Kremlin when doing so is truly necessary and freeze it out when it is not. But above all, Washington must be patient. As long as Putin remains in power, changing Russia will be close to impossible. The best Washington can hope for in most cases is to successfully restrain Moscow’s actions abroad while waiting for Russia to change from within.


At the end of the Cold War, both U.S. and Russian leaders embraced the promise of closer relations. So what went

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