A Grand Bargain with Russia

What It Would Take to Get the Kremlin to Cooperate

Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in St. Petersburg to award researchers and explorers of the Antarctic continent, June 2014. Alexei Nikolsky / Courtesy Reuters

With tensions between Russia and the West growing by the day, the relationship between them is taking center stage in world politics.  

On the one hand, U.S. and European governments are justifiably frustrated with Russia’s reckless political course, open aggression, and disregard for the norms of international law. But the West should accept at least part of the blame for helping transform the Russia of 2000 into the authoritarian and unpredictable state of 2014. The West’s unreasonably high expectations for Russia’s swift return to normalcy, coupled with its unwillingness to incorporate the country into the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions that continued expanding eastward, ultimately helped spur President Vladimir Putin’s anti-Westernism.

On the other hand, Russia is angry at the United States and Europe for what it saw as overt encouragement of anti-Moscow protests that engulfed Ukraine in late 2013. Moscow has since fueled the counter-protest that had emerged as a backlash, using confrontational rhetoric to electrify supporters at home and abroad. This explains why the Kremlin is constantly looking for differences, no matter how small, between Russia and the West, exacerbating the already poor relations.

If the current trends continue, we may witness a full-scale repetition of the Cold War, with all its regional conflicts, proxy battles, and arms races. Today, however, there will be an added element: a full-scale economic confrontation of a kind that was practically absent half a century ago. And at any rate, it is clear that there will be no return to normalcy on Russia’s part. As the Kremlin plays on the baser emotions of an increasingly indoctrinated population, it is pulling the country into a new conflict with the rest of the world. 


Russia and the West do not need this conflict. The United States and the European countries seem to understand that and, to avoid the costs of a major clash, have tried to prevent further escalation. Russia, on the other hand, does not appear to have this understanding.

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