unwillingness or inability to reciprocate with its own reset but-ton and its lack o introspection. It is as i Russia were a country with no mirrors because the elite there blame others or all prob-lems, never themselves. Barring changes in Russian behaviorand policy, Obama’s eorts to reshape relations between Wash-ington and Moscow will ace serious, perhaps insurmountable,hurdles. Tat is not an argument or giving up on the relation-ship at this early stage, but it is a reason to keep expectations very modest and to approach today’s Russia with eyes wide open.
Common national interests? Not so fast
Recent reports by various think tanks and organizations advisingthe Obama administration on how to repair relations with Rus-sia (a useul compilation o them can be ound at http://www.amacad.org/russiapolicy.aspx) list areas in which the UnitedStates and Russia should be cooperating: Iran, Aghanistan,North Korea, non-prolieration, and Middle East peace. Tepremise behind the majority o these reports is that Russia andthe United States have common national interests and can reachcommon understandings o how to address these challenges. Tereality is that the current Russian leadership (and it is important todistinguish Russia’s leadership rom the general population) doesnot, or the most part, share our interests or threat perceptions,to say nothing o our values. As long as that is the case, extensivecooperation and signicantly improved relations will be dicultto achieve.Other actors play a role in Russian decision-making such ascorruption and personal interests. Non-transparent, murky,behind-the-scenes deals in arms sales, the energy sector, anddomestic policy highlight the role o corruption and extend toco-opting (or buying) Western accomplices who advocate onRussia’s behal. Te double-hatting o many Russian ocialswhere, in addition to their top government jobs, they also holdsenior positions in Russian companies – or example, Medvedevwas chairman o Gazprom while serving as chie-o-sta to Pu-tin, and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin is also chairman o Rosnef—raises questions about what motivates ocials’ deci-sions and actions. Te extent to which corruption plays a role inRussian decision-making is hard to quantiy and even harder todeal with i other governments try appealing to Russian ocialson national interest grounds when personal interests may be moredominant actors. But what seems clear is that the Russian elitepursues its own interests, including hanging onto power and theperks that come with it, over the pursuit o the country’s overallinterests. By its actions, the elite demonstrates its undamentaldistrust o the population at nearly every turn.Recovering Russia’s wounded sense o pride and place on theworld stage as a global power also explains its leadership’sbehavior. Te collapse o the Soviet Union, the loss o the WarsawPact, and then the chaos and weakness o the Yeltsin years troublemany Russians to this day. Putin amously described the collapseo the USSR as the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe” o the 20
century. Under his leadership, thanks mostly to the rising priceo oil, Russia was able to bounce back, ex its muscles again,and gain the respect o other countries around the world. Tecrowning achievement marking Russia’s return was hosting the G8meeting in 2006; winning the right to host the Olympics in Sochiin 2014 is also a source o pride, especially to Putin.With this renewed sense o pride comes an arrogance, cockiness,assertiveness, sel-condence, and even aggressiveness that iscombined at the same time with paranoia, insecurity, and hy-persensitivity. Tis is a bad, even combustible, combination thatreects a Russia that is both strong and weak at the same time.It is certainly a stronger country than during the 1990s, but italso is a country acing massive demographic, inrastructure, andsocial problems that, i not addressed, will pose many economicchallenges or its leadership and or other countries. Indeed, thePutin years, or all their hype, may be viewed in 20 years (or less)as a time o real missed opportunity or the lack o investment inthe country at a time when Russia’s central bank held the thirdlargest hard-currency reserves in the world.From attempting to undermine the Organization or Security andCooperation in Europe (OSCE) over its emphasis on democracy and human rights and trying to block NAO enlargement tocriticizing the EU’s new Eastern Partnership and decrying mis-sile deense, Russia’s leaders seek to drive wedges between andamong NAO and EU members and between the United Statesand Europe. o the extent that they have a strategy (and the jury is still out on that), it is a counter, anti, or negative strategy. osome degree, this strategy has worked:
Georgia and Ukraine were not oered a MembershipAction Plan (MAP) in Bucharest in April 2008 as Russiahad eared (they were oered the prospect o eventualmembership, but Russia, xated on the MAP possibility,didn’t ocus on that);