As the Bush administration comes to a close, U.S.-Russian relations have fallen to their lowest level since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Unresolved and problematic issues dominate the agenda, little confidence exists between Washington and Moscow, and the shrill tone of official rhetoric approaches that of the Cold War.
This state of affairs is a far cry from what Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin envisaged in 2002, when they defined a framework for a qualitatively different U.S.-Russian relationship. Both sides bear responsibility for the failure to realize that vision.
As President Barack Obama takes charge of the Oval Office, he confronts a wary and assertive Russia among the many foreign policy challenges in his inbox. Moscow desires to reclaim “great power” status, an ambition fueled over the past five years by hundreds of billions of dollars in energy revenues. Its desires are colored by a bitter perception that the West took advantage of Russian weakness in the 1990s and that Washington has failed to take serious account of Moscow’s interests. Building a more sustainable relationship with Russia will not prove easy.