How to Chart a New Course for Russia
David A. Keene | Dan Negrea
Feb 18, 2021
Throughout its history, Russia has been torn between its European and Asian roots. Today, autocratic Russia feels rejected and even threatened by democratic Europe and the West in general. To find a place in Europe, though, Russia would have to improve its democratic credentials and abandon its historic habit of threatening its neighbors. It can be done. Germany and France, historic European competitors and enemies have avoided war with each other for 76 years; France and England for 151 years.
Rapprochement will be difficult with Putin in control, but he won’t be around forever, and the United States should prepare now for the day when Moscow’s leaders will realize that Russia’s national interests require a different foreign policy.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon our continuing effort to discourage Russia’s dictatorial and expansionist actions through sanctions imposed together with Europe and the rest of the Free World. Moscow must realize that her behavior toward her neighbors matters and that bullies have few friends. It does mean that we should make it clear that we would welcome a friendlier Russia into the western family of nations and that we should avoid knee-jerk hostility to Russia. Whatever her faults, today’s Russia is not the existential enemy we faced down and defeated in an earlier day.
It is important that we develop ties with a new generation of Russian politicians who will be the ones to eventually chart a new course for their country. Talking about “regime change” in Russia is counterproductive. A new Russian foreign policy will come from new leaders from within the existing establishment who recognize the need to change. This will eventually lead to lifting sanctions on Russia as part of comprehensive negotiations with the United States and Europe.
Better future relations can also be aided by increased people-to-people contacts. Such contacts have diminished in recent years. It is time to reverse course. Our quarrel has never been with the Russian people but with the actions of some of her rulers. The United States has always polled well in Russia, but less so recently.
Russian interference in U.S. and European politics has been real, harmful, and unacceptable. But exaggerating its impact and imagining Russian interference where it does not exist is not in our long-term interest. Before the authenticity of the Hunter Biden emails could be verified, for example, many politicians and media people rushed to label it Russian disinformation, an assertion contradicted by the then Director of National Intelligence. Making Russia a scapegoat for domestic political purposes is counterproductive to our important geopolitical goal of creating a wedge between China and Russia.
Ordinary Russians as well as her leaders need to know that a Russia that respects international law will be welcomed as a friend by the United States, Europe, and the rest of the Free World. And that she will not be forever demonized for real and imaginary sins of the past.
David Keene is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center of National Interest and was chairman of the American Conservative Union for 28 years.
Dan Negrea served at the Department of State as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs and as a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff in the Trump Administration. A defector from Communist Romania, he also formed and led a New York investment company.