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Jeffrey Mankoff on “Sovereign Realism”

Today Jeffrey Mankoff of Harvard University has an opinion piece in the Moscow Times analyzing Sergei Lavrov’s speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. Mankoff’s article gets a little caught up in a familiar polemic, one shaped by the meta-narrative of Russia-as-victim. He writes:

“Russia’s sovereign foreign policy is focused on promoting Russian interests, not challenging the West. The difference is significant, because Russian and U.S interests are not mutually exclusive as they often were during the Cold War.”

putin_energy.jpg Of course Russia has a legitimate right to pursue its interests abroad, and this in itself should not be alarming. However, the Kremlin is actively exploiting this angle to force unnecessary concessions and convince the international community to tolerate its frequent violations of international norms and regulations. Pragmaticism and realism are both important for diplomacy, but what we face here is an administration that refuses to engage within a rule-based environment. There is a big difference between reviving Cold War suspicions or hostility and simply getting tough with Russia, namely by asking them for visible improvements in democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Now is not the time to be weak-kneed and apologetic – it’s time to turn the Russian relationship into a constructive partnership.