Khrestin: US-Russia Relations Unchanged

A new op/ed on Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech from Igor Khrestin, a research assistant for the American Enterprise Institute, in the Daily Standard argues that despite the recent hostile exchanges, the fundamental US-Russia relationship faces the same old problems.

Thus, the parting of ways after the 9/11 “honeymoon” in U.S.-Russian affairs seems more predicated on an inevitable values clash. Setting aside the incompatible political systems and the failure to integrate Russia into Atlantic institutions, the Bush administration’s fervent adherence to the “democratic peace” theory has run counter to the Kremlin’s cold, realpolitik calculations. As such, the Russians balk at what they perceive to be American hegemonic impulses in its own backyard, which have included support for the “color revolutions,” a Congressional resolution supporting the entry of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, and the recent stationing of U.S. military hardware in former Warsaw Pact states. While Putin has the right to ask the “against whom” question, the United States has firmly reserved the right to point out the new geopolitical realities of the post-Cold War era: Kiev, Tbilisi, and Riga are no longer Russian vassal entities, but sovereign states. Their choice of government, leaders, and foreign policy is entirely independent of what Moscow might wish that choice to be. While the Russian state (or by extension, the Gazprom energy monopoly) no longer has to subsidize the economies of post-Soviet states, it must respect their sovereignty. Putin, the Munich “shoe-bang” moment aside, realizes that openly hostile competition with the West is not only undesirable for his goal of “restoring Russia’s greatness,” but simply impossible. Economically, notwithstanding the impressive growth of recent years, per capita GDP has just returned to pre-1990 transition levels. Russia’s military spending, even taking into account purchasing power parity, is at least ten times lower than that of the United States.

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