Russia is a determined adversary of the United States. The Putin government, which has rebuilt the military, believes that Washington is leading a hostile endeavor designed to undermine its international positions and domestic stability. This determination to resist and challenge America is tempered by Moscow’s desire for a more constructive relationship, even partnership, with the United States—as long as it is available on Moscow’s own terms. Russia’s economic limitations, lack of reliable allies, and demographic problems mean that Vladimir Putin and his advisors are acutely aware that the costs of a rivalry with America are high. In contrast to the Soviet Union, Russia has neither the ideology nor the messianic drive that would require inveterate enemies, on the one hand, and the reflexive support of like-minded autocratic regimes, on the other.
Put bluntly, the future of U.S.-Russia relations is largely America’s choice and it will depend on how deftly the Biden administration defines its fundamental interests—either as a hegemonic democratic empire, determined and obliged to formulate and implement the international rules of the game; or as a leading but restrained geopolitical and economic power prepared to define those interests more narrowly that allows other nations, as long as they do not directly challenge America, to live more or less according to their own standards. If the United States cannot settle for anything short of unquestioned hegemony, Russia will indubitably prove a serious impediment, prepared to challenge it.
Regardless of its intentions, Russia remains an important country for America, and by one essential criterion, the most important county: it is the only nation capable of physically destroying the United States. That would of course end in the destruction of Russia; but history provides abundant examples of leaders who inadvertently created catastrophes such as World War I.
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