U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia

Vladimir Putin has managed a remarkable feat. He has successfully fooled two successive Presidents of the United States—who could not have had more different personalities and political beliefs—into believing that he was, or could become, a reliable, and possibly even a democratic, partner with the United States. In both cases, the U.S. ultimately became disillusioned, but reality did not dawn until well into each President’s second term.

The United States cannot afford to be fooled a third time. Nor can it afford to approach Russia, and the problems it is creating, as though they are separate and unrelated. Naturally, no solution can address every problem. But at the heart of all these problems is a single one: the nature of the Russian regime. Clarity in U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia begins with understanding that Russia is not on a rocky road to democracy. It is an autocracy that justifies and sustains its hold on political power by force, fraud, and a thorough and strongly ideological assault on the West in general, and the U.S. in particular. The U.S. needs to approach Russia as Russia actually is, not as the U.S. wishes Russia might be.

In 1943, Winston Churchill, frustrated by years of Soviet complaints, perverted accusations of bad faith, and maltreatment, decided he had enough. As he put it, “Experience has taught me that it is not worth while arguing with Soviet people. One simply has to confront them with the new fact and await their reactions.”

That is the correct course for the U.S. to follow toward Russia today. The U.S. has nothing to gain from seeking to argue its case with Russia. It should speak the truth, calmly show the Putin regime that the U.S. does not regard it as a fit international partner, and make clear that Russian aggression and hostility will henceforward carry predictable rhetorical and actual costs for Russia. It should then await the Russian reaction, and respond accordingly.

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