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Expect Russia to Feel Threatened

David Satter

Russia’s relations with the U.S. depend on the requirements of the Russian internal situation. Now that Putin faces serious internal opposition, we can expect him to adopt a confrontational policy toward the U.S. Only in this way can he distract attention from his own misrule and unite Russians around him in the face of what he will claim is a threat from the West.

The key factor here is not the change from Medvedev to Putin, which is meaningless. Putin was in charge even when Medvedev was formally president. The big change is that Russians have begun to protest after years of passivity and the Putin regime cannot be sure of its long-term hold on power. It is this and not any change in personalities or the behavior of the U.S. that will shape U.S.-Russian relations.

We can expect Russia to emerge as a strong defender of Iran and such “liberal” leaders as Syria’s Assad. We can further expect Russia to threaten to scrap the strategic arms reduction treaty if it is not accepted as a full partner in European defense. Espionage activity by Russian agents is likely to increase. Russia may try to interfere with U.S. basing rights in Central Asia and to limit its cooperation over Afghanistan. Most of all, we can expect that attempts by the U.S. to defend human rights in Russia and to work for democratic reform will be treated as an attempt to dictate to Russia and interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

Under the circumstances, the U.S. should deal with Russia exclusively on the basis of facts and without effusive demonstrations of goodwill. Cooperation should be based on negotiations and not extended unilaterally. The U.S. should not hesitate to defend those who share our values in Russia. We have an obligation to do this and it is the best way to build moral capital for the future.

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