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But he can get quite animated if he wants to drive home a point, his eyes flashing and his voice rising in pitch. Having to look up at the secretary did not improve his disposition. Putin kept up the pressure. On a dreary February afternoon in , as snow fell steadily outside my office window, I wrote a long personal email to Secretary Rice, emphasizing that Putin would see any move toward NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia as a serious and deliberate challenge.

The prospects of subsequent Russian-Georgian conflict would be high. Throughout this period, domestic repression was building. Two weeks before Putin and Rice squared off in front of the fireplace, Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless journalist who had covered the wars in Chechnya and a variety of abuses in Russian society, was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building.

I recall the day well—a cold autumn afternoon, dusk settling, snowflakes in the air, long lines of mourners about 3, altogether shuffling slowly toward the hall where her casket lay. Not a single representative of the Russian government showed up. The following year, in a blunt private conversation with me, Putin accused the U. Putin had handed off the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev and become prime minister, but he remained the ultimate decision maker.

Why not ask Putin for his candid assessment of what he thought had gone right, and what had gone wrong, in Russian-American relations over the past decade? Maybe letting him get some things off his chest would set a good tone. The president nodded.

Failed states are mainly a threat to their own inhabitants. We should help them anyway.

I sat wondering about the wisdom of my advice and my future in the new administration. He said it was in neither of our interests to let our disagreements obscure those areas where we could each benefit by working together, and where U. We should explore the possibilities of cooperation, he explained, without inflating expectations. Putin was wary, but said he was willing to try. Slouching a little in his chair, his legs spread wide, he looked every bit the sullen and surly kid in the back of the classroom an image that Obama once, undiplomatically, used himself in public.

Ford on Hoffmann, 'World Disorders: Troubled Peace in the Post-Cold War Era'

She asked him to talk a little about his highly publicized efforts to save Siberian tigers from extinction. He stood up and asked Clinton to come with him to his private office. I trailed them down several hallways, past startled guards and assistants. Arriving at his office, he proceeded to show the secretary, on a large map of Russia covering most of one wall, the areas he had visited on his Siberian-tiger trips, as well as areas in the north where he planned to go that summer to tranquilize and tag polar bears. With genuine enthusiasm, he asked whether former President Clinton might like to come along, or maybe even the secretary herself?

I had never seen Putin so animated. The secretary applauded his commitment to wildlife conservation, and said this might be another area where Russia and America could work together more.

The Post-Cold War World

She politely deflected the invitation, although she promised to mention it to her husband. As we rode back to Moscow after the meeting, Clinton smiled and affirmed that neither she nor her husband would be spending their summer vacation with Putin near the Arctic Circle. To see Putin so enthusiastic about Siberian wildlife and so dour about nearly every aspect of the U. With Medvedev in the Kremlin, Obama struggled to stay connected to Putin, whose suspicions never really eased, and who was still inclined to paint the U.

We managed a string of tangible accomplishments: a new nuclear-arms-reduction treaty; a military transit agreement for Afghanistan; a partnership on the Iranian nuclear issue.


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But the upheavals of the Arab Spring unnerved Putin; he reportedly watched the grisly video of the demise of the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi—caught hiding in a drainage pipe and killed by Western-backed rebels—over and over again. Domestically, as oil prices fell and his rickety, resource-dependent economy slowed, he worried that it would be hard to sustain his old social contract, whereby he exercised full control over politics in return for ensuring rising living standards and a measure of prosperity.

In a speech in Europe, Clinton sharply criticized the Russian government. Putin has a remarkable capacity for storing up slights and grievances, and assembling them to fit his narrative of the West trying to keep Russia down. The arc of the U. In , the crisis in Ukraine dragged it to new depths.

After the pro-Russian president of Ukraine fled during widespread protests, Putin annexed Crimea and invaded the Donbass, in eastern Ukraine. For a number of years, Putin had challenged the West in places such as Georgia and Ukraine, where Russia had a meaningful stake and a high appetite for risk. In , a year after I left government, he saw an opportunity for a more direct challenge to the West—an attack on the integrity of its democracies.

Who lost Russia? Russia was never ours to lose. Russians lost trust and confidence in themselves after the Cold War, and only they could remake their state and their economy. In the s, the country was in the midst of three simultaneous historical transformations: the collapse of Communism and the transition to a market economy and democracy; the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the security it had provided to historically insecure Russia; and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, and with it an empire built over several centuries.

None of that could be resolved in a single generation, let alone a few years. And none of it could be fixed by outsiders; greater American involvement would not have been tolerated. The sense of loss and indignity that came with defeat in the Cold War was unavoidable, no matter how many times we and the Russians had told each other that the outcome had no losers, only winners.

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The pattern in U. That view might contain a kernel of truth; history matters, and is difficult to escape. But the whole truth is more complicated, and more prosaic. We each had our illusions. America thought that Moscow would eventually get accustomed to being our junior partner, and grudgingly accommodate NATO expansion even up to its border with Ukraine. And Russia always assumed the worst about American motives, and believed that its own corrupt political order and unreformed economy were a sustainable basis for real geopolitical power. Too often, we talked past each other.

Today, of course, the American relationship with Moscow is more bizarre, and more troubled, than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Managing relations with Russia will be a long game, conducted within a relatively narrow band of possibilities. The path ahead with Russia will get rockier before it gets easier. We should not give in to Putin—or give up on the Russia beyond him. This article was originally published by the Atlantic. Follow the conversation— Sign up to receive email updates when comments are posted to this article. You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.

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