The Allies will have to rethink earlier premises and respond with care to the mixed signals emanating from Moscow.

After a turbulent decade in transatlantic relations, the 2008 US presidential election has raised hopes for improved ties between Europe and the United States and a more constructive approach to dealing with some of the more troubling issues facing the Alliance. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in February, US Vice President Joe Biden promised closer cooperation with America’s allies and re-engagement with Russia. Perhaps the greatest foreign-policy challenge on the European continent is how to achieve a more productive relationship with Russia while developing policies toward other former Soviet states that would be true to European and US values and advance European and US interests.

The August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia was the culmination of 17 years of tensions between Russia, its neighbours and the West about the future of Eurasia. The conflict has shown that building a more productive relationship with Russia will be impossible without closer coordination between America and Europe. The war also demonstrated that the US commitment to Europe is still a critical component of European security and cohesion. As the Allies embark on the search for a reinvigorated Russia policy, they will have to rethink the premises of earlier policies. They will also have to confront head-on the differences between the way much of Europe views Russia and how it is perceived in Washington. If they cannot resolve these differences, or at least agree to disagree on some issues, it will be difficult to craft an effective and unified Western policy. Moreover, they will also have to respond with care to the mixed signals emanating from Moscow.

End of an era?

For the United States, the Russian–Georgian war marked the end of a phase in East–West relations, that began with the blossoming of perestroika in the Soviet Union, gained momentum with the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union itself, survived the turbulence of the Yeltsin years and regained momentum early in the Bush–Putin era. For nearly two decades, US policy toward Russia was guided by a commitment to integrate Russia into the West and a belief that the new Russia sought a genuine partnership with the West. The war and its aftermath sent the United States back to the drawing board, seeking to redefine the relationship with a different Russia than it had initially anticipated.

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Eugene Rumer is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington DC.

Angela Stent is Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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