After decades of economic and political turmoil, Russia today finds itself revived – its economy fueled by high energy prices, its territorial integrity secured, and its international role as a major world power restored.  With new found self-confidence, Russia’s recent foreign policy has taken on a combative tone, exemplified by Russian President Vladmir Putin’s speech in Munich—and U.S.-Russian relations have plummeted to their lowest level since the end of the Soviet-era.

In this policy brief, Russia’s Strategic Choices, Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, argues that Russia newfound status presents its leaders with a number of fundamental choices that the nation has yet to confront and raises key questions that it must resolve to form a cohesive and strategic foreign policy strategy.  

Moscow today speaks its mind publicly and freely, and makes clear that the country no longer wants to be bound by accords concluded when Russia was weak.  As Russia takes issue with what it perceives as attempts by the U.S. to create a  “unipolar” world through NATO enlargement, U.S. ABM deployments, and the stated goal of U.S-style democracy promotion—Russia appears to be a nation off of its crutches and seeking to define its place in the world. Yet Russia has singularly failed to make others see clearly what it wants, or see the world as it does—revealing a dangerous flaw in its foreign policy implementation. 

A closer look at Russian foreign policy reveals a lack of strategic priorities and a Russia alone and adrift.  Trenin argues that a foreign policy based on openly defying the United States is laced with liabilities and at odds with the central fact that the United States is indispensable to Russia achieving its national objectives of modernization, economic integration, and security.

Trenin also poses key issues for both the U.S. and Russia to consider when weighing their current tensions.  “The relationship is too important for posturing.  Moscow needs to drastically improve its communication with Washington,” writes Trenin.  “It will have to reach out to Congress, not just the administration…In order to engage successfully, Russia will need to do unto the Unites States what it wants the United States to do unto Russia.”

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About the Author
Dmitri Trenin is a senior associate and the deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.  He retired from the Russian Army after a military career that included participation in the Geneva strategic arms control negotiations.