Vladimir Putin’s election to the presidency should not change the course of Russia’s foreign policy; after all, Putin had never really left power.

As president, his fate will largely depend on his government’s socio-economic and political performance. Thus, he will not want trouble with the United States. He can't be expected to offer Washington too many concessions on contentious issues, but he can be relied on to honor Russia’s commitments under the Afghanistan transit agreement.

Dmitri Trenin
Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has been with the center since its inception. He also chairs the research council and the Foreign and Security Policy Program.
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There is also some room for cooperation on Syria and Iran, as long as the United States does not resort to force against Damascus and Tehran. In an even more positive vein, Putin may open up Russia, including its energy sector, to U.S. investments. If that happens, the U.S.-Russian relationship will begin maturing beyond the traditional politico-military sphere.

There are risks, however. Putin’s victory at the polls is not being seen as either free or fair by many in the Russian opposition, including the protest movement. This has a bearing on the future president’s legitimacy, both at home and abroad. If the U.S. public is led to believe that Putin is, in fact, less than a fully legitimate head of Russia, this will constrain the Obama administration’s outreach to him, and to his government. This, in turn, would only confirm Putin’s belief that the United States is planning a regime change in Russia, and the reset will be reset.

Should — God forbid — the so far peaceful protests in Moscow degenerate into violent clashes, the relationship would deteriorate way beyond where it was in the wake of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. This will not be a good thing for Russia, for its modernization agenda will be in jeopardy. Isolated in the West, Moscow would need to look to China for secondhand technology.  

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.