How powerful is Russia?

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  • Glass-half-full scenario would have #Putin turn quickly after the re-election & seek better relations with #US

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  • Kind of rhetoric #Putin has ratcheted up in the past four months is not that easily or quickly turned off

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  • Likely forecast for #US-Russian relations for the year: chilly, with a possible frost on the ground

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A day after Vladimir Putin reclaimed the Russian presidency, protesters took to the streets, questioning his victory amid claims by opposition leaders and European observers of widespread election fraud.

On March 6, the New York Times Room for Debate asked five experts the pressing question, "What does this election mean for Russia’s relations with the United States?" AEI's Leon Aron responded:

"Russia is the world’s other nuclear superpower, it is unique geostrategically, spanning Europe and Asia." -- Leon AronPlenty to worry about

Although less than 1 percent of U.S. world trade is with Russia (a fraction of the Sino-American trade) and, under Putin, Russia looks more and more like a petro-state, economics is not everything. Russia is the world’s other nuclear superpower, it is unique geostrategically, spanning Europe and Asia (and, so far, giving us an invaluable “northern route” to Afghanistan). So yes, the U.S. still has to “worry about Russia.”

And there is plenty to worry about. Just as “all politics is local,” so, in the end, all foreign policy is domestic politics. As is his wont whenever domestic politics is dicey, Putin resorted to the Russian authoritarians’ tried and true tactics: emphasizing danger from the West (meaning, today, largely the U.S.) to consolidate support for the Kremlin. Hence, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as an agitator to the protesters; the end of cooperation on the Iran sanctions; the U.N. Security Council veto on sanctions on Syria and the sales of arms to the Assad regime.

A glass-half-full scenario would have Putin turn quickly after the re-election and seek better relations with the U.S. He might well do so, since playing nicely with the U.S. traditionally accrues considerable domestic respect and legitimacy to stable Russian and Soviet regimes. But there are two problems with that. First, the kind of rhetoric he has ratcheted up in the past four months is not that easily or quickly turned off. More important, as post-election protests rattle the regime (as they certainly will), like every authoritarian in danger, he is almost certain to double up on the narrative that has him as Russia’s protector against the scheming malfeasants on the outside and the fifth-columnists on the inside.

A likely forecast for U.S.-Russian relations for the balance of the year: chilly, with a possible frost on the ground.

Leon Aron is director of Russian studies at AEI.

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About the Author


  • Leon Aron is Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of three books and over 300 articles and essays. Since 1999, he has written Russian Outlook, a quarterly essay on economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Russia’s post-Soviet transition, published by the Institute. He is the author of the first full-scale scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life (St. Martin’s Press, 2000); and Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006 (AEI Press,2007); Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideals and Ideas in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 (Yale University Press, Spring 2012).

    Dr. Aron earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University, has taught a graduate seminar at Georgetown University, and was awarded the Peace Fellowship at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has co-edited and contributed the opening chapter to The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy, published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1994 and contributed an opening chapter to The New Russian Foreign Policy (Council on Foreign Relations, 1998).

    Dr. Aron has contributed numerous essays and articles to newspapers andmagazines, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, theWall Street Journal Foreign Policy, The NewRepublic, Weekly Standard, Commentary, New York Times Book Review, the TimesLiterary Supplement. A frequent guest of television and radio talkshows, he has commented on Russian affairs for, among others, 60 Minutes,The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, CNN International,C-Span, and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Talk of theNation.”

    From 1990 to 2004, he was a permanent discussant at the Voice of America’s radio and television show Gliadya iz Ameriki (“Looking from America”), which was broadcast to Russia every week.

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