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Limited Strategic Partnership with Russia is Possible

Author: Jeffrey Mankoff
May 6, 2009


The success of attempts to build a strategic partnership will largely rest with Russia. Not doing so should not be considered a failure as the positions of both sides would become clearer. Russia has the most to lose from not building a relationship, the West can bide its time.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US and Europe have repeatedly described their relationship with Russia as a "strategic partnership." Despite a series of ringing declarations, it was never clear what that term actually meant. Western schemes for partnering with Russia repeatedly failed because they were based on a flawed premise, namely that Russia was in the process of becoming a "Western" nation committed to the principles of liberalism and democracy.

Recent events, above all last summer's war in Georgia, demonstrated the shortcomings of this approach. Russian leaders continue to see their country as a traditional power whose foreign policy is determined by narrow calculations of national interest rather than a commitment to shared values. Nonetheless, the growing estrangement between Moscow and the West is damaging to both, and the need for a genuine partnership is stronger than ever. To succeed, though, a partnership with Moscow must recognize the limits of Western power to remake Russia, and to engage Moscow on the basis of shared interests rather than shared values.

Previous attempts at building a strategic partnership failed because Western leaders assumed Russia would eventually come to see itself as part of the West. Thus Western leaders argued that NATO expansion was in Russia's interest, since Russia was presumed to value NATO's commitment to democracy and collective security too.

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