Why America shouldn't panic over Putin

Russia's strong-willed leader is back for a third term as president. And as long as Mitt Romney cools the "number one geopolitical foe" talk, we'll be just fine

Daniel Larison

Contrary to what many Americans expect, Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency need not cause a deterioration of relations between the United States and Russia. Many assume that Putin benefits politically from indulging anti-Americanism, and that in his new presidential term, he'll pursue increasingly adversarial policies. This underestimates Putin's willingness to strike pragmatic deals with Western governments. Putin has had a longstanding interest in cooperating with America — so long as Russian interests are respected and acknowledged. It would be foolish to ignore this in the mistaken belief that the two countries are ideological or geopolitical foes.

To understand why U.S.-Russian relations do not have to suffer from another Putin presidency, we have to remember why they were so poor during his last tenure. Putin believes that the Bush administration repaid his supportive gestures in the early 2000s with provocations. Following the 9/11 attacks, Russia was the first to offer support to the Bush administration, and Moscow accepted a U.S. military presence in Central Asia in a significant reversal of Russia's position. In return, Russia received nothing. Instead, the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty, continued to expand NATO into the Baltics, supported anti-Russian "color" revolutions in ex-Soviet republics, proposed NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, planned missile defense installations in eastern Europe, and recognized Kosovo independence. That all formed a pattern of hostile acts that Putin viewed with increasing alarm.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.