President Obama meets with Michael McFaul (second from right), former ambassador to Russia.
President Obama meets with Michael McFaul (second from right), former ambassador to Russia.

US-Russian Relations: The Middle Cannot Hold

May 03, 2016
Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro
This is a summary of an article originally published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The authors outline a roadmap for U.S.-Russian relations, criticizing the Obama administration’s “middle-way” strategy. They describe U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy as one that actively counters Russia in areas such as Ukraine, but cooperates with Moscow in other areas, such as in the Iranian nuclear negotiations. The authors argue that this policy, while preferable to an escalation of hostilities, allows Obama to be painted as “feckless.” They do note that this policy has had some successes, such as in Iran and some agreements in Syria, but overall this policy has allowed the U.S.-Russian relationship to slide into a new Cold War phase. Charap and Shapiro argue this deterioration in relations can be traced back to the expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions into Central and Eastern Europe without the option of including Russia in these institutions, a move that made Russia feel insecure. The authors argue that the U.S. and Russia should move towards what they describe as a “stable relationship,” which would mean the U.S. sacrificing its dreams of Russia as a strategic partner. They recommend that the two countries agree to a framework that would allow for current “in-between countries” like Moldova, Azerbaijan and Georgia to enter into Western and Russian institutions simultaneously, along with a separate agreement to respect the sovereignty of these countries. The authors argue that the path of ever-expanding Euro-Atlantic institutions cannot hold and an agreement with Russia must be met to avoid a potentially devastating conflict.

Read the full text at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


Samuel Charap

Samuel Charap is the senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.


Jeremy Shapiro

Jeremy Shapiro is the research director for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Photo by the U.S. Air Force shared in the public domain.