U.S.-Russian relations are worse today than at any time since the end of the Cold War — worse, indeed, than at any time since the dangerous years of the early 1980s. Crises and confrontations have become more the norm than the exception in recent years; the rhetoric in Washington and Moscow alike has become increasingly hostile.
The possibility of some sort of rapprochement seemed to briefly emerge with the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 but vanished just as rapidly in the months after his inauguration. The next few years are thus likely to be a difficult period in U.S.-Russian relations, as American officials seek to grapple with the renewed Kremlin threat to U.S. interests and to the broader international order.
If the future of U.S.-Russian relations is daunting, however, it is hardly terra incognita, not least because the United States now possesses nearly two decades of experience in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the “Putinist” system, and the foreign policy he has constructed. That history provides five key lessons that should inform U.S. policy in the years ahead.