It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. Just over thirty years ago, the Cold War came to an improbably abrupt and peaceful end. After nearly half a century of multi-dimensional rivalry with the U.S., Russia appeared poised to become a free-market democracy and a strategic partner to Washington. Instead, over the coming decades, Moscow would revert to authoritarian rule and today once again menaces the West—posing one of the most consequential tests of American power and leadership in the modern world. What went wrong?

The purpose of this seminar is to study the trajectory of U.S. policy towards Russia during this consequential period—from the Soviet collapse in 1991 to the invasion of Ukraine in 2022—an arc of history that encompasses six American presidents, three Kremlin leaders, and (along the way) the social, economic, technological, and geopolitical transformation of much of the planet. Our goal will be to understand both how we got to where we are now and where we are going—and what that journey reveals about the character of two of the world’s most consequential countries, the United States and the Russian Federation.

Vance Serchuk & Gen David Petraeus on leadership


Vance Serchuk

Vance Serchuk is Executive Director of the KKR Global Institute and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to joining KKR, Mr. Serchuk served for six years as the senior national security advisor to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut).

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs, July 1947
  • Henry Kissinger, “Ch. 30, The End of the Cold War – Reagan and Gorbachev,” Diplomacy
  • Stephen Kotkin, Chs. 1–3, Armageddon Averted


Key Questions:

  1. What was the Cold War? Why did it start? Was it inevitable or avoidable?
  2. Why did the Cold War end? How does Henry Kissinger explain the conclusion of the Cold War? What is the rival explanation offered by Stephen Kotkin? How did Kennan predict that the Cold War would end? Of the rival analyses of the Cold War’s endgame, whose argument is most persuasive to you and why?
  3. What role did the U.S. play in the dissolution of the Soviet Union? Was it at the center of the story (and if so, how?) or on the margins? How does Kissinger explain Ronald Reagan’s impact on the Cold War’s end? What does Kotkin have to say about Reagan? What are the implications of these different interpretations for America’s post-Cold War foreign policy and how America should handle post-Soviet Russia?
  4. How was the collapse of the Soviet Union experienced and perceived inside Russia? How did Russians explain what happened to their country?


  • Jeffrey Engel, Chs, 16–18, 22–23 (“Not One Inch Eastward,” “Camp David,” “Concession”; “Disunion Is a Fact,” and “I Have Signed It”), When The World Seemed New
  • Richard Nixon, “How to Lose the Cold War,” Memo, March 1992


Key Questions:

  1. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the George H.W. Bush (“Bush 41”) Administration confronted a set of far-reaching choices about the future of Germany, Europe, and NATO.
    1. What were the different visions of the future put forward in 1990 by Bush and his fellow leaders Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and Mikhail Gorbachev on Germany’s future? What was the debate among them? What path did Bush choose and why? Was he right?
  2. How did the Bush Administration approach the contest for power between Gorbachev and Yeltsin in 1991, and the accelerating unraveling of the Soviet Union during that year? What was its response to the attempted August 1991 putsch? What were the alternatives? Do you agree with the choices it made?
  3. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, what were the policies of the Bush 41 Administration towards newly independent Russia? What were Washington’s priorities, and what did it choose not to prioritize?
  4. What was Richard Nixon’s critique of Bush 41’s approach? Do you think it is fair?


  • Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History,” The National Interest, Summer 1989
  • Henry Kissinger, Excerpt from Ch. 31, Diplomacy, p. 813–26


Key Questions:

  1. What is Fukuyama’s explanation for why the Cold War ended? How does this contrast with the Kissinger and Kotkin explanations? Which do you think is the most persuasive? If Fukuyama is right, what should it mean for post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy and strategy? If Kissinger is right, what should it mean for post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy and strategy?
  2. Kissinger and Fukuyama offer strikingly different predictions about the post-Cold War future. What are their respective big ideas? What are their respective implications for U.S. policy towards Russia? In hindsight, who made the better arguments? Who do you think would have been more persuasive at the time and why?


  • William J. Clinton, “Introduction,” The National Security Strategy of the United States—1994, pp. 1–3
  • Strobe Talbott, Chs. 2, 3, and 4, The Russia Hand
  • Kotkin, Chs. 5, 6, and 7, Armageddon Averted
  • William Burns, 3: Yeltsin’s Russia: The Limits of Agency,” The Back Channel

            Ukraine Denuclearization

  • Steven Pifer, The Trilateral Process: The United States, Ukraine, Russia, and Nuclear Weapons, Brookings Arms Control Series, May 2011, pp 4–8, 17–28, and 37–38
  • George Bogden, “Deceit, Dread, and Disbelief: The Story of How Ukraine Lost Its Nuclear Arsenal,” The National Interest, October 27, 2023


Key Questions:

  1. The Clinton Administration came to office at a moment when the foreign policy framework that had guided the U.S. for the previous 40-plus years—containment and the Cold War—was suddenly gone. What was the alternative vision it put forward in its 1994 National Security Strategy? What did it mean by “enlargement”? Where did Russia fit into that vision? What about Central Europe?
  2. What were the instincts and policy priorities of the Clinton Administration towards Russia when it entered office, according to Strobe Talbott? What was its strategy for pursuing them? To what extent did its approach differ from that of the George H. W. Bush Administration? What were the similarities?
  3. Compare Strobe Talbott’s Washington insider memoir of Russia policy with Bill Burns’ account as a young diplomat based in Moscow during the same period in the 1990s. How are they similar? How are they different? What does Burns emphasize versus Talbott?
  4. The Clinton Administration invoked a number of historical analogies to justify its Russia policy. What were they? What historical analogies did Russian leaders invoke to explain their experience in the 1990s?
  5. The Clinton Administration described what was happening in Russia in the early 1990s as “transition” and “reform.” How does Kotkin, by contrast, describe what was happening in Russia during this period?
  6. Steven Pifer describes the Clinton Administration’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union. What was the Clinton Administration’s strategic rationale? Writing in 2023, George Bogden argues that this was a catastrophic mistake. Is the critique persuasive?


The NATO Expansion Debate

  • Henry Kissinger, “Expand NATO Now,” Washington Post, December 19, 1994
  • George F. Kennan, “A Fateful Error—Expanding NATO Would Be a Rebuff to Russian Democracy,” New York Times, February 5, 1997
  • E. Sarotte, “How to Enlarge NATO: The Debate Inside the Clinton Administration,” International Security 44:1, Summer 2019

The Balkans

  • Angela Stent, Ch. 2 (“Rethinking Euro-Atlantic Security”), The Limits of Partnership
  • Strobe Talbott, Chs. 12–13, The Russia Hand
  • Michael Dobbs, “U.S. Advice Guided Milosevic Opposition,” Washington Post, December 11, 2000


Key Questions:

  1. A key flashpoint between the U.S. and Russia during the 1990s was the question of NATO expansion. What are Kissinger’s arguments in favor of NATO expansion? What are Kennan’s arguments against it? Which do you find more persuasive?
  2. According to M. E. Sarotte, what were the reasons the Clinton Administration ended up embracing NATO expansion? What were the alternatives, in her view? Imagine yourself as a decision-maker in the mid-1990s: which course would you have supported?
  3. What was the impact of developments in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s on the trajectory of U.S.-Russian relations? How did Russia react to U.S. intervention in Bosnia in 1995 versus Kosovo in 1999? What happened in Serbia in October 2000?
  4. The U.S. had high hopes in the early 1990s for Russia’s evolution into a free-market democracy and a U.S. partner. By the end of President Clinton’s term in office, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated. What went wrong? To what extent was this a failure of American policy or strategy?
  5. How should the Clinton Administration be judged for its handling of Russia? What did it get right? What mistakes did it make?


  • Condoleezza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000
  • George W. Bush, “Introduction” and “Ch. VIII—Develop Agendas for Cooperative Action with the Other Main Centers of Global Power,” National Security Strategy of the United States, 2002, September 2002
  • Vladimir Putin, “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium,” December 30, 1999
  • Cliff Gaddy and Fiona Hill, “Chapter 3: The Statist,” Putin: Operative in the Kremlin
  • Angela Stent, “Ch. 3: Bush and Putin in the Age of Terror” and “Ch. 5: The Color Revolutions,” The Limits of Partnership
  • John McCain, “McCain Decries ‘New Authoritarianism in Russia,’” Senate Floor Statement, November 4, 2003
  • Michael McFaul and James Goldgeier, “Putin’s Authoritarian Soul,” The Weekly Standard, February 28, 2005


Key Questions:

  1. How does Condoleezza Rice, writing on the eve of the 2000 election, characterize the Clinton Administration’s approach to Russia in the 1990s? What approach does she advocate instead?
  2. What does the Bush Administration adopt as its Russia policy upon coming to office? To what extent did its policy change after 9/11—and if so, how? What did Bush hope to achieve with Russia? How was the Bush approach to Russia similar or different from that of President Clinton? Did he succeed? Was it the right approach?
  3. How does the 2002 National Security Strategy talk about Russia? What are its assumptions about Russia and its place in the broader international order? How are these similar or different from the Clinton approach?
  4. Vladimir Putin lays out a vision for the future of Russia on the eve of 2000. What are his principal arguments in the Millennium Statement? How do Cliff Gaddy and Fiona Hill explain its significance for understanding Vladimir Putin? What conclusions if any about Putin should U.S. policymakers in the early 2000s draw from this speech?
  5. Russia opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq along with France and Germany. How did the Bush Administration react to each country? What does this reveal about its approach to Russia?
  6. John McCain in 2003 offered a critique of the Bush Administration’s Russia policy. What was his argument? It is persuasive? What is the alternative policy he proposed? How do you think the Bush Administration would have responded at the time? How would Bush Administration officials respond now?
  7. What are the “Color Revolutions” described by Angela Stent? How do they sharpen the tensions in the Bush Administration’s approach to Russia?
  8. Michael McFaul in 2005 accuses the Bush Administration of hypocrisy toward Russia. What are his arguments? Are they persuasive? What is the alternative policy he proposes?


  • Vladimir Putin, “Prepared Remarks at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy,” February 12, 2007
  • Peter Finn, “Outspoken Putin Critic Shot Dead,” Washington Post, October 8, 2006
  • Alan Cowell, “Russian Is Accused of Poisoning Ex-KGB Agent,” New York Times, May 23, 2007
  • “Russia’s Booming Economy,” The Economist, June 8, 2007
  • J. Chivers, “Under Iron Hand of Russian Proxy, A Chechen Revival,” New York Times, September 30, 2007
  • Joshua Davis, “Hackers Take Down the Most Wired Country in the World,” Wired, August 21, 2007
  • Andrew Kramer, “Russia Cuts Off Gas to Ukraine in Cost Dispute,” New York Times, January 2, 2006
  • Angela Stent, “Ch. 7: From Kosovo to Georgia: Things Fall Apart,” The Limits of Partnership
  • William Burns, “Email to Secretary of State Rice – Russia Strategy,” February 8, 2008, in The Back Channel
  • Ron Asmus, “ 1: The Decision,” A Little War That Shook The World
  • Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, “Building on Common Ground with Russia,” Washington Post, October 8, 2008
  • Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, “Russia’s Aggression is a Challenge to World Order,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2008


Key Questions:

  1. What are the reasons for the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations under President Bush’s second term? Was this downturn preventable? What is Bill Burns’ explanation for what happened? What is Angela Stent’s?
  2. What are some of the key changes in Russia during the 2000s under President Putin, politically and economically? What happens in Chechnya?
  3. What are the manifestations of Russia’s increased assertiveness in the mid-2000s? Did this reflect a fundamental shift in Russian foreign policy outlook? What explains them? How did the U.S. react to these actions by Russia?
  4. Vladimir Putin’s 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference is often cited as a turning point in U.S.-Russian relations. What exactly did Putin argue at Munich? How did U.S. policy respond?
  5. What were the causes of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War? What was the relationship between events in the Balkans in the 1990s, the Color Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia in the early 2000s, and the conflict in Georgia in 2008? What was the role of the U.S. in the run-up to the conflict? What were the alternatives available to the Bush Administration?
  6. What are the competing views of the significance of the 2008 Georgia war offered by Kissinger, Stent, and Lieberman-Graham? What are their respective recommendations and implications for U.S. policy following the war? Who is most persuasive?
  7. The Bush Administration came to office dismissive of Clinton’s handling of Russia during the preceding eight years. How do you judge the Bush Administration’s performance?


The Reset

  • Barack Obama, National Security Strategy of the United States, 2010, pp 1–6, 40–44
  • Michael McFaul, Chs. 6-8 (“Launching the Reset,” “Universal Values,” “The First (and Last) Moscow Summit”), From Cold War to Hot Peace
  • “An Open Letter to the Obama Administration from Central and Eastern Europe,” July 16, 2009
  • “Obama Scraps Bush-Era Missile Defense for New Plan,” CNN, September 17, 2009
  • Josh Gerstein, “Obama Announces New START Treaty,” Politico, March 26, 2010
  • Andrew E. Kramer, “Russia Ends Talk of Missile Sale to Iran,” New York Times, September 22, 2010
  • Glenn Kessler and Michael D. Shear, “Presidents Obama and Medvedev Bond at Ray’s Hell Burger,” Washington Post, June 25, 2010


  • Steven Lee Myers, “The Real Story Behind Putin’s Syria Strikes: Inside the Kremlin Rivalry that Radicalized Russia’s Strongman,” Politico, October 1, 2015

Russian Internal Developments

  • Julia Ioffe, “Net Impact: One Man’s Cyber Crusade Against Russian Corruption,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2011
  • Will Englund and Kathy Lally, “Medvedev Confirms He Will Step Aside for Putin to Return to Russia’s Presidency,” Washington Post, September 24, 2011
  • Michael Schwirtz and David M. Herszenshorn, “Voters Watch Polls in Russia, and Fraud Is What They See,” New York Times, December 5, 2011
  • Elise Labott, “Clinton Cites ‘Serious Concerns’ about Russian Election,” CNN, December 6, 2011
  • Ellen Barry, “Rally Defying Putin’s Party Draws Tens of Thousands,” New York Times, December 10, 2011

US Human Rights Policy

  • David J. Kramer and Robert Kagan, “Give the Next Russian Ambassador a Powerful Tool to Guard Human Rights,” Washington Post, October 11, 2011
  • Steve Gutterman, “Russia Bars 18 Americans in Retaliation for Magnitsky List,” Reuters, April 13, 2013


Key Questions:

  1. Where did Russia fit into President Obama’s wider foreign policy vision as described by the National Security Strategy? What was the Obama “reset” with Russia? What were its goals? Did it accomplish them? What did it not seek to accomplish, according to Mike McFaul? What were the criticisms of the reset, and to what extent do you think they are valid? What were the alternative approaches that Obama might have taken upon taking office? Why do you think he chose the path he did?
  2. What was the domestic political and economic situation in Russia at the time that Obama entered office? How do you think that influenced Russia’s response to the reset?
  3. What role did the 2011 war in Libya play in shaping U.S.-Russian relations? How did the Russian leadership view the U.S.-led intervention there?
  4. How did domestic events in Russia in 2011 impact the U.S.-Russian relationship? How did the Obama Administration react to the 2011 protests following the Duma election? Why do you think this was the Obama approach, and was this the right response?
  5. What were the arguments for and against the Magnitsky Act? How did the Obama Administration react to the proposed legislation? Imagine yourself as a Member of Congress at the time. Would you have cosponsored it?
  6. U.S.-Russian relations deteriorated by the end of Obama’s first term. Why? Do you think this was inevitable, or was it the consequence of mistakes on the part of the U.S.? If so, what was the alternative approach?


Post-Reset Reflections… and What Next?

  • Leon Aron, “The Putin Doctrine: Russia’s Quest to Rebuild the Soviet State,” Foreign Affairs, March 8, 2013
  • Samuel Charap, “Beyond the Russian Reset,” The National Interest, June 25, 2013
  • David M. Herszehorn, “As U.S. Seeks Security Pact, Obama is Set to Meet Putin,” New York Times, April 15, 2013
  • Jessica Yellin et al, “Obama Cancels Talks with Putin Ahead of G-20 Summit,” CNN, August 8, 2013

Syria and the Red Line (2013)

  • Yagil Beinglass and Daniel Brode, “Russia’s Syria Power Play,” New York Times, January 30, 2012
  • Joby Warrick, “More Than 1,400 Killed in Syria Chemical Weapons Attack, U.S. says,” Washington Post, August 30, 2013
  • Mark Landler and Jonathan Weisman, “Obama Delays Syria Strike to Focus on a Russian Plan,” New York Times, September 10, 2013
  • Vladimir V. Putin, “A Plea for Caution from Russia,” New York Times, September 11, 2013

Ukraine Explodes (2013–16)

  • “How The EU Lost Ukraine,” Der Spiegel, November 25, 2013
  • David M Herszenhorn, “Thousands Protest Ukraine’s Rejection of Trade Pacts,” New York Times, November 23, 2013
  • Andrew Higgins and Andrew E. Kramer, “Ukraine Leader Was Defeated Even Before He Was Ousted,” New York Times, January 3, 2015
  • J. Chivers and David M. Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army,” New York Times, April 2, 2014
  • Mark Lander et al, “Obama Steps Up Russia Sanctions in Ukraine Crisis,” New York Times, March 20, 2014
  • Jennifer Steinhauer, “Defying Obama, Many in Congress Press to Arm Ukraine,” New York Times, June 11, 2015
  • Henry Kissinger, “To Settle the Ukraine crisis, start at the end,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014
  • John McCain, “The Russia-Ukraine Cease-Fire is a Fiction,” Washington Post, June 26, 2015
  • Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia and the Menace of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin is Revolutionizing Information Warfare,” The Atlantic, September 9, 2014

Syria Escalates (201416)

  • Vladimir Putin, “Remarks at the UN General Assembly,” September 18, 2015
  • Andrew Roth, et. al., “Russia Begins Airstrikes in Syria; U.S. Warns of New Concerns in Conflict,” Washington Post, September 30, 2015
  • Jackson Diehl, “Putin’s Model of Success,” Washington Post, October 11, 2015
  • Josh Rogin, “Obama’s Syria Plan Teams Up Russian and US Forces,” Washington Post, July 13, 2016
  • Kathrin Hille, “Russia’s Middle East Ambitions Grow with Syria Battlefield Success,” Financial Times, January 19, 2017


Key Questions:

  1. What were the possible approaches towards Russia for the Obama Administration as it began its second term? Which path did Obama initially pursue in 2013 and what prompted him to change course?
  2. What was Russia’s strategy in Syria from 2011 to 2016? What were its interests there? How did its approach evolve? At the same time, how did Russia fit into the Obama Administration’s Syria policy, and how did Syria fit into its Russia policy? What were the alternative paths available to the Obama Administration? Why do you think it took the course it did?
  3. What was the calculus behind the Russian offer to partner with the U.S. to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2013? How did the U.S. react? Was this the right choice?
  4. What precipitated the crisis in Ukraine in late 2013 / early 2014? What role did the U.S. play? Could the crisis have been averted? Was it foreseeable?
  5. How did the Obama Administration respond to the Ukraine crisis? How did U.S. allies react? What were some of the alternative policies it might have pursued, as described by McCain and Kissinger? Why do you think it pursued the path it did, as against the alternatives?
  6. Peter Pomerantsev argues that, with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia’s “domestic system of information manipulation” is now “going global.” What does he mean?
  7. How did Russia escalate its involvement in Syria in late 2015? What was its strategy? Was it successful? Was Russia’s intensified involvement in Syria a sign of newfound strength or, as President Obama argued, an indication of weakness?
  8. How does the U.S. respond to Russia’s power play in Syria? What were the alternatives?


The 2016 Election

  • David Sanger, Chs. 7, 8, 9, and 10, The Perfect Weapon
  • Greg Miller, “Obama’s Secret Struggle to Punish Russia for Putin’s Election Assault,” Washington Post, June 23, 2017

The Trump Administration

  • Donald J. Trump, National Security Strategy of the United States, 2017, pp 1–4, pp 25–26
  • John Bolton, “Ch. 5: A Tale of Three Cities” [London and Helsinki sections only]” and “Ch. 6: Thwarting Russia,” The Room Where It Happened
  • Julian Borger, “John McCain: Lifting Russia Sanctions Would Be ‘Naive and Dangerous’,” The Guardian, January 27, 2017
  • Matthew Nussbaum, “Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Bill but Blasts Congress,” Politico, August 2, 2017
  • Josh Rogin, “Trump Administration Approves Lethal Arms Sales to Ukraine,” Washington Post, December 20, 2017
  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria,” New York Times, May 24, 2018
  • Andrew Higgins, “Just Sitting Down with Trump, Putin Comes Out Ahead,” New York Times, July 15, 2018
  • “Pompeo Declares US Won’t Recognize Crimea as part of Russia,” CNN, July 25, 2018
  • Michael Gordon, “On Brink of Arms Treaty Exit, U.S. Finds More Offending Russian Missiles,” Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2019
  • Anton Troianovski, “Putin Endorses Brazen Remedy to Extend His Rule, Possibly for Life,” New York Times, March 10, 2020
  • Michele Berdy, “How Russia’s Coronavirus Crisis Got So Bad,” Politico, May 19, 2020
  • Anton Troianovski, “Navalny Says Russian Agent Confessed to Plot to Poison Him,” New York Times, December 21, 2020
  • Eva Hartog, “Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Arrested upon Arrival in Moscow,” Politico, January 17, 2021


Key Questions:

  1. What was Russia’s strategy in the 2016 U.S. election? What was it trying to achieve? What exactly did it do?
  2. How did the Obama Administration react to intelligence indicating Russian interference in the 2016 election? What were the options available to it? Why did it pursue the path it did? Was this a mistake?
  3. What was the vision of Russia policy that President Trump came to office wanting to pursue, according to Bolton? How was it different from the vision of Presidents Obama or Bush at the inception of their respective presidencies?
  4. What were the key Russia policies that the Trump Administration adopted? To what extent did they align or deviate from what President Trump himself wanted? What was the role of Congress and Trump Administration officials in this divergence?
  5. How did the Covid-19 pandemic impact Russia? How did Putin respond to the crisis?


Opening Moves

  • David Sanger, “Ch. 7: A Dangerous Dance,” New Cold Wars
  • John Hudson, “Biden to Seek Five-Year Extension on Key Nuclear Arms Treaty,” Washington Post, January 21, 2021
  • David Sanger, “Biden Administration Announces First Sanctions on Russia in Navalny Case,” New York Times, March 2, 2021
  • Andrew Kramer, “Russian Troop Movements and Talk of Intervention Cause Jitters in Ukraine,” New York Times, April 9, 2021
  • Amanda Macias, “Biden Proposes Summit in Phone Call with Putin as Russian Military Builds Presence on Ukraine Border,” CNBC, April 13, 2021
  • Steven Erlanger et al, “U.S. Signals Support for Ukraine and Will Add Troops in Germany,” New York Times, April 15, 2021
  • Ellen Nakashima, “Biden to Impose Tough Economic Sanctions on Russia,” Washington Post, April 15, 2021
  • Andrew Kramer, “Russia Orders Partial Pullback from Ukraine Border Region,” New York Times, April 15, 2021
  • Anton Troianovski, “In Geneva, Putin Wants Respect. Biden Might Just Give Him Some,” New York Times, June 15, 2021
  • David Sanger, “Biden and Putin Express Desire for Better Relations at Summit Shaped by Disputes,” New York Times, June 16, 2021
  • Lara Jakes, “In Deal with Germany, U.S. Drops Threat to Block Russian Gas Pipelines,” New York Times, July 21, 2021

The Road to War

  • Vladimir Putin, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” July 12, 2021
  • David Sanger, “Ch. 10: Blowing Smoke,” New Cold Wars
  • Lara Jakes, “CIA Director Dispatched to Moscow to Warn Russia over Troop Buildup Near Ukraine,” CNN, November 5, 2021
  • CNN, “Biden Says US troops in Ukraine Are Off the Table but Promises Withering Sanctions if Russia Invades,” December 8, 2021
  • CNBC, “Pentagon Orders Departure of U.S. Troops in Ukraine as Russia Crisis Escalates,” February 14, 2022
  • Karen DeYoung, “Ukraine: U.S. Will Close Embassy,” Washington Post, February 14, 2022


Key Questions

  1. Imagine yourself as a top official in the newly inaugurated Biden Administration in January 2021 responsible for Russia policy. Synthesizing everything you know about the last 30 years of U.S.-Russian relations, what approach toward Moscow would you advocate and why?
  2. What were the key policies of the Biden Administration toward Russia during its first months in office? How did they resemble or differ from those of its predecessors? Do you agree or disagree with the choices they made?
  3. Where did Russia fit within the broader Biden foreign policy vision as of early 2021? How important was Russia as far as the new Administration was concerned?
  4. How did the Biden Administration respond to the spring 2021 Russian military build-up? Was this the right approach? What were the alternatives?
  5. President Putin published an essay on the Kremlin website in July 2021. What was its argument? Is this something new, or more of the same?
  6. What was the Biden Administration’s response after it concluded that Russia intended to invade Ukraine? Imagine yourself a policymaker in late 2021. Did the U.S. respond appropriately? What were the alternatives? Why weren’t they adopted?


  • Mark Galeotti, We Need to Talk About Putin
  • John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014
  • Michael McFaul, Ch. 24 (“The End of Resets (For Now),” From Cold War to Hot Peace
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, Excerpt on Russia, “World Chaos and World Order: Conversations with Henry Kissinger,” The Atlantic, November 10, 2016
  • Stephen Kotkin, “Russia’s Perpetual Geopolitics,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016


Key Questions:

  1. Mark Galeotti argues that the West gets Putin “wrong.” How? If he is right, what are the implications for U.S. policy if he is right? Do you agree with his arguments?
  2. Mearsheimer, McFaul, Kissinger and Kotkin offer four different explanations for the deterioration and collapse of U.S.-Russian relations in the 2010s. What does each argue? Whose explanation is most persuasive? What are the policy implications of each essay?

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