In the quarter century since the end of the Cold War, every American president has entered office optimistic about the prospects of forging a strategic partnership with post-Soviet Russia. None has succeeded.
With relations between Washington and Moscow now at their lowest point in decades, the question of whether the United States and Russia are doomed to be antagonists on the world stage has assumed new urgency and significance. Are the repeated failed attempts at building enduring cooperation between our countries since 1991 the consequence of avoidable errors and miscalculations? Or is the persistence—and resurgence—of U.S.-Russian rivalry the product of deeper, structural forces on both sides?
The course will consist of two sessions per day over a one-week period. In seminar discussions, led by national security expert Vance Serchuk, students will examine the history of U.S.-Russian relations from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the invasion of Ukraine and the 2016 presidential election. They will also hear from leading policymakers and scholars with a view toward exploring how U.S. policy regarding Russia reveals important truths about the character of American power itself—and what it means for the future. Past guest lecturers have included Dan Fried (Atlantic Council), Jamie Fly (German Marshall Fund), and Julia Ioffe (The Atlantic), among others.
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The End of the Cold War
- George F. Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs, July 1947
- Henry Kissinger, “Chapter 30: The End of the Cold War – Reagan and Gorbachev,” Diplomacy
- Stephen Kotkin, Chapters 1–3, Armageddon Averted (2001)
1. What was the Cold War? Why did it end? How did it end?
2. How does Henry Kissinger explain the end of the Cold War? What are the rival explanations offered by Stephen Kotkin? How did Kennan prophesize that the Cold War would end?
3. What role did the U.S. play in the dissolution of the Soviet Union? How does Kissinger explain Reagan’s role?
4. How was the collapse of the Soviet Union experienced and perceived inside Russia? How did Russians explain what happened to their system?
George H. W. Bush Policies toward Russia
- Michael McFaul and James Goldgeier, “Chapter 2: George H. W. Bush and Soviet Regime Change,” Power and Purpose (2003)
- Richard Nixon, “How to Lose the Cold War,” Memo, March 1992
1. What were the policies of the Bush 41 Administration towards newly-independent Russia following the end of the Soviet Union in December 1991? What were Washington’s priorities, and what did it choose not to prioritize?
2. What was Richard Nixon’s critique of this approach? Do you think it is fair?
Two Visions of the Post-Cold War World
- Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History,” The National Interest, Summer 1989
- Henry Kissinger, Excerpt from Chapter 31, Diplomacy, p. 813–26
Russia Policy under Clinton
- Strobe Talbott, Chapters 2–4, The Russia Hand (2003)
- Kotkin, Chapters 5–7, Armageddon Averted (2001)
- William J. Clinton, “The National Security Strategy of the United States – 1994,” (Read “Introduction” (pages 1–3) and skim remainder for references to Russia.)
Criticisms of Clinton Administration Policy
- Kim Holmes, “U.S. Failure to Support Democracy Has Been Decisive,” in “Who Lost Russia?,” Heritage Foundation, 1999
1. The Clinton Administration came to office at a moment when the organizing concept for U.S. foreign policy for the past 40-plus years—the Cold War—was suddenly gone. What was the alternative vision it put forward in its 1994 National Security Strategy? How did Russia fit into that vision?
2. What were the instincts and policy priorities of the Clinton Administration towards Russia when it entered office? 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. Kissinger and Fukuyama offer strikingly different predictions about what the post-Cold War future is likely to look like. What are their respective ideas? In hindsight, who made the better arguments? To what extent did the Clinton Administration follow any of their recommendations?
4. The U.S. had high hopes in the early 1990s for Russia’s evolution into a free-market democracy. What went wrong? Who is to blame? What are the competing explanations for the failure of Russian “reform” offered by Stephen Kotkin and Kim Holmes, respectively? Which do you find most persuasive and why?
5. 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?
The NATO Expansion Debate
- Angela Stent, “Chapter 2: Rethinking Euro-Atlantic Security,” The Limits of Partnership (2014)
- George F. Kennan, “A Fateful Error—Expanding NATO Would Be a Rebuff to Russian Democracy,” New York Times, February 5, 1997
- Henry Kissinger, “Expand NATO Now,” Washington Post, December 19, 1994
The Serbian Revolution
1. One of the major flashpoints between the U.S. and Russia during the 1990s was the question of NATO expansion. What were the arguments for expanding NATO eastward? What were the arguments against? What were the alternatives? Imagine yourself as a decision-maker at the time: which course would you have supported?
2. 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 late 2000?
3. By the end of President Clinton’s term in office, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated. Why did this happen, in your view? To what extent was this a failure of American policy? How should the Clinton Administration be assessed for its handling of Russia?
- Condoleezza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000
- George W. Bush, “National Security Strategy of the United States, 2002” (Read executive summary and Russia sections.)
- Angela Stent, Chapters 3 and 5, The Limits of Partnership (2014)
- 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
- Peter Baker, “U.S. Warns Russia To Act More Like a Democracy,” Washington Post, May 5, 2006
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 counsel 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?
- Peter Finn, “Outspoken Putin Critic Shot Dead,” Washington Post, October 8, 2006
- Clifford Levy, “Putin’s Iron Grip Suffocates Opponents,” New York Times, February 24, 2008
- Alan Cowell, “Russian Is Accused of Poisoning Ex-KGB Agent,” New York Times, May 23, 2007
- Vladimir Putin, “Why We Must Act,” New York Times, November 14, 1999
- C.J. Chivers, “Under Iron Hand of Russian Proxy, A Chechen Revival,” New York Times, September 30, 2007
- Vladimir Putin, “Prepared Remarks at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy,” February 12, 2007
- Andrew E. Kramer, “Russia Cuts Off Gas to Ukraine in Cost Dispute,” New York Times, January 2, 2006
- Joshua Davis, “Hackers Take Down the Most Wired Country in the World,” Wired, August 21, 2007
- “Russia’s Booming Economy,” The Economist, June 8, 2007
- Angela Stent, “Chapter 7: From Kosovo to Georgia: Things Fall Apart,” The Limits of Partnership (2014)
- 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
1. What are the reasons for the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations under President Bush? Was this downturn unavoidable? What is President Bush’s explanation for what happened? What is Angela Stent’s?
2. What happened in Chechnya in the 2000s?
3. What were the manifestations of Russia’s increased international assertiveness in the mid-2000s? Did this reflect a fundamental shift of the Russian foreign policy outlook? What explains them? How did the U.S. react to these actions by Russia?
4. What were the causes of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War? What was the relationship between events in the Balkans and the conflict in Georgia?
5. 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?
- Angela Stent, “Chapter 9: Reset or Overload? The Obama Initiative,” The Limits of Partnership
- “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
- Barack Obama, “National Security Strategy of the United States, 2010,” pages 40–44
- Stephen Sestanovich, “Russia and the Global Economic Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, November 24, 2008
- Isabel Gorst, “Medvedev and Putin Clash Over Libya,” Financial Times, March 21, 2011
- 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 (2011–2012)
- 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
- David M. Herszenhorn and Ellen Barry, “Putin Contends Clinton Incited Unrest Over Vote,” New York Times, December 8, 2011
1. What was the Obama “reset” with Russia? What were its goals? Did it accomplish them? What did it not seek to accomplish? 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 developments in Russia in 2011 shape 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?
U.S. 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
- Samuel Charap, “Congress Deserves a Voice on Human Rights in Russia,” The Hill, June 22, 2011
- Fred Weir, “The Magnitsky Law Draws Kremlin Ire, But Many Russians Support It,” Christian Science Monitor, December 17, 2012
- Steve Gutterman, “Russia Bars 18 Americans in Retaliation for Magnitsky List,” Reuters, April 13, 2013
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. Herszenhorn, “As U.S. Seeks Security Pact, Obama is Set to Meet Putin,” New York Times, April 15, 2013
- Steven Lee Myers and David. M. Herszenhorn, “U.S.-Russian Diplomacy with a Personal Touch,” New York Times, May 17, 2013
- Timothy Heritage and Steve Holland, “Russia Gives Snowden Asylum, Obama-Putin Summit in Doubt,” Reuters, August 1, 2013
- Jessica Yellin et al, “Obama Cancels Talks with Putin Ahead of G-20 Summit,” CNN, August 8, 2013
1. What were the arguments for and against the Magnitsky Act? How did the Obama Administration react to the proposed legislation?
2. S.-Russian relations had deteriorated by the end of Obama’s first term. Why? Do you think this was inevitable for the U.S., or was it the consequence of mistakes on the part of Obama? If so, what was the alternative approach?
3. What were the possible approaches towards Russia for the Obama Administration as it began its second term? What approach did outgoing Secretary Clinton recommend? What path did Obama ultimately pursue? Did it work?
Syria Diplomacy 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
- Peter Baker, “Russian Proposal Could Offer Obama Escape from Bind,” New York Times, September 9, 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
- Shaun Walker, “Ukraine’s EU Trade Deal Will Be Catastrophic, Says Russia,” The Guardian, September 22, 2013
- “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
- C.J. Chivers and David M. Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army,” New York Times, April 2, 2014
- Jeffrey Mankoff, “Russia’s Latest Land Grab: How Putin Won Crimea and Lost Ukraine,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2014
- Barack Obama, “Remarks to the People of Estonia,” September 3, 2014
- “The European Reassurance Initiative,” CSIS, February 9, 2016
- Michele Flournoy, et al, “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do,” Brookings | Atlantic Council report, 2015, p. 1–6
- Adrian Croft and David Alexander, “European Defense Ministers Oppose Sending Weapons to Ukraine,” Reuters, February 5, 2015
- Henry Kissinger, “To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014
- David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson, “Reinforcing NATO’s Eastern Flank,” Rand Corp., 2016
Russia’s (New?) Worldview
- Vladimir Putin, Speech to the UN General Assembly, September 2015
- Sergei Lavrov, “Musings at a New Stage of International Development,” Russia in Global Affairs, March 30, 2016
- Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia and the Menace of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin Is Revolutionizing Information Warfare,” The Atlantic, September 9, 2014
- Julia Ioffe, “Why Many Young Russians See a Hero In Putin,” National Geographic, September 2016
Russian Military Modernization and Theory
- Steven Pifer, “Pay Attention, America: Russia Is Upgrading Its Military,” Brookings Institution, February 5, 2016
- Christopher S. Chivvis, “Understanding Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’: And What Can Be Done About It,” Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, March 22, 2017
1. What was Russia’s strategy in Syria from 2011 to 2014? What were its interests there? Conversely, 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?
2. What was the calculus behind the Russian offer to partner with the U.S. to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile? How did the U.S. react? Was this the right choice?
3. 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?
4. What is the relationship between what happened in Ukraine in 2014 and what had happened in Georgia in 2008? Or Kosovo in 1999? Or between Ukraine and Syria?
5. What is hybrid warfare? How does it work? How was it manifest in Ukraine in 2004 and Syria in 2015–2016?
6. Was Russia’s intervention in Ukraine a success, or a mistake, on Putin’s part? How should the answer to this question affect the U.S. response?
7. How did the Obama Administration react to the Ukraine crisis? How did U.S. allies react? What were some of the alternative policies it might have pursued, as described by Flournoy and Kissinger? Why did it pursue the path it did, as against the alternatives?
Syria Escalates (2014–2016)
- Jonathan Saul, “Russia Moves to Step Up Military Lifeline to Syria’s Assad,” Reuters, January 17, 2014
- Josh Rogin, “Inside Obama’s Secret Outreach to Russia,” Bloomberg, December 31, 2014
- 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
Three Views on “What Went Wrong”
- Kathryn Stoner and Michael McFaul, “Who Lost Russia (This Time)?,” Washington Quarterly, August 5, 2015
- John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014
- Stephen Kotkin, “Russia’s Perpetual Geopolitics,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016
1. 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?
2. How did the U.S. respond to Russia’s escalation in Syria? What were the alternatives?
3. Mearsheimer, Stoner-McFaul, and Kotkin offer competing explanations for, “What went wrong?” and, “Who is to blame?” in the collapse of U.S.-Russian relations between 2014 and 2016. What are their respective arguments? Who is most persuasive? If you are a U.S. policymaker, what are the implications of each analysis?
- Greg Miller, et. al., “Obama’s Secret Struggle to Punish Russia for Putin’s Election Assault,” Washington Post, June 23, 2017.
- Jeffrey Goldberg, Excerpt on Russia, “World Chaos and World Order: Conversations with Henry Kissinger,” The Atlantic, November 10, 2016
- Eugene Rumer, “Russia and the West in a New Standoff,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 14, 2017
- Larry Diamond, “Russia and the Threat to Liberal Democracy: How Vladimir Putin is Making the World Safe for Autocracy,” The Atlantic, December 2016
- Edward Fishman and Mark Simakovsky, “The Do-No-Harm Principle of Kremlin Relations,” Foreign Policy, July 6, 2017
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Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations. Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade. Previously, he was the John A. van Beuren Chair Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
Christopher Griffin is a national security expert, specializing in U.S. foreign and defense policy toward the Asia-Pacific. He served as legislative director to Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, advising the senator on the full range of legislative proposals and key votes.
Hugh Liebert is assistant professor of American politics, policy, and strategy in the department of social sciences at the United States Military Academy. His primary areas of interest are Greek and Roman political thought and American politics. He is the author of Plutarch’s Politics: Between City and Empire.
Diana J. Schaub is professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland and a member of the Hoover Institution’s task force on The Virtues of a Free Society. She is the author of Erotic Liberalism: Women and Revolution in Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters”, along with a number of book chapters and articles in the fields of political philosophy and American political thought.