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The Realist Prism: Narrowed Focus in U.S.-Russia Relations Proves Productive

Nikolas Gvosdev Friday, May 10, 2013

John Kerry undertook his maiden voyage to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state this week, and the initial impression is that his visit was a success. There was a perceptible thaw in what, over the past year, has been described as a much more contentious relationship. U.S. officials have focused on the prospect of a "more intensified dialogue with the Russians" that can now take place in the aftermath of the presidential elections in both Russia and the United States.

Building upon the foundation laid last month by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Kerry continued the process of leaving behind the baggage that had accumulated between Moscow and Washington during the last part of the first term of the Obama administration, particularly over human rights issues. The United States can no longer rely on a close president-to-president relationship; in all of their encounters so far, Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have been formally correct but not particularly close. For a "de-personalized" U.S.-Russia relationship to work, it must move away from personalities to focus on issues, while avoiding the many landmines that still litter the landscape—notably continued differences over the state of democracy and human rights in Russia. ...

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