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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2S7Z6
Order from Chaos

Draw red lines on Russia

Editor's Note:

Addressing President-elect Donald Trump directly, Steven Pifer writes: "You should early on establish clear policy lines toward Russia." He makes the case for reaffirming NATO's stance in Eastern Europe, supporting Ukraine, and expressing readiness to cooperate with Russia on areas where U.S. and Russian interests converge. This post, which originally appeared on The National Interest, is part of a multi-part symposium commissioned by the National Interest and Carnegie Corporation of New York.

You will take office at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Reducing tensions and moving back toward a more cooperative relationship will prove a challenge.

Part of the problem is that domestic political factors drive much of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. With a stagnant economy, he cannot base regime legitimacy on rising living standards, as he did in 2000–2008. He instead has turned to nationalism at home and the restoration of Russia as a power-player abroad. Moreover, he holds a sense of grievance, believing that the West took advantage of Russian weakness in the past.

Since your election, Putin appears to be leaving the door at least ajar for improved relations. However, while what he wants from the United States is clear, he has shown little indication of where Russia is prepared to give.

You should early on establish clear policy lines toward Russia, including:

As for Syria, you will need to decide American policy toward the Assad regime and opposition before engaging Russia. Moscow’s readiness to deal seriously with us will turn in part on how much influence you are prepared to exercise on the ground in Syria.

You will want to communicate at the outset of your presidency your red lines and where you are prepared to negotiate, and then stay steady on those points. As Putin comes to understand the contours of your policy and its consistency, you can gauge where he may be prepared to move and where progress may be possible.

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era. Read all the Order from Chaos content »

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