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U.S.-Russia relations are in disarray, with talk of a new Cold War pervasive.

Fortunately, framing the conflict in terms of national interests points to a way forward.





Raymond Smith was an FSO from 1969 to 1993. He

served in Moscow twice and while he was political

counselor in Moscow drafted the 1990 cable “Looking

into the Abyss: The Possible Collapse of the Soviet Union

and What We Should Be Doing About It.” He also served as director

of the Office of the Former Soviet Union and Eastern European Af-

fairs in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. A longtime interna-

tional negotiations consultant, he is the author of

Negotiating with

the Soviets

(1989) and

The Craft of Political Analysis for Diplomats



assume we would all agree that each country has its

own national interests, which sometimes conflict

with the national interests of other countries. Conflict

is not necessarily a bad thing. Satisfactorily resolved

conflicts can improve relations, create expectations

about how future conflicts will be resolved and

decrease the likelihood that countries will consider

resorting to violence. A diplomat’s primary responsi-

bility is to advance his or her own country’s interests.

In doing that, they are in a unique position to contribute to the sat-

isfactory resolution of conflicts by helping their leaders understand

how the other country sees its interests.



Russia’s view of its interests has changed in fundamental

ways in the quarter-century since the dissolution of the Soviet

Union. Much of that change would, in my view, have been

likely whether Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin or not.

The Russia that emerged from the end of the Cold War and

the collapse of the Soviet Union was intent on becoming part

of the Western world and wildly optimistic about what that

would mean.

Boris Yeltsin, its president, had staked his political future

on destroying both the Communist Party and the Soviet sys-

tem in which it was embedded. His foreign minister, Andrei

Kozyrev, was as intellectually pro-West as anyone in his

position had been throughout Russian history. They inherited

from Mikhail Gorbachev a foreign policy outlook—the Com-

mon European Home—that they intended to implement and


The Russian people, giddy from the collapse of the cor-

rupt, oppressive regime under which they had labored for

generations, hungered for a normal relationship with the rest

of the world and believed that the result would be quick and

dramatic improvement in their lives.

In 1992 I wrote that these expectations could not be met,

and that a period of disillusionment would inevitably follow.