THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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.
BY RAYMOND SM I TH
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
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
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.