Perceptions matter. Even two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russians perceive the United States as hegemonic and hypocritical, while Americans often dismiss Russia as irrelevant and the Russian state as a caricature of autocracy and illegitimacy.
These beliefs color the bilateral interaction. On Syria, for example, the United States has approached negotiations with Moscow by pushing Russia to abandon its approach even when Russians express the justified concern that the U.S. side has not offered a sound alternative strategy.
Above all, Russia fears being marginalized in the international environment of the 21st century, and so while engagement is essential, each side must come to the table with genuine openness to the other’s concerns.
Beyond politics, the foundations of the relationship remain disturbingly anemic. Despite some progress since 2009, persistent roadblocks to free travel and investment make it difficult for interested private parties to build enduring bilateral ties. In both countries, these constraints have led to mounting fatigue among those in the business community and civil society who should be the strongest advocates of close relations. Some well-meaning Americans now caution Obama against squandering more political capital to salvage a “reset” the Russian side never fully understood or embraced.