Matthew Rojansky is Director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He is an expert on U.S. relations with the states of the former Soviet Union, and has advised governments, intergovernmental organizations, and major private actors on conflict resolution and efforts to enhance shared security throughout the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian region.
Dangerously dysfunctional relations between Washington and Moscow have been blamed by the press, pundits and politicians on the failure of U.S. policymakers to properly “read” Vladimir Putin and thus to predict the Kremlin’s supposedly strategic foreign policy agenda. However, rather than attempting to predict Putin’s next move or to de-code the meaning behind personnel shuffles at the Kremlin, policymakers and the analysts who support them would do better to pay more attention to Russia in a much broader sense. From the incompatibility of the “European Project” with the worldview of the country’s ruling elite, to the geopolitical reality Russia faces as a sprawling multi-ethnic state surrounded by dynamic rising powers, to worsening military tensions between Russia and NATO, there are deeper trends that are likely to shape Russian policy regardless of who is in the top job at the Kremlin. An appropriate U.S. strategy to address these challenges will emphasize not only strength and deterrence, but also adroit risk management, dialogue, and leadership by example. In other words, now is not a time to panic about the predictably unpredictable Russian threat, but rather to keep calm and carry on.