Key Challenges in U.S.-Russian Relations: Are Collaborative Approaches Possible?

Despite the difficult relationship between the United States and Russia, both countries have an interest in preventing the outbreak of new conflicts in Europe and in ameliorating the risks from existing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan. Addressing these challenges in a constructive way will require a degree of cooperation between Washington and Moscow. Yet the political realities in both countries and the wider context of U.S.-Russian confrontation make such cooperation difficult. Can the United States and Russia overcome their differences to adopt collaborative approaches to shared security challenges? How can they navigate the tricky politics of U.S.-Russia relations?

To answer these questions, the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) has brought together a distinguished group of U.S. and Russian experts to address prospects for cooperation in three areas that play an outsized role in U.S.-Russia relations: European security, the conflict in Ukraine, and the Middle East. Each paper in this series is co-authored by an American and a Russian expert. We asked each author pair to think creatively about ways in which Washington and Moscow could work together to address the risks that each issue poses to regional stability and to U.S.-Russian relations. The papers are designed to be forward-looking and practical. They reflect the shared views of the respective author pairs, all of whom have experience advising the governments of their respective countries.

These papers grew out of a joint CSIS-RIAC workshop hosted in Washington in October 2018 as part of an ongoing CSIS-RIAC Track 2 dialogue funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York. Authors were asked to work together to devise recommendations that could be adopted by both the U.S. and Russian governments to address what participants identified as the key challenges in the U.S.-Russia relationship. In addition to the topics covered in the three papers below, we attempted to produce a joint paper on the conflict in Syria. While our author pair found significant areas of agreement, the White House’s announcement—since qualified—that the United States would withdraw its forces from Syria led our authors to conclude that they could not develop recommendations in such an uncertain environment. The remaining papers aim at providing recommendations that meet the interests of both Washington and Moscow while remaining cognizant that political winds in both countries are subject to shifts.

We are grateful to our author pairs for the time, effort, and thoughtfulness they put into their work, to the Washington workshop participants for their ideas and comments, and to Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) for supporting the project.

This report is made possible by the generous support of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

This report is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, taxexempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2019 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.
Jeffrey Mankoff
Senior Associate (Non-Resident), Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program

Rachel Ellehuus