Historical Experiences

Jan 23, 2019

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 provided a historic opportunity for Washington and Moscow to forge a new and constructive relationship. What went wrong? In part, the answer lies in very different historical experiences of the years that followed the end of the Cold War.

From the American perspective, the 1990s were a period of ideological triumph and economic optimism. But for millions of Russians, those years were characterized by financial upheaval, political dysfunction, and—critically—international humiliation and defeat by the West.

The strong popular support today for Vladimir Putin’s assertive brand of nationalism—which takes aim squarely at American power—is, in part, a reaction to that history.

In some respects, Russia has always measured its sovereignty and global power against the West. But in that light, can Moscow and Washington ever have a truly constructive relationship?

Traveling to the Soviet Union for the first time in 1986, IGA Board President Ian Bremmer experienced firsthand the warmth of the country’s people and the beauty of its culture. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that relations would deteriorate to where they are today.

Relations between the US and Russia have broken down, says former Swedish Foreign Minister and Chief UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix. Gone are the days of deep ideological clash, but communication between the two powers is non-existent.

Putin’s aim is to make Russia great again. But Russia can’t rule the world on its own terms. Andrei Kolesnikov, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, describes the importance of history in Putin’s Russia and how it impacts the country’s relationship with the US.

A brighter future for all