- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Mind the Gap: Russian Ambitions vs. Russian Reality

Eugene Rumer


This chapter reviews Russia's assertive return to the international arena and Moscow's strategy to build an international coalition to balance the U.S.

Main Argument:

Russia’s ambitions are out of line with the country’s diminished capabilities. Russia faces numerous challenges domestically—including a demographic crisis, decrepit infrastructure, and an obsolete industrial base—that unless dealt with will impede the country’s growth. Russia’s economic recovery is fragile and reliance on raw materials exports leaves the country vulnerable to fluctuations of the global marketplace. Moscow’s ability to maintain stability will hinge on economic conditions, which could require potentially destabilizing reforms. Though Russian military capabilities have improved, many problems inherited from the 1990s remain.

Policy Implications:

  • For the U.S., Russia remains a key country—a force in Eurasian geopolitics, an energy exporter, a balancer of China, and a presence in international financial markets. The U.S. would benefit from a policy toward Russia that recognizes the country’s significance for Eurasia and the world more broadly. This would require a thorough assessment of the country’s strengths and weaknesses, flexibility and commitment to core U.S. principles, careful prioritization, and an understanding that improving relations will require a long-term perspective and difficult trade-offs.
  • The bilateral relationship is capable of delivering considerably more, but no foreign policy vision can guarantee that the two countries will be able to cooperate beyond their core interests. Any new political effort toward Russia would thus benefit from proceeding slowly and cautiously with managed expectations.