The West and Russia have had an inherently conflictual relationship even if, historically, the two have collaborated.

For the West Russia is not fully Western, whereas Russia identifies itself as a European country, though when rebuffed it projects itself as a Eurasian and Slavic country with its own civilizational characteristics.

Culturally, Russia is European, but geopolitically it has transcended Europe because of its huge size, formidable strategic capacities and past superpower status.

Within a security framework, the NATO-Russia Council implicitly recognized this, but not the EU within an economic framework, as in its response to Russia’s overtures after the Soviet collapse, it offered not an equal partnership but accommodation within its Neighborhood Policy.

The East-West confrontation over, the West could have worked to eliminate Cold War distortions in the international policy, encourage more participative global governance and empower the UN Security Council to effectively maintain peace and security. Instead, Russia was still considered a potential adversary and weakening it further geopolitically by extending NATO and the EU inexorably eastward continued. Russia’s concept of a pan-European security architecture was treated as a ploy to undermine European security and NATO.

The US played a role in Russia’s economic dislocation in the Yeltsin era, which by causing all-around misery damaged the image of democracy and the market economy in the country. Putin’s rise and his determination to restore state authority over domestic politics, the economy and the country’s natural resources was an inevitable consequence. Putin’s initial pro-European overtures foundered on the West’s insistence that Russia measure up to European standards on democracy, private enterprise and human rights, which connoted that regaining influence over Russia’s politics and economics remained a goal. The color revolutions in Georgia, Central Asia and Ukraine were intended to generate internal pressures in Russia for democracy. The pincer movements to encourage Georgia to challenge Russia proved costly for Tbilisi and crossing Russia’s redlines in Ukraine led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

US post-Cold War unilateralism denoted by Yugoslavia’s breakup, regime change in Iraq, the abrogation of the ABM treaty and installation of elements of its ABM system in Europe exacerbated Russia-West tensions. Putin’s 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference lambasting US policies crystallized this.

Libya’s subsequent destruction followed by efforts to affect a regime change in Syria — which invited Russian military intervention — further worsened Russia- West ties. In his 2015 UNGA address, Putin once again excoriated the West, including on the issue of terrorism, even though he was the first foreign leader to express solidarity with the US over 9/11.

Russia-West ties have plummeted dramatically because of Russia’s alleged interference in US elections, which Trump’s opponents are using as a weapon to de-legitimize his presidency. Western countries are today paranoid about Russia’s capacity to manipulate their democratic processes. The West has personally demonized Putin so zealously that the space for re-engagement is shrinking. The Western diplomatic discourse on Russia has coarsened. Domestic politics in US and Britain in particular — as in the Skripal poisoning case — is making the conduct of foreign policy toward Russia increasingly unmanageable. Reciprocal diplomatic expulsions and sweeping Western sanctions against Russia are closing channels of communication as never before. A Cold War situation is being created. Geopolitically, the West is axing its own foot by strengthening Russia-China strategic ties, which bolsters China’s bid to challenge US power, armed with economic tools that Russia lacks. //