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Confronting Russia

by Robert McMahon, Editor
September 9, 2008

It may not be a new Cold War but a definite chill has set in between the West and Russia following Russia’s military occupation of Georgia and recognition of its two breakaway provinces. The Russia-Georgia conflict has made its way into the U.S. presidential race as well. Seeking to chart a way forward, the Economist has kicked off an important two-week debate in response to the proposition: “The West must be bolder in its response to a newly assertive Russia.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, who heads Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson school, argues in favor of bolder action: In her opening post, she writes:

“As popular as Vladimir Putin and his party are, they are delivering a heady nationalist brew rather than actually providing badly needed economic and social benefits to the population at large. It is that domestic political equation that the West must counterbalance by making clear that the diplomatic, political and economic costs of external adventures outweigh the domestic benefits.”

But the Carnegie Endowment’s Dmitri V. Trenin counters that under Putin, Russians are more affluent than ever and “capitalism is transforming Russian society on a daily basis.” He offers the following advice in his opening post:

“Rather than thinking about bold steps which would fuel nascent confrontation it makes more sense to subject old stereotypes to a reality check, and figure out whither Russia is heading, and what it actually wants. And then perhaps use the present crisis to structure a security relationship in Europe which would include Russia and reassure its wary neighbors. That, incidentally, may come in handy as other crises may jolt the world: a politico-nuclear meltdown in Pakistan, a Taliban comeback in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear weapons progress, North Korea’s proliferation regression and the like.”  

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