U.S.-Russia Relations and the Great Trump Disruption

Following is a slightly revised text of a talk I gave on March 21, 2019, at UC Berkeley for the Institute of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.


It’s a pleasure to be back at Berkeley, not far from the office that I occupied for some 25 years. I was privileged to have lived in the Bay Area, privileged to have worked at UCB, and privileged to have been part of a wonderful community of faculty and graduate students for a quarter century.

The people mattered most, but it wasn’t just the people. It turned out that the job was well suited to my academic interests and dispositions. My duties were in part academic administration, in part scholarship, and in part teaching, but I had a good deal of freedom to choose how much I devoted to each, more so than had I been regular ladder faculty in a political science department. I was also able to chase what I was interested in, in part because I didn’t have to worry about the demands of the discipline; in part because I could influence the institute’s research agenda; and in part because the institute covers so much ground geographically and thematically.

And as it happened, my interests changed a lot over the years, both in terms of region – initially Russia, then the Caucasus, then Central Asia, and finally Ukraine – and topic, of which there were too many to name.

I also loved being part of a truly interdisciplinary scholarly community, including not just scholars in the harder social sciences but many wonderful historians and faculty and graduate students in the Slavic Department.

In short, it was the perfect job for someone like me who likes being a jack of many trades but master of none.

My talk today reflects my focus in the last five years or so at Berkeley, which, for lack of a better term, was the geopolitics of our region in the lead up to, and wake of, the Ukraine crisis. I felt I had something to say about that dramatic turn of events, so I started a blog that I immodestly called “Eurasian Geopolitics.” And I decided the blog would be forward, not backward, looking. I’d focus less on the “how we got here” and “who is to blame” questions, and more on the “where we’re likely headed” question. The goal was to forecast, and to do so as accurately and clearly as I could.

My talk today is organized as follows. I’m going to start with some brief remarks about the “science and art” of forecasting. I’ll then discuss how Trump has made accurate forecasting about geopolitics and US-Russia relations even more difficult that it was previously. Next I’ll turn to the Kremlin’s strategic goals and how it assesses the risks and opportunities in this uncertain geopolitical moment. Finally, I’ll conclude with some thoughts about the implications for Russia if the Kremlin gets what it wants in the way a post-liberal, great-power “international order.”

The Art and Science of Forecasting

For whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn to current events and to speculating about what they tell us about where we’re headed. In part, that may be because of my jack-of-many-trades intellectual disposition, but in part it’s also because of my mainstream understanding of science and knowledge.

I believe that social science “theory” should be directed at causal explanation, and that any explanation necessarily draws on theory of one sort or another. Which is to say, the one necessarily draws on the many, and vice-versa.

If so, then the social sciences, to the extent they are sciences, entail implicit or explicit forecasting. That’s because any causal explanation necessarily implies a counter-factual: if this cause hadn’t been present, we would not have had this outcome. That’s a counter-factual. Moreover, the claim is that wherever this cause or these causes are present, whether in the past or the future, we’ll see a similar outcome. That’s a forecast. The scientific “proof,” as it were, is in the forecasting “pudding.” Explanations that travel successfully are what I, at least, mean by theory.

Accordingly, I have little patience for the argument that social scientists can’t, and shouldn’t, try to “predict” the future. On the contrary, social scientists, or indeed anyone, can predict anything they want to. And in some cases, accurate prediction is easy. I can forecast with high confidence that there will be a presidential election in the United States in 2020.

What’s hard is being right about predicting difficult things (which I admit is a tautology, but you get the point). It’s true that we can’t predict a lot that’s important with confidence (for example, who will win the presidency in 2020). But we canpredict a great deal of importance with varying degrees of confidence. What’s hard is being good at it; what’s even harder is being very good at it.

I also think it’s usefulfor social scientists, including (and they won’t like to hear this) historians, to try, at least informally, to forecast hard things accurately. Notably, doing so encourages dispassion. It’s easy, and essentially costless, to get worked up about “who is to blame” for the current state of US-Russian relations. But if you want to be right about where things are headed, it’s best to keep your emotions in check, as any stock picker will tell you.

Another payoff is that forecasting helps keep hubris in check. Again, it’s easy to be overconfident about causality of an event that’s already happened – for example, “democratic backsliding” in Russia under Putin. But accurate forecasting about where Russia is headed – what happens after Putin, for example – almost necessarily requires analysts to appreciate the limits of the knowledge and account for uncertainty and alternative outcomes.

There’s also an interesting and useful academic literature that addresses, directly or indirectly, successful forecasting. It has roots in the long-standing literature on rationality and decision-making, but much of the path-breaking stuff in recent years in behavioral economics and the cognitive sciences focuses on more-or-less on the opposite – the irrational, and the cognitive biases that make us “predictably irrational,” which is the title of a book by the behavioral economist Dan Ariely. There’s even interesting research, and literature, specifically on political forecasting, much of which draws on findings from contests, or “tournaments,” that seek to identify the cognitive attributes that make for good – or if you will “super” – forecasting – which is the title of another book, this one by Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner.

So let me share some interesting and useful, to me at least, takeaways from this literature.

First, to draw on Isaiah Berlin’s famous distinction, foxes tend to do better than hedgehogs. That is, those who know a little about a lot – empirically, methodologically, and in terms of theory – do better on balance in forecasting tournaments than those who specialize and know a lot about a little.

Second, good forecasters keep an open mind. They weigh new evidence carefully and allow contrary evidence to change to their minds. Either consciously or dispositionally, they avoid confirmation bias – that is, they don’t weigh evidence that confirms what they thought more heavily than evidence that disconfirms it.

Third, good forecasters think clearly and avoid vagueness. In particular, they’re aware of the confusion and sloppy thinking that can come with so-called nominal scaling, or using vague, slippery words or phrases like “there’s a good chance” to convey probabilities.

That said, I’d be the first to admit that I constantly use nominal scales such as “likely,” ”pretty likely,” “very likely,” “highly likely,” “extremely likely”, and “virtually certain.” But I do so mainly for stylistic reasons. My wife pointed out a while ago that it’s off-putting to be told repeatedly that I think the odds of something happening are such-and-such. But I try to be careful about nominal scaling, and if pressed I’m happy to render “likely” into something less vague, like 51-60%, or “pretty likely” to 61-70%, and so on.

Fourth, good forecasters are careful about group-think. Just because lots of people, even smart and well-informed people, think something doesn’t make it correct, as we were reminded with the WMD in Iraq debacle.

On the other hand, it’s also true that the great bulk of the time conventional wisdom, especially the conventional wisdom of specialists, is in fact correct. Being a knee-jerk contrarian may help get you on television, but it doesn’t make you right.

Moreover, while you want to be careful about group-think, it’s also the case that forecasting improves when people work together in smallish groups, and particularly in groups of open-minded people who disagree.

Fifth, good forecasters avoid over-concluding from small samples, above all from an N of 1, which sadly is very common.

For example, it would be a mistake to assume that a certain model that forecasts presidential election outcomes is better than others simply because it did a better job forecasting the last presidential election. You need a lot more n’s to know that with confidence. Good forecasters don’t overlearn the lesson of the last war, so to speak.

Sixth, and relatedly, good forecasters understand probability.

For example, they are careful about certainty. They know that 100% is different from 99% or 99.9%, and that zero is different from 1% or .1%. Stuff happens, and even in physics empirical “laws” sometimes turn out to be wrong.

Above all, good forecasters appreciate that improbable things happen constantly. The implication is hard for many to accept, which is that you can’t assume that someone who told you that such-and-such was highly unlikely, but then such-and-such happens, was wrong. That the improbable happened doesn’t make it less improbable.

For example, if I say the odds of rolling double-sixes with a pair of dice are 1/36, and you then roll double sixes, I wasn’t “wrong,” at least in the sense that I could have improved my forecast had I acquired more specific or general knowledge. Likewise, you can’t assume that forecasting models that concluded that Trump’s presidential win was improbable – or even highly improbable – were useless and or could be improved upon. That might be the case, but it might not be. Only multiple N’s, and testing models against the evidence, can show you that.

Finally, and this is a particular fetish of mine, good forecasters avoid preference bias. Even if you really want the Warriors to win, don’t allow that preference to lead you to conclude they’re more likely to win than they actually are. Likewise, don’t allow your preference for, say, a Democratic victory in 2020 to affect your assessment of how likely that is. And don’t let a desire for “regime change” in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter, affect your assessment of regime stability.

Trump, uncertainty, and the liberal international order

That gets me to the Great Trump Disruption, and let me start with an initial distinction between risk and uncertainty.

To return to dice rolling, you can be virtually certain that the more times you roll a pair of dice, the more you’ll confirm that the odds of rolling double sixes are precisely one in thirty-six. No new empirical knowledge (unless the dice are loaded or otherwise imperfect), and no additional theoretical knowledge, is going to change that assessment.

Almost never, however, can we have that kind of confidence in a probability assessment about political outcomes. The assessed odds may be off by a little or off by a lot, perhaps because we lack empirical or theoretical knowledge, or perhaps because of inherent obstacles in predicting certain kinds of events. But in either case, good forecasters have to be aware of, and account for, uncertainty in their probability assessments. And they have to be aware that uncertainty can vary over time.

For example, it’s clear that there was already an unusual degree of uncertainty about geopolitical trends before Trump’s election. Structural as well as choice-related institutional factors were undermining the so-called “liberal international order” and causing a surge in political and economic populism throughout the West, not just the United States. That, in my view, is what made Trump possible.

Nonetheless, I also consider Trump’s election to be a classic Black Swan event. That is, it was both highly improbable and highly consequential. When Trump announced his candidacy, I believe the betting markets had the odds of him winning at something like 1 in 300. And I don’t think I have to convince anyone that his election has already been highly consequential, even if we might disagree about how consequential and in what way. At the very least, Trump has introduced even more uncertainty into U.S. politics and geopolitical trends than was the case before he entered the office some two years ago.

In practical terms, that means that if I say, for example, the odds of the U.S. withdrawing from NATO are 50% if Trump is reelected, I would have to add, give-or-take, say, 10%, or even 20%. That’s telling you I am uncertain. What I can say with confidence, however, is that the odds are much higher than would have been the case had Hillary, or anyone other than Trump, won the presidency in 2016.

Risks and opportunities from where the Kremlin sits

How, then, does the Kremlin assess, and want does it want from, this uncertain and fluid geopolitical environment? And not just the Kremlin, I should note, but the great bulk of the Russian political class and foreign policy establishment.

First and foremost, they want an end of the “liberal international order” that is dominated and policed by the United States and its allies. In its place, they want an order dominated by great powers, of which there are really only three, despite what they sometimes claim – Russia, China, and United States. They view Europe as too weak militarily and divided politically to count, and in any case they treat it essentially as a vassal of the United States. India, on the other hand, is still too weak economically to count, and in any case doesn’t seem to aspire, at least for now, to great power status. Other polities don’t make the cut for obvious reasons.

In this new order, Russia will no longer be a “rule taker.” Instead, it will be a “rules maker” alongside the United States and China. And the rules, such as they are, will apply equally to each great power. As they often put it, the United States will no longer be the only state allowed to regularly violate the rules of the game.

At the same time, the great powers will have recognized spheres of influence, even if at the margins those spheres of influence are contested. If one power refuses to accept the rightful sphere of influence of another – say, if the U.S. contests for influence in, or hegemony over, Ukraine – the others will do likewise in Washington’s perceived sphere of influence. Russia won’t accept U.S. claims to having a “special interest” in Venezuela or Cuba, for example.

Finally, the great powers won’t interfere in the internal affairs not just of their peers but in countries that fall within the spheres-of-influence of the others. So no Western “democracy promotion” in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, or any former Soviet republic other than the three Baltic states. If the U.S. refuses to abide by this rule, the other great powers will again do likewise – they will meddle in, and seek to destabilize, the United States, other liberal democracies, and U.S. allies and partners generally.

So how does the Kremlin assess progress in realizing its strategic objectives, and how does it assess the opportunities and risks in this geopolitical moment? The short answer is that it has many reasons to be enormously pleased by developments since 2014, when it suffered a major setback to its geopolitical project with the Ukraine crisis.

In the first place, it has witnessed a dramatic weakening of the liberal international order and the soft power of the United States, the West, and liberalism. Illiberalism, democratic or authoritarian, is on a roll, one consequence of which is a decline in Western solidarity and even coherence as a geopolitical entity. Another is less Western meddling in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union – the liberal democracies are, for the moment, hunkering down, on the defensive rather offensive.

Russian analysts are aware that these developments are partly the result of structural factors, but they’re also convinced that they’ve been helped along by Kremlin policies and given a huge boost by Trump. I also think most take pride, Kremlin denials notwithstanding, that Trump’s election was at least facilitated by Russian meddling.

Of course, it’s not just Trump and the United States that gives the Kremlin cause for optimism. When they look around, they see that a European project that is in deep trouble. Recall that the Ukraine drama of 2014 was precipitated by an E.U. decision to sign an accession agreement with Kyiv. It was perhaps not obvious at the time, but it’s obvious now, that the E.U. had overreached geographically and institutionally. In EU-speak, “widening and deepening” had gone too far too fast, arguably much too far and fast. As a result, the E.U. is now preoccupied with managing Brexit, the design flaws in its monetary union, immigration, and surging anti-EU populism. Deepening and especially widening are off the table, which for the Kremlin is a very good thing.

Outside Europe, the U.S. is pulling back from the Middle East, and there’s a widespread view that Russia is again an indispensable player in the region. If the Kremlin’s goals in Syria were to prevent another Western-led case of regime change; preserve its influence with a long-standing client state; make things even more difficult for the United States and Western Europe; and have a “seat at the table” in any post-war settlement, then its intervention has to be judged a success. Indeed that’s the way it’s generally perceived, at least outside Russia. (And I’ll have more to say about this in a moment.)

Moscow also has to be pleased by its so-far successful partnership with Beijing, which is driven in large part by common goals of undermining U.S. global hegemony, forcing the United States out of their respective spheres of influence, and ending Western meddling in their internal affairs. The Kremlin has every reason to assume those common goals won’t go away soon, and that the partnership will therefore last for some considerable time.

In Central Asia, the one area where Russian and Chinese perceived spheres of influence overlap, a so-far acceptable compromise has emerged whereby Russia in effect provides security and China concentrates on economic development and its Belt and Road Initiative. And the West has much less influence in – or indeed interest in – the region than it did, say, a decade ago.

Elsewhere in the “near-abroad,” Ukraine remains politically unstable, even if its economy is improving, and E.U. and NATO accession are off the table for it and Georgia for the foreseeable future. Russia continues to play Azerbaijan and Armenia off against each other, and to strengthen its military presence in Armenia. In Belarus, Lukashenko is as always irritating, but as long as he stays in power Moscow can be confident the country won’t fall into the Western orbit. Moreover, if Lukashenko, or a successor, crosses a red line, the Kremlin has lots of hard and soft options at its disposal to make sure Belarus doesn’t follow in Ukraine’s path.

Finally, the Kremlin has to be extremely pleased by the success of its ongoing influence operations in the West. My view is that these operations have been aggravating problems that existed regardless, but that sometimes they’ve played a tipping role, as in the case of Trump’s election. And I suspect the Kremlin agrees. Beyond that, the Kremlin has clearly concluded that the costs of meddling have been modest, particularly in light of the payoffs. The associated sanctions have added only marginally to the generally manageable effects of the Magnitsky, Crimea, Donbas, and other sanctions.

That said, in my view Putin and the people around him are tough-minded realists, albeit of a particular type, and I don’t think they suffer from irrational exuberance. On the contrary, they are inclined to make worst-case assumptions about risks, particularly but not only in security matters. So while they may be pleased by a weakened West and a liberal international order that’s in deep trouble, they’re aware that making matters worse for the other guy isn’t the same as making matters better for oneself. And they have a great many well-founded reasons for concern.

Start with national security. U.S. defense spending is increasing, and Washington will continue to outspend Moscow by orders of magnitude going forward. Defense spending is also rising among almost all of the U.S.’s NATO and other allies, and NATO’s hard power capabilities continue to increase along Russia’s western borders. The U.S. and its allies are ramping up military assistance to Ukraine and Georgia, and Washington is now providing Ukraine with lethal weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, supposedly a red line for the Kremlin.

Most importantly, the Kremlin can’t assume that NATO accession for Georgia and Ukraine is permanently off the table. On the contrary, it has to anticipate that Ukraine and Georgia will continue to integrate into NATO military structures and practices, and that sooner-or-later the United States and its more hawkish allies will push to renew the NATO accession process for both.

Strategically, the Kremlin worries that the United States is seeking, and will eventually achieve, a credible a first-strike capability against Russia’s strategic forces. It sees U.S. ballistic missile defenses in this light, as well as the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the INF treaty.

Finally, the Kremlin is aware that its security relationship with the West is now almost entirely unconstrained by arms control agreements. The exception is New START, but Trump’s unilateralism and hostility to international agreements, along with U.S. concerns about China’s growing strategic capabilities, mean that Washington may well refuse to extend New START when it comes up for renewal in 2021. The Kremlin also knows that U.S. defense spending, technology, and weapons acquisitions will be driven in the coming decades primarily by its competition with China regardless of what Moscow does.

With respect to U.S. domestic politics, the Kremlin has to consider what happens after Trump leaves office. I don’t think the Kremlin can identify a single member of the current administration, or of Republicans in general, who could be considered pro-Russian other than Trump and his family. I can’t, at any rate. On the contrary, the great majority is either anti-Russian or very anti-Russian, whether we’re talking about Mike Pence or Mike Pompeo.

As for the other side of the aisle, Russia’s role in the 2016 elections, and its ongoing influence campaign, have helped turn formally dovish Democrats into anti-Russian hawks – the one exception being, perhaps, Bernie Sanders.

So Moscow has to assume that when Trump leaves office, it will very likely confront an administration, and an American political class, that’s much more hostile to it than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

As for Europe, a great deal remains in play to be sure, and Russia will continue to find opportunities to win friends and undermine enemies through diplomacy and influence operations. But the E.U. will likely survive its current “crisis,” and while we are likely to get a less-deep EU that is more respectful of national sovereignty, it will be one where many of those sovereigns, and many publics, are hostile or very hostile to Russia.

In Syria, the Kremlin continues to maneuver in an extremely complicated and fluid conflict zone, but to what end? Moscow is committed to supporting a brutal government that’s hated by many, probably most, of its citizens, and that presides over a devastated economy. Russia now finds itself having to seek economic assistance from the international community and the West on behalf of Assad. And it’s unclear why a “seat at the table” matters if the table doesn’t really exist or can’t produce a sustainable settlement. Not surprisingly, surveys suggest that more Russians believe the intervention was ill-advised than support it.

As for China, its economy, despite the slowdown, is already much larger than Russia’s and growing faster. It has 1.4 billion people and a very long border with Russia, and it will be spending some three times more that Russia on defense by 2024. For obvious reasons, Russia worries that it will eventually become a junior partner to China, or worse a vassal of Beijing’s. And consider the security implications for Moscow if boththe United States and China end up with credible first strike capabilities against Russia’s strategic arsenal.

The Kremlin also has a great deal to worry about on Russia’s domestic front. The Russian economy is effectively stagnating, with GDP growth expected to come in at around 1.3% this year, significantly less than for China and the United States. Living standards for the bulk of the population have declined since 2014; inequality remains very high; corruption is endemic; and there are ever more reasons for foreign investors to stay clear of the country, including not just sanctions but policies that seem designed to scare them off. Nor are oil prices likely to provide much relief.

As for sanctions, they are unlikely to be scaled back for at least several years, and perhaps many more. Rather the contrary – witness the new U.S., E.U., and Canadian sanctions imposed last week. And this with Trump in office.

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that Russia’s economy is in crisis. Rather, it’s muddling along, with good macro-economic management despite a poor micro environment. But the fact is that living standards are stagnating or declining for most Russians and the country is falling farther behind the other “great powers,” and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

So far the political order is muddling along as well. But there, too, the Kremlin is, as always, worried. Putin’s popularity is falling, no doubt in part because of the economy and pension reform, but probably also because the sugar rush of the Crimea annexation is wearing off.

Moreover, we may be approaching the end of the Putin era. Putin’s current term ends in 2024, and he’s barred constitutionally from running for three consecutive terms. Moscow is now rife with speculation about what happens if and when he leaves office. At the least, the Russian political elite is going to be preoccupied with a possible succession as 2024 approaches, increasingly worried about elite and even regime stability, and even less likely to liberalize economically or change direction politically.

That said, if there is significant oppositional mobilization at some point, I doubt it will get very far. The Kremlin has become very sophisticated about keeping the opposition in check, and it can always resort to outright repression if need be.

My view, then, is that liberalization, let alone some kind of regime change from below, is very unlikely in the foreseeable future. Much more likely is a Putin-led transition that keeps him in the mix and produces more of the same. If there is change, I doubt we’ll see more liberal policies or an effort at rapprochement with the West. The contrary is at least as likely – less liberal and more hostile.

Finally, it’s possible that, should Putin or a successor feel hard pressed at home, he – and it will almost certainly be a he – will precipitate another crisis with the West in the hopes of another “rally around the flag” surge in regime support. If so, I doubt the gambit will be anywhere near as successful as the Crimea annexation. But that won’t make it any less dangerous. Rather the next crisis, should it happen, may well be moredangerous. There’s no low hanging fruit like Crimea; who knows how Trump will react if he’s still president; and anyone in the Oval Office other than Trump will face a great deal of political pressure to respond vigorously to another Russian provocation.

Why Russia should be careful what it wishes for

Let me conclude with some thoughts about the very real possibility that the Kremlin gets what it wants in the way of a post-liberal international order dominated by great powers.

In brief, my take is that Putin’s challenge to the West and liberal internationalism has helped him domestically, but it’s not in the long-run interests of the Russian people, for a host of mostly obvious reasons.

In the first place, Moscow’s adversarial relationship with the West is an economic burden. The United States and its allies make up over half of the world economy and produce the great bulk of its technological innovation. And geography alone tells you that Russia’s natural trading partner is Europe, not China.

Even in the absence of sanctions, hostility with the West impedes trade and foreign investment, and it makes the Kremlin even less likely to undertake the reforms needed for trend growth to increase, inequality to abate, and living standards to resume catching up with those in the West. But sanctions are making Russia’s economic problems worse. A recent Bloomberg Economics study concluded that post-Ukraine sanctions have already shaved some 6% off Russian GDP.

Russian security is also being undermined by its adversarial relationship with the West. It’s an enormous country with very long borders and many neighbors. Of the fourteen states that border it, a majority considers it a national security threat; most fear it: and all, including China, are suspicious of its intentions. Russia has gone to war with two neighboring states in the past decade, including one large one, Ukraine, that has an increasingly effective military. Consider how problematic, and costly, it would be for the United State to have the kind of relationship with Canada that Russia has with Ukraine.

Moreover, while Russia has foreign partners – countries that are friendly to it and that share certain interests – it has no real allies. To understate the case, it doesn’t share interests and values with China or Kazakhstan the way the United States, despite Trump, shares interests and values with its European and other key allies.

Then there’s the question of Russia’s actual position in any new world order. While Beijing uses similar language to Moscow about an emerging multipolar world, Chinese analysts in practice assume the new order will be fundamentally bipolar – less so perhaps in security matters, but certainly so when it comes to rules impacting global commerce. And even in the security arena, Russia will face an increasingly multipolar, not tri-polar, order, because of proliferation and the fact that nuclear weapons are such effective strategic equalizers.

Beyond that, it’s not clear that China shares Russia’s preference for the abandonment of liberal internationalism. China wants the United States to respect its sphere of influence and accommodate its security and economic interests. And like Russia it doesn’t want the United States meddling in its internal affairs. But to a much greater extent than Russia, it has a huge political and economic stake in a rule-governed and orderly international economic system. So it’s quite possible that China will end up cooperating, on balance, with the United States to support a rules-based system that promotes trade, keeps the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and sustains China’s export-oriented economy.

Finally, Russia’s internal political, economic, and societal problems are serious, and I can’t think of any that will be ameliorated by an international order dominated by great powers. On the contrary, they will be made worse by increased international instability, risks of war, protectionism, lower global growth, and a dangerous and costly arms race.

To sum up, my take is that the Kremlin has been playing a negative-sum international game extremely well. But negative sum games are negative sum, which means all players lose, even if some lose more than others. Russia has been able to inflict a great deal of pain on the West, arguably more pain than the West has inflicted on it, but nonetheless it’s losing too, and it starts from a considerably lower base. And it will continue to lose, in my view, unless and until it works out, one way or the other, a less hostile relationship with the West.

That won’t happen soon, and it will take two to tango. At a minimum it will require a ceasefire in the “war of mutual meddling,” as well as the kind of pragmatic realism from both sides, particularly on security matters, that produced the US-Soviet détente of the 1970s. I think it’s very unlikely that kind of realism will emerge in the Trump-Putin era. But it might, say, ten years down the road.

Meanwhile, strap in.