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These are turbulent times for American foreign policy. Nowhere are the challenges facing the United States more evident than in U.S. policy toward Russia. Drawing on scholars across several disciplines and perspectives, CSIS conducted a year-long study that sought to achieve two goals. First, to provide policymakers with a clearer understanding of Russia’s strategic motivations and objectives, along with the tools it uses to advance its goals. Second, to lay out a comprehensive strategy to secure U.S. and transatlantic interests in the face of the complex Russia challenge set.

The authors view Russia’s shift toward a more belligerent security posture as an enduring reality, not an aberration. It is the product of long-standing Russian beliefs, coupled with an increasing recognition that it can advance them more effectively today than was possible in years past. The authors argue, however, that neither the United States nor its allies in Europe have made the necessary conceptual shift to accept the long-term Russia challenge, nor determined the strategic objectives that their policies should advance. The West’s approach to date has been insufficient to meet the threat, and dissonance among allies is only serving to embolden Russia and broaden its goals. The United States must, therefore, center its Russia policy and, indeed, its European and global strategies on an unadulterated assessment of interests, priorities, and vulnerabilities and identify achievable objectives and, on this basis, articulate acceptable trade-offs against other global requirements. To this end, this report offers the framework for a comprehensive strategy toward Russia, one derived from analysis and insights regarding key elements of past U.S. policy toward Russia; historical Russian reactions to major events on its periphery; and the tool sets each side can bring to bear in advancing its national interests.