As the US seeks to 'reset' ties with Russia, it must not expect a complete reboot.
Trust, but verify, was Ronald Reagan's approach to the Soviets as they worked on arms control during the cold war. The phrase showed his hopes for the relationship, but also acknowledged the limitations. Four presidents later, his mantra still applies – even as Washington seeks a fresh start with Moscow this week.
When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Geneva on Friday, they will begin talks while at the lowest point in US-Russian relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. No question, it's time to "press the reset button," as Vice President Biden said at a security conference in Munich last month.
Russia, under Vladimir Putin, shares most of the blame for this low point. The Kremlin has cracked down on political and civil freedoms at home and waged war – both economic and military – in its "near abroad." It has demagogued, turning Russians against the West.
But the US and its allies are not without fault. Their mistake was not in their principles, but in their PR – expanding NATO and the European Union in a way and at a speed that alarmed Russia, putting Moscow on the defensive and, more recently, offensive. Russians also didn't take well to lecturing on democracy and capitalism.