What a difference the passage of five years can make! Back in 2001-02 people both in Moscow and Washington were talking about a U.S.-Russia strategic partnership, even an alliance. "Russia and the United States have common interests that ought to lead to common endeavors. This is not just talk", one astute observer of the U.S.-Russia relationship wrote in these pages back then. These days, however, no one speaks of a possible alliance; few even mention shared interests and the talk of the day is more about a new cold war than about "common endeavors." The tough attack directed by Vice President Richard Cheney against Russia in his spring 2006 speech in Vilnius and Vladimir Putin's speech at the Munich Security Conference this past February testify to how the war of words is heating up. This dramatic evolution can only lead one to ask the question: What happened? How did we move from celebrating the start of a new U.S.-Russia strategic partnership to being on the verge of a new political confrontation?
ONE EPISODE, one not particularly well-known in U.S. circles, helps to explain the downward spiral of the U.S.-Russia relationship.