The ball is now in the U.S. court. But it is likely that soon a return volley will be served. In November, even before the Duma bill restricting the activities of U.S.-sponsored NGOs had passed, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, noted that, in any consideration of U.S.-Russian relations, shared interests would not be enough to sustain the relationship; a Russian government that respects the rights and freedoms of its people is deemed to be in the national interest of the United States.
With that understanding, and given the timing of the adoption ban at the Christmas season, there will be considerable pressure on Congress and President Obama himself to respond. One idea already making the rounds is to apply Magnitsky sanctions to Duma legislators who voted for the bill, which would inevitably bring a counter-reaction from the Duma. Right now, some key aspects of the U.S.-Russian relationship—the partnership on Afghanistan, cooperation on the Arctic and some other key security issues—remain sufficiently ring-fenced from these other problems in the bilateral relationship. But the continuing erosion of whatever progress was achieved in the "reset" during the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev and the first Obama term could threaten even these items.
What is happening validates the warning I offered at an event held at the Center for the National Interest this past August. Major public feuds between Washington and Moscow could have a "snowball effect"—and ultimately threaten even productive areas of cooperation. 2013 promises to be an uphill struggle to get U.S.-Russian relations back on an even keel.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor of national-security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are entirely his own.