. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Old Habits Die Hard

The Camp David meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush demonstrates the growing strength of the U.S.-Russian relationship, which has not only survived but transcended disagreements over Iraq. Even if our two presidents did not see eye to eye on every issue, they have developed a remarkable mutual understanding. They believe that basic American and Russian interests are quite similar in many key areas. The task now is to move beyond this fundamentally important understanding. And the two presidents do so -- they are able to discuss the most difficult issues not merely frankly but constructively, as leaders of countries that have every reason to wish one another well.

Unfortunately, this constructive attitude is not universal in Russia or in the United States. Not everyone in our countries is ready to accept the new reality. Many are still constrained by or obsessed with bad experiences of the past. Obsolete stereotypes remain an obstacle to achieving our full potential in the common struggle against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and in our efforts to address other challenges. In my country, for example, there are still some who assume that American gains are somehow always at Russia's expense. This is most definitely not a view held by President Putin or the Russian government. On the contrary, we supported the United States in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, because we knew, perhaps better than others, how important it is to win the war on terrorism.

As our president observed at Columbia University and in the talks at Camp David, outdated views of Russia still exist in the United States. Americans' perceptions of developments in today's Russia are still colored by Soviet policies and practices, which also have a palpable legacy in U.S. law and policy.

One example of this attitude may seem minor but in my view is appalling. It concerns the continuing requirement for Russian citizens working for the United Nations to provide advance notice to the U.S. authorities when they travel outside a 25-mile radius from UN headquarters. Why are Russian employees singled out while citizens of other states of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe are exempt from this rule? This is how the Cold War mentality works.

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974 is a more profound and notorious case. This legislation was originally introduced to facilitate free Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. Today no one disputes that free emigration is a reality in Russia. In fact, the problem for Russians seeking to travel to America is not in leaving their country but in entering the United States. Yet Jackson-Vanik is still on the books.

Let me be blunt. The amendment does not substantially damage Russian commercial interests. But it does damage Russia's interest in better relations with the United States because it contributes to a view in Russia that some in America, including in Congress, are determined to apply the same old standards and to retain as many sticks as possible -- even symbolic ones -- while dealing with my country.

Yet another example is the Nunn-Lugar program to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. Why is the money under this program being presented as some kind of a prize that may or may not be awarded to us? It is obvious that the program brings benefits not only for Russia but also for the United States and the rest of the world in reducing nuclear threats. Still, this brilliant idea of mutual threat reduction has for some become a tool of punishment for "misbehavior" on our part.

The stereotypes influence Americans' perceptions of the complex and painful problem of Chechnya. No one knows better than Russians the difficult predicament we face in Chechnya. We do not ask for any specific assistance, but we do believe that, at a minimum, others who suffer from terrorism should not use the situation in Chechnya for the sake of traditional propaganda. That would not be friendly, especially after the successful elections in Chechnya and while the political process there is moving forward.

Russia is not trying to score PR points on the tragic loss of innocent lives in the course of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor do we seek to use such incidents to portray the United States as a villain. We recognize that the environment and circumstances in these two countries are quite extraordinary. I hope that Americans might reflect on this in considering the dilemmas Russia faces.

Presidents Putin and Bush have given considerable momentum to the U.S.-Russian relationship, but we must work together to bury old stereotypes and mutual mistrust if we are to translate that momentum into tangible results. The legacy of the Cold War cannot be allowed to undermine success in our strategic partnership and in the war on terrorism -- a war in which we are on the same side. We should not remain hostages of our own prejudice about each other.

Let's destroy the phantoms of the past.

Yuri Ushakov, Russian ambassador to the United States, contributed this comment to The Washington Post.