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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Repairing Relations

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Relations between Washington and Moscow are at a new post-Soviet low. The main reasons for the friction are ill-considered U.S. policy and Russian domestic failures. There are, however, specific steps that each side could take at relatively low political cost that would begin to turn the relationship around.

First, the United States could immediately cancel all plans to put anti-missile defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland. (The New York Times reported March 2 that Washington is also looking to "base anti-missile radar in the Caucasus," probably in either Georgia or Azerbaijan.) Was there no one in the upper levels of U.S. government who realized that placing missiles in Poland was not unlike the Soviet Union, for whatever reason, placing its own missiles in Cuba?

Second, it makes no sense to extend NATO from the Baltic to the Black Sea, which would be the result if Ukraine were allowed in. Ukraine is very different from Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Ukraine and Russia are bound in many ways -- close to half of Ukraine's population is ethnic Russian. Part of the current Ukraine, the formerly Russian Crimea, was a "gift" from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev when it all was Soviet property and such gifts had no practical significance. At least 40 percent of Ukraine is opposed to joining the alliance, and referendums this month will make the exact figures clearer.

Ukraine's independence must be supported by membership in the European Union and the World Trade Organization, but it is not in the United States' best interest now to come out strongly and publicly for Ukrainian membership in NATO. The damage to the Russian-U.S. relationship would exceed any real security benefit that could possibly accrue to Ukraine.

Third, triumphal claims that the United States won the Cold War by outspending, outperforming and outlasting the Soviet Union should be squelched ASAP. It insultingly neglects the pivotal role played by brave individuals like the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and Mikhail Gorbachev in bringing down communism so bloodlessly. It also neglects the historical truth that major events are never the product of a single cause and take years to sort out. This impolitic rhetoric parallels what the Russians see as the United States' impolitic pursuit of hegemony.

Russia, for its part, needs to demonstrate that it has not slipped off the civilized spectrum. Step one is to make sure that the presidential election takes place in 2008. There is considerable support for amendments to be passed allowing Putin to remain for a third term. This must not happen. Even if the election will be little more than a ratification of Putin's choice for successor, the example of the most powerful person in the country submitting himself to the rule of law is essential for Russia.

Step two: Free Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He was no more an angel than any of the other oligarchs but, as the great human rights campaigner Yelena Bonner pointed out, he is a political prisoner because the law was used selectively to punish him. He could be freed as one of Putin's last acts or one of the new president's first. Whatever the case, this travesty of justice has gone on too long.

Step three: Find the killer of the crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the killer of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, or the killer of Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB agent poisoned with polonium-210 in London last November. Solving any one of these crimes would demonstrate that Russia has the will and the ability truly to enforce the rule of law.

Then, when the Russian-U.S. relationship is back on track again, maybe we can start dealing jointly with the dangers that recognize no borders -- terrorism and climate change.

Richard Lourie is the author of "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin" and "Sakharov: A Biography."