Optimism and opportunity in Russian–East European relations just a couple of years ago, especially with the Obama government’s express desire to “press the reset button” with Moscow, generated much hope, but it seems now that this also camouflaged deep issues of structure and process. Beyond historical mistrust and fear, an increasing drift away from democracy by Russia, while Eastern Europe, (geographically more broadly defined than during the Cold War), largely has sought closer political, economic and military integration with their Western neighbors, appears to have created two solitudes that may be irrevocably moving in different directions.

Further, Russian ambitions and unrealistic expectations of regaining superpower status together with the belief that there may even be a shortcut to that restoration by manipulating the Western European powers, encouraging divisions within NATO and the European Union and isolating Eastern Europe or at least some of the states in the region, not only increases regional mistrust but ironically also diverts Russia away from the much needed fundamental economic and political changes that could transform it into a truly modern and successful state and a better neighbor and partner. Add issues such as the deployment of anti-ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe over which Moscow continues to express vociferous military alarm but which in reality disguises Russian hegemonic ambitions or at best political fear, as well as Russia’s political use of energy and pipelines, and we have a combination that makes regional relations increasingly acrid and thus does not bode well for the future.

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