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Détente 2.0? The Meaning of Russia's “Reset” with the United States


  • Kari Roberts

    1. Mount Royal University
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    • The author wishes to thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. A previous version of this article was presented to the Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference in Waterloo, Ontario, May 16–18, 2011.


This paper asks whether the recent “reset” in Russia–US relations parallels the Cold War reprieve from East to West tensions during Détente. The author considers the enthusiasm for this reset shared by Presidents Medvedev and Obama and acknowledges the benefits accrued for Russia as a result of better relations with the United States. In so doing, the paper argues that the Medvedev–Obama reset is not the result of a convergence of liberal-minded principles shared by the leadership, due in large part to the absence of a meaningful commitment on the part of Medvedev to bring about meaningful liberal reforms in Russia. In fact, the reset seems more the result of a desire by both leaders to shed past ideological disagreements in favor of a more pragmatic approach to relations, based upon mutual benefit. The paper then concludes that the current reset is not a temporary warming of relations akin to a second-generation détente because there was no “new Cold War” to abate. The paper contributes to the growing body of opinion that acknowledges a need for analysts and practitioners to search for a better lens through which to view Russia–US relations than the Cold War prism that persistently frames our analysis.