The United States enjoyed a period of friendly relations with Russia in the first years following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. U.S. presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton engaged in productive summit meetings with Russian president Boris Yeltsin. The United States and its allies gave billions of dollars in loans and assistance to Russia as the onetime center of world communism sought to reform itself into a capitalist democracy. The United States also provided assistance to Russia to help dismantle its nuclear weapons. The governments of the United States and Russia successfully negotiated and signed the START II (Strategic Arms Reductions Talks) agreement in 1993, which called for both countries to significantly reduce their nuclear weapons arsenals. The two countries agreed in 1994 to “de-target” their nuclear missiles aimed at each other. Russia lent its support to several U.S. initiatives, agreeing, for example, to participate in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia in 1995.
However, as the 1990s drew to a close the relationship between the two former rival superpowers became strained. Western aid to Russia has decreased as concerns have been raised over corruption and economic mismanagement. START III talks have been stalled by the refusal of the Russian Duma (parliament) to ratify the START II agreement. Russia has also voiced opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq and other parts of the world.
A central thorn in U.S.-Russian relations has been the status of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance created in 1949 linking the United States and Western Europe as common defenders against a possible Soviet Union attack. The collapse of the Soviet Union has caused some observers, both in Russia and the United States, to question whether NATO should continue to exist— and whether Russia should still be treated as a threat.
The viewpoints in the following chapter present several perspectives on NATO and on American foreign policy concerning Russia.