Since the the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, the Russian relationship with the United States and in the west as a whole has fluctuated back and forth from near friend to dangerous annoyance.  In the 90s Russia began to engage the west more through multilateral institutions such as the UN.  In a supreme act of Cold War reconciliation, Russia and NATO formed a council to address mutual security concerns.  NATO  was an institution designed to prepare for a possible Soviet attack so this is a partnership with more than a little irony.
    However all this time Russia has never really been allowed to join the west as an equal to the United States.  In many ways, Russia had become a charity case; a backwards country faced with rebellions and high unemployment.  Russia has been treated as the amateur democracy who needed a hand for its big brother the US of A to properly learn the ropes of what it means to be free and capitalistic.  Additionally, unlike the losers of World War II, Russia has never quite willing to roll over and let the US be speckle it with military bases in return for economic assistance. 
    The rise of President Vladimir Putin has only intensified US-Russian tensions.  Irregardless of his effectiveness as a leader and domestic policy maker, Putin does have an agenda to keep Russia autonomous from the US and pursue foreign policies that address Russian issues, even if they end up clashing with the west as a result.
    One of the stickiest points of contention with the US right now is the apparently lax stance Moscow has towards Iran’s attempt to become a nuclear country.  The US wants another member on board the UN bandwagon, chastising (in economic sanction-form) the Islamic Republic, but does not fully appreciate the risks and concerns Russia herself will have should Iran become nuclear.  Like Putin, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is fiercely nationalistic and seeks to make his country an independent and respected player on the world scene.  Putin understands that an antagonistic relationship with Iran is dangerous.  The Economist noted on Oct. 18, 2007 "Russia is worried about Iran becoming a nuclear power: Iran is far nearer to Moscow than Washington, and a nuclear power to the south is the last thing Russia wants."  A policy of alienation and aggression may work for a country one third a world away, but wisely Russia opts to approach Tehran from a different direction.
    Putin’s recent visit to Iran, in spite of assassination rumors and the Kremlin’s insistence that this was a visit planned multilaterally, is an example of Russia’s tip-toe attempt to engage Iran while not antagonizing the west past breaking point.  He made no promises to Iran of support, but urged Iran to continue to build a relationship with Russia by inviting him to his capital. 
    Russia is by no means a model world citizen, and from the western perspective, they can be a threat.  Putin has crushed opposition parties and the free press, and old Soviet weapons are carelessly sold to the highest bidder.  However the US can never hope to have Russians as our lackeys either.  When we stop viewing the world in a black-or-white, with us or against us mentality and show Russia the respect an independent nation with a unique set of concerns, will the US-Russian relationship stop deteriorating.  As Russia attempts to befriend and co-opt Iran, we must do the same with Russia.

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