In devising a strategy to counter Russian aggression, the new US administration must keep in mind the significance of fundamental values and frame a foreign policy accordingly, said Simon Palamar, a senior fellow with the Center for International Governance and Innovation.

“Invoking values… is useful for reminding us about what we’re doing this for and why we’re pursuing this policy,” he said. While US President Donald J. Trump has expressed a desire for improved relations between the White House and the Kremlin, Palamar said, “Russia and the United States still simply have incompatible positions and interests on a lot of things.” These opposing positions cannot be bridged solely by good relations between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the values informing the US stance on the world stage must not be disregarded for the sake of expediency, according to Palamar. “That leads to discord; that leads to resentment.”

According to Palamar, if values are trampled, this lays the foundation for conflict further down the road.

Palamar joined the New Atlanticist’s Rachel Ansley for a Facebook Live interview on March 16 to examine the complex position of the United States vis-à-vis Russia and discuss a strategy for the new administration to counter a revanchist Russia, outlined in a new Atlantic Council report—Strategy of “Constrainment”: Countering Russia’s Challenge to the Democratic Order. The report, to which Palamar is a contributor, advocates a strategy aimed at countering Russian aggression, but also continued engagement with the Kremlin, bounded by red lines and informed by Western values. 

The concept of “red lines” should not be framed in binary terms, said Palamar. While the United States should maintain a firm stance against Russia on key issues such as Ukraine, if Russia were to come to the negotiating table with a good-faith effort to solve the conflict in Syria that benefits all parties, “I don’t think it should be conditioned… on policy in Ukraine,” he said. Palamar said that “the West should not link Ukraine to other issues.”

However, when considering an issue such as Ukraine, core values “helps keep the eyes on the prize” and focus on the long-terms goals of a national security strategy.

The United States shares common values with its European partners and allies. However, France and Germany will hold presidential elections later this year, which pose the threat of a far-right, Eurosceptic leader taking the reins of these key nations. Should this situation arise, the success of the “constrainment” strategy will depend on “a White House that is willing to lead and go in with no blinders on,” said Palamar. He added: “part of leading is trying to bridge those gaps.” 

Rachel Ansley is an editorial assistant at the Atlantic Council.