Atop Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., on one of the city's highest points sits the Russian Federation Embassy. Guarded by thick, high white brick walls and double steel gates at the main entrance, the embassy resembles a fortress. And while this fortress may not be under siege, it certainly has been isolated and rendered off-limits by the American government.
The new ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, replaced Sergey Kislyak, nicknamed Sergey the Spy. Aside from pro forma meetings, Antonov has found himself in the diplomatic equivalent of Coventry and a virtual persona non grata. Senior officials of the administration refuse to meet. And members of Congress are reluctant to be seen entering either the embassy or the residence.
From the U.S. and Western sides, Russian actions since the attack into Georgia in 2008 have driven relations down to levels hardly seen during the Cold War. Mosvow's assault into Ukraine in 2014 and the annexation of Crimea ended the post-Cold War era of well-defined international boundaries. Saving and supporting Syria's Bashar al-Assad has further exacerbated that civil war killing tens of thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.
Interferences into elections and domestic politics of America and other countries are those of a hostile power. The attempted assassination of a former Soviet intelligence agent living in Salisbury, England violates international law and actions of a civilized state. And the aggressive uses of cyber, propaganda and provocative military exercises, including unsafe maneuvers, while monitoring NATO ships and aircraft in international waters reflect Moscow's true intentions.
To complete this trifecta of tensions, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces and New Start treaties are at great jeopardy. The prospect of a nuclear arms race is real and yet unnecessary. However, from a U.S. perspective, Russia has indeed become a or perhaps the major danger to international peace and stability.
Of course, Russia has its grievances. In today's pernicious environment, none of these is likely to be appreciated or understood, especially by a Congress that can only agree on one issue -- the magnitude of the Russian threat.
Beginning in 2001 with President George W. Bush's abrogation of the centerpiece of U.S.-Soviet/Russian relations, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, not all America's policies and actions were viewed favorably by Moscow. President Vladimir Putin warned Bush not to invade Iraq in 2003. Tragically, Putin was correct.
The continued expansion of NATO was viewed by Moscow as an attempt to surround Russia with potentially unfriendly states. Establishing missile defenses in Poland and Romania against a distant danger of North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles was strongly disputed by Moscow. And President Barack Obama's "leading from behind" in the 2011 Libyan intervention that produced a civil war still being waged was the "last straw" as far as Putin was concerned. The United States was no longer untrustworthy. It was dangerous.
Few Americans will accept this alternative explanation of the Russian view nor that most Russians likewise regard Western sanctions and other punishments leveled against their country as unfair, unwarranted and malicious. To quote Lenin, what if anything can be done especially as the special counsel continues the investigation into whether the Trump campaign broke any laws regarding its involvement with Russia and Russians? The answer is perhaps nothing.
Here are three ideas.
First, President Donald Trump has met extensively with Chinese President Xi Jingping and may do so with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. He and Putin should have a summit meeting of sufficient length to work through the issues that divide both countries.
Second, serious arms control discussions must restart now.
Third, restrictions on U.S.-Russian military-to-military meetings should be lifted to improve confidence -building measures. Current U.S. law precludes such meetings other than to de-conflict possible force-on-force encounters, particularly in Syria. Arms control, counterterror operations and military exchanges are possible agenda items.
Failing to talk or to meet should not be held hostage to the divisive issues and growing mutual animosity that is only likely to worsen. Bridges, not walls, are essential to making the future safer and more secure.
Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is senior adviser at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.