Putin's anti-American views notwithstanding, he is willing - and able - to act pragmatically when he feels it serves the national interests.
It is perfectly clear that U.S. - Russian relations could be on a much better footing now had not George Bush repaid Putin's extraordinary assistance to the United States in its war on the Taliban by further expanding NATO to Russia's borders, unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty, planning to install elements of the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, and by his democracy promotion crusade. All this is sad but only too true.
On the face of it the Barack Obama administration has tried to correct some of these mistakes. In real terms, though, not too much has changed. NATO's Drang nach Osten has been merely postponed, missile defense only reconfigured, and Washington is still scraping up tens of millions (most likely borrowed from China) to continue its democracy promotion programs in Russia.
Despite all this, in his latest article Putin presented his vision of major foreign policy issues in a quite reasonable and realistic way. He reaffirmed Russia's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and Iran's right to develop a civilian nuclear program but only in exchange for imposing reliable and comprehensive IAEA safeguards on all Iranian nuclear activities.
Some of Putin's proposals I found pretty sensational - like his willingness to consider much greater participation in Afghanistan to block the routes of drug trafficking and financial flows to terrorists. Such plans clearly envisage the use of Russia's military for the first time since its withdrawal from that area more than 30 years ago.
I am especially pleased with Putin's assertion that Russia is an inalienable and organic part of Greater Europe and of the European civilization, and that Russian citizens think of themselves as Europeans. It is a statement with an important and profound philosophical and psychological meaning, and its implications are far-reaching and crucial.
Finally, Putin is using there, apparently for the first time in his career, such a word as "alliance" with reference to the United States. I wish Washington paid more attention to his words: "If we had managed to achieve a breakthrough on missile defense, this would have opened the floodgates for building a qualitatively new model of cooperation, similar to an alliance, in many other sensitive areas."
This should force the U.S. foreign policy establishment to think twice before dismissing Putin's statements - unless it wants to repeat all our mistakes on Russia policy in the last 20 years. Building rapport with Putin is not going to be easy, but here nearly everything depends on Washington.
Realistically, though, one should not expect too much before the November elections, especially taking into account Hillary Clinton and her subordinates' recent undiplomatic linguistic escapades. If Obama wins and is serious about injecting fresh impetus into his almost defunct "reset" policy, he ought to start adding some new faces to the State Department - and parting with some old ones.
On another front, judging from the GOP candidates' rhetoric, the only one who makes sense in the foreign policy area is Ron Paul, but his chances are pretty slim. However, since it looks like all of the other three candidates are going to lose to Obama, there is still a chance that some other Republican will throw his hat in the arena. Could it be Ron's son, Senator Rand Paul? After all, he is (sadly) one of the very few senators, GOP or Democrat, who talks sensibly about U.S. foreign policy. If he makes this move, he has my vote.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Moscow State University.