As Russia prepares for early presidential elections, the foreign policy strategy of the most likely winner–acting President Vladimir Putin–is the subject of much speculation. Will he be pro- or anti-Western? Will Chechnya define his course or is it just a bump on the road? There are precious few solid indications of what his policy might be, but this need not impede prediction, especially when prediction is needed.
Considering the upcoming US presidential elections and the general shape of domestic politics in the United States–including with respect to Russia–the West seems in for a rough ride. Relations will diverge from the old pattern in which Russia alternated between seeking acceptance at almost any price and strong, emotionally charged hostility. Instead, Putin is likely to maneuver Russia into a position where the West will have to choose between admitting Russia into the Western community of nations "as is" or isolating it, and paying the price. The central challenge rests with the words "as is." Some of Putin's policies will be seen by the West as positive, others as negative, but he will refuse to change the latter, and the West will have to decide which component is more important. […]