The puzzle is why a Russia that has improved its relations with the United States and Western Europe, that has supported the United States in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Central Asia, and that seeks membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to attract foreign investment would maintain and even deepen trade with North Korea, Iran, and Iraq—countries with regimes that reject market economics and democracy. Furthermore, Russian trade with Iran and Iraq, in particular, appears to support those regimes in their pursuit of what the United States believes to be policies to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means for their use. This apparent contradiction suggests that Russia does not hold as a priority economic transformation, international integration, and fundamental cooperation with the United States and its Western allies. It suggests, some have argued, that Russia’s true purpose is a new round of competition with the United States, determined by great power ambitions rather than Soviet ideology.
In fact, there is not much of a puzzle at all. The same conditions and objectives that led Russian president Putin to first improve relations with Europe and then with the United States are driving Russian efforts to join the WTO, and have led Putin to deem that Russian military bases in Central Asia and military assistance to Georgia are behind Russian relations with these three countries. […]
Celeste A. Wallander