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The U.S.-Russia relationship today is fodder for Comedy Central, but that doesn’t mean America’s relationship with Russia is humorous.  America’s relationship with Russia is important for US security, critical on the international stage, and indispensable to those within Russia seeking to embrace freedom.


Major issues on America’s agenda are inextricably linked to our relationship with Russia.  Syria, Snowden, North Korea, and  Iran are a few examples.  If Russia would act in concert with America on these and other pressing global issues, something Russia has been loath to do, it would illustrate the ability for the two countries to work together on core interests.  Instead of trying to tackle the really tough issues, however, some are talking about the alleged great jewelry heist.  Really?  If you recall, Robert Kraft, the owner of an NFL team, accused President Putin of stealing his Super Bowl ring. People may find the story amusing, but does it help build a productive relationship?


Investing intellectual capital in developing new ways to approach the U.S.-Russia relationship is not a bad use of time.  It is important and deserves focused and meaningful attention.  But the Russian people also need attention from Americans.


The world has changed since Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” but there still are lessons from the 1980s for America to consider today.


Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, America was supporting intellectuals and activists of various stripes in Russia through exchange programs, radio broadcasts, and education grants.  President Ronald Reagan famously pointed out “[D]emocracy is not a fragile flower. Still it needs cultivating.”  And cultivate in the former Soviet Union, America did.  While President Reagan built a strong working relationship with Gorbachev, he never lost sight of supporting dissidents and human rights activists


Today, as Russia’s government clamps down on civil society, America needs to engage those in Russia who are fighting for freedom and reinvigorate our outreach to them using all of the new tools that modern technology provides, and some of the old ones.


These are the real issues, not silly sideshows like Super Bowl rings.


M.C. Andrews is a special contributor to the Freedom Collection blog. M.C. is the senior advisor for communications, management and international affairs for Vianovo L.P.  Andrews was Special Assistant to the President for Global Communications (2003-2005) and Democracy Director on the National Security Council staff (2001-2003).