Talbott’s tender treatment and soothing salve notwithstanding, Russian leaders remain skeptical of Western motives. Policies flow from interests, they say, and Russian and Western interests show few points of congruity.

Russia’s role in the Balkans, which Talbott cited as “the most dramatic bellwether” of cooperation with the West, is uncertain. Russian diplomats last week threatened a pull-out from Kosovo if the West does not show more spine in resisting Kosovar separatism. They pointed to the conversion of the Kosovo Liberation Army into a Kosovo Protection Corps and the creation of a Kosovo customs service separate from Serbia’s as indications of Western acquiescence in Kosovo’s drive for independence. Russian military leaders have made pull-out threats before, and the Foreign Ministry has routinely disavowed them. This time the threats came from diplomatic sources, and the Foreign Ministry let them stand.

Arms control talks are another bellwether. They have broken down. At last June’s summit in Cologne, the United States agreed to open a new round of talks on strategic-arms reduction (START III), without waiting for Russian ratification of existing agreements (START II). In exchange, the United States believed that Russia would accept modifications in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to allow development and deployment of theater missile defenses (TMD). But instead, the START III talks have gone nowhere, the Russian Foreign Ministry says the ABM treaty must be observed and even “upgraded” and on September 28, Russian Defense Ministry officials reportedly met for the first time with their Chinese counterparts to discuss ways to confront U.S. plans for antimissile defenses in the Asian theater.