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Can diplomacy survive big egos?
03:33 - Source: CNN

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In the 25 years since the Cold War, the US-Russia relationship has faced several frosty periods

Will President-elect Trump herald a new era in relations between the White House and the Kremlin?

CNN  — 

In the 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US-Russia relationship has waxed and waned.

With incoming US president-elect Donald Trump vowing to once again reset diplomatic ties, the stage is being set for a very different bilateral relationship between the two nations.

Among some who’ve dealt with Russian President Vladimir Putin before, there is little optimism that it could turn out any better this time.

Bill Browder, a successful multi-millionaire who made his cash in the chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union, predicts that similar characteristics in the two men will lead simply to a face-off.

“We’ll end up in a position where both these guys will be thumping their chests and staring each other down,” Browder warns.

Browder has had his own run-ins with Putin, and to say there is no love lost between them is an understatement.

He blames Putin and those around him for the death of one his Moscow lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, who blew the whistle when Browder’s Russian business was getting a $100 million dollar shakedown by state employees.

“Many people consider me to be Putin’s number one foreign enemy; as such my life is at risk,” he tells CNN.

Pictured: The tombstone of Sergei Magnitsky in Moscow. The Russian lawyer uncovered the largest tax fraud in the country's history. He died in 2009 after a year in a Moscow detention center, apparently beaten to death.

The good, bad and ugly of warmer US-Russia relations

Putin’s approach to diplomacy

Putin denies it all, but Browder is scathing in his criticism, comparing Putin to a mafia boss.

“There is no diplomacy coming from Putin. He looks at how he can use his power to maximize his wealth, to stay in power and to oppress and steal from people around him,” he says.

The longer people know Putin, Browder says, the better they get to understand him. He gives the example of former President George W. Bush who famously said he’d looked into Putin’s eyes and believed he could do business with him. The Obama administration tried their own reset when Hilary Clinton, then-secretary of state, gave Sergei Lavrov, her Russian counterpart, a symbolic red reset button.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gifted Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, with a symbolic reset button, pictured.

Yet look where we are today, with a new cold war, where a slightly smaller East faces off against a slightly larger West.

When Andrew Wood’s posting as British Ambassador to Russia ended, Putin had just come to power; it was 2000. He had witnessed the free-for-all under Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratically-elected president. Wood heard the Russian calls for a more authoritarian leader and he hoped for the best.

He says: “I thought when I left, there was at least a chance (that) there would be an evolution towards a more liberal sort of Russia.”

What Reagan can teach us about handling Russia

The long arm of the Kremlin

Wood soon realized Putin wasn’t about to deliver that evolution. “He chose not economic reform and political progress, but a relapse into what amounts to, sort of, (a) form of narcissistic xenophobia,” Wood says. “It is now a country which is very much driven by a small group of people, according to a very intolerant internal logic.”

People attend a rally against Russia at Kiev's Independence square in the Ukraine capital on March 2, 2014.

It’s a logic that has led to intervention in Ukraine and Syria and the annexation of Crimea and to the untimely death of a number of Putin’s louder critics. And Wood no longer trusts Putin’s denials of involvement.