Yet somewhere along the way, the good will slowed. After expressing enthusiasm for Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, America’s leaders found his K.G.B.-fashioned successor, Vladimir Putin, less to their taste. Mr. Putin made it clear that he didn’t care. “American hegemon,” a phrase from my Soviet childhood, began popping up in Russia’s pro-Kremlin media. In the West, Russians were no longer viewed as liberated hostages of a totalitarian regime, reformed villains from James Bond movies or emissaries of the great culture of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but rather as all-cash buyers of luxurious properties in Manhattan and Miami. The enchantment between the countries and their citizens dimmed, yet shared interests and social bonds held.

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a turning point. True, Mr. Putin had previously given vent to his aggression in Georgia and, devastatingly, in Chechnya, but it was his claiming of Ukrainian territory that gave the West its wake-up call. The sanctions that followed hit the Russian economy hard. They also supplied the Kremlin with ample means to stoke anti-American sentiment. Blaming America for the country’s troubles was a familiar, almost nostalgic narrative for Russians, more than half of whom were born in the Soviet Union. The simple tune — “NATO expansion,” “Western aggression,” “enemy at the gate”— played on repeat, keying Russians to believe that America aimed for their motherland’s destruction. The propaganda worked: By 2018, America was once more regarded as Russia’s No. 1 enemy, with Ukraine, its “puppet,” coming second.

In America, things weren’t nearly as bad. But Donald Trump’s arrival on the global political stage complicated the already strained Russian-American relationship. Mr. Trump cozied up to the openly authoritarian Mr. Putin, strengthening anti-Russian sentiment that had been rising since the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and rarely distinguished between Mr. Putin and the country he ruled. Economic and cultural ties began to wilt as it got harder to secure visas and funding. Still, student exchanges happened, films were screened and family visits paid, if at longer intervals.

The Russian missiles that struck Ukrainian cities on Feb. 24 extinguished that flickering light. America now provides billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to be used against Russia, while Russia’s stated aim is to put an end to America’s “unfettered” global domination. The two countries, once allies in the war against Nazi Germany, are effectively fighting a proxy war. As I watch videos of Russian parents egging on their children to destroy iPhones or read about threats against a venerable Seattle bakery known for its Russian-style baked goods, I’m gripped, above all, by sadness. Our post-totalitarian dream of a peaceful, friendly future is over.

Apart from wreaking physical horror, Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine is erasing countless intangibles, among them the collective good will of the West toward Russia. In my children’s future, I see no cultural miracles akin to the one that I experienced back in 1989. This is a loss for both countries, and Russia’s will be greater if Mr. Putin continues doubling down on carnage and isolation. That future isn’t set in stone. After all, the perestroika years, when the Soviet Union embarked on wholesale reforms in the name of openness, showed that Russia is capable of change.

For now, though, each explosion in Ukraine also strikes at what was good in the relationship between America and Russia. In Mr. Putin’s land, “Goodbye America,” once a tongue-in-cheek song suffused with hope, has become a darkly self-fulfilling prophecy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *