Western leaders and observers persistently repeat, like a mantra, that Russia is "weak". This judgement is based on a flawed comparison between Russia and the Soviet Union - though one that is also popular in Russia itself.
Measured by Soviet standards, Russia has weakened. But, as former United States national security adviser Brent Scowcroft noted, Russia still "has enormous capacities to influence the US security strategy in any country".
A country with such influence over a military superpower cannot be considered weak. In fact, the issue is not Russia's strength per se, but whether Russia intelligently concentrates and applies it.
The new Russia has transcended its Soviet identity and managed to put down uprisings in the post-Soviet space as far away as Tajikistan. It has dealt with a new generation of security threats on its own territory - most prominently Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev - and prevented them from turning into a global force like Al Qaeda. Moreover, Russia has helped other new nations in eastern Europe create their own identities.
Does this not demonstrate Russia's global know-how? Is it not a contribution to international security?
The US has recognised the Russian factor in post-Soviet state-building processes. Russia has not been the only beneficiary of its activities in the Caucasus, especially since 2000. By bringing recalcitrant minorities into a new security consensus, Russia helped transform local ethnic conflict into a constructive process of nation building.
So Russia's claim to being a central element in Eurasian security, on par with the US and the European Union, is not the blustering of a spent Leviathan. Rather, it is a demand for a fair international legal order.
The debate about whether the US should allow Russia to have "special interests" in eastern Europe - renewed by Russia's opposition to America's proposed missile-defence installations in the Czech Republic and Poland - is pointless. Russia's interests are by necessity becoming global. The agenda of US-Russian relations includes issues such as treaties on the reduction of strategic weapons and on nuclear non-proliferation, NATO, Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia, North Korea and the post-Soviet space. These are all global, not local, issues.
Russia can be effective in dealing with these issues only if it becomes a competent global actor. Yet many assume that world politics should be designed to bypass Russia. Everywhere Russians are expected to support something without participating in creating it. We are supposed to help stabilise the region around Afghanistan, for example, but only in order to create a "greater Central Asia" that will not include Russia.
It is clear that modern Russia lacks global "status" in the Soviet sense. But the US has also been unable to achieve the global status of a "Yalta superstate". America's global military power is undisputed, although it is used with decreasing frequency.
Sprawled over 11 time zones between the EU and the US, of which five border China, it is impossible to expect Russia to remain merely a regional power. A state that is involved in three global regions (Europe, Central Asia and the Far East, not to mention the Arctic) and borders several others cannot be considered "regional".
Moreover, because the regions in which Russia has interests face a number of problems, it must seek influence over the strategies for these regions pursued of other powers of various sizes, from China and the US, to the EU and Iran. Russia is expected to act in ways that are beneficial to US and Western interests. But it is in America's interest to enhance Russia's capacity to act - in other words, to strengthen a globally competent Russia. This would be a Russia that acts in pursuit of its own interests - the same way that the US and the EU act.
Americans sometimes suggest that the Russians have a hidden strategic agenda. But the consensus that Vladimir Putin has created in Russia since 2000 is more than a question of interests; it is a value-based reality. It is based on the possibility of a free life in a secure environment - something that Americans take for granted.
For many years, we had to deal with the problem of Russia's very existence rather than that of the quality of its governance. Putin's consensus made it possible to resolve both problems without foreign assistance and interference. Now, in order to solve other problems, we need to go beyond Russia.