The morning after Barack Obama's election, the congratulatory message from Moscow was in the chilliest tradition of the Cold War.
"I hope for constructive dialogue with you," said Russia's president, "based on trust and considering each other's interests."
Dmitry Medvedev went on that day, in his first State of the Union, to charge America with fomenting the Russia-Georgia war and said he has been "forced" to put Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to counter the U.S. missile shield President Bush pledged to Poland.
Medvedev had painted Obama into a corner. No new American president can be seen as backing down from a Russian challenge.
Three days later, Polish President Lech Kaczynski tried to box Barack in. His office declared that, during a phone conversation with Kaczynski, Obama had promised to deploy the anti-missile missiles.
Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough denied it.
One week later, however, Medvedev wisely walked the cat back.
During the G-20 summit in Washington, he told the Council on Foreign Relations the issue of Russian missiles in Kaliningrad "is not closed. I am personally ready to discuss it, and I hope that the new president and the new administration will have the will to discuss it."
President-elect Obama should not let this opportunity slip by, for a second signal came last week that Russia does not want the Cold War II that the departing neocons wish to leave on his plate.
Moscow offered Spain and Germany use of Russian territory to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. As our supply line from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the Khyber Pass to Kabul grows perilous, this has to be seen as a gesture of friendship by a Russia that shares, as a fellow victim of Islamic terror, the U.S. detestation of al-Qaida.
Opportunity also presents itself with the official report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the August war. According to The New York Times, the OSCE found, consistent with Moscow's claims, that Georgia "attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm."
Russia's response -- running the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia, occupying Abkhazia and recognizing both as independent nations -- may seem disproportionate and excessive. But, contrary to John ("We are all Georgians now!") McCain, Moscow has a compelling case that Georgia's Mikhail Saakashvili started the fire.