The first time I attended a conference of the Russian Valdai Club, it was a 10-day marathon in 2009, including three days on a Siberian riverboat where the vodka was free and the water wasn't. The result was long, earnest discussions with Russian think tankers on how to reboot relations with the rest of the world after the war in Georgia.
This year's annual meeting of foreign Russia analysts with their Russian counterparts and Kremlin officials is something else entirely. It's a businesslike, three-day affair devoid of illusions or pretenses. Rather than debate, the Russians and many Americans and Europeans invited have talked past each other, starting from wholly incompatible understandings of the most basic facts of the Ukraine crisis and what it means.