Considering the atrocious quality of political discourse surrounding this issue, I would say the US-Russia relationship.
If you know anything about US politics and its history beyond the summer of 2015, you’ll probably realize that Russian domination of foreign policy chatter is a relatively new phenomenon (at least since the collapse of the USSR). Today, Americans are typically presented with one of two contradictory narratives regarding Russia, although unfortunately, they are quite narrow and tend to focus only the alleged “Russian connection” with the campaign and the administration of President Donald Trump. The first, most prominent on the right, hails Russia as a great hero in “fighting terrorism”, while positing that the “Russian connection” is either hogwash or irrelevant. Meanwhile, the second, primarily found on the left as well as a substantial portion of the right, highlights the “Russian connection” as a political weapon against President Trump, and oftentimes focuses on Russia’s callous disregard for human life and international law (as exemplified by the annexation of Crimea).
That being said, even a half-decent understanding of US-Russian relations requires at least a look at its history since the collapse of the Soviet Union, if not since the beginning of the Cold War. Essentially, the tension between the US and Russia have a lot more to do with Russia’s internal politics (themselves a quarter-century saga) than the “Russian connection” or even the last three years of Russian foreign policy.
Since the USSR collapsed, the Russian government has been playing a game of economic catch-up with the West, specifically the US and the EU. Converting a state-run economy to a market one should have been a gradual process. Instead, price controls were released rapidly and state subsidies were sold off to corrupt oligarchs (not so coincidentally, many had significant power in the old Soviet state). This worsened the hyperinflation and other economic detriments of the new Russia, which led to two decades of national decay. Although the new commodity-based economy eventually stabilized, it never fully recovered. Coupled with multiple constitutional crises and an internal rebellion in Chechnya, things went from bad to worse, creating an environment ripe for populism.
Enter Vladimir Putin. A former spy and consummate statesman, his rise to power in the early 21st century brought with it a resurgence in Russian nationalism. Putin promised, like any good populist would, to improve the quality of life for ordinary Russians. At the beginning of his stint in office, he tried to do this by aggressively battling the oligarchs, especially those who challenged his authority. Upon realizing that building an autocracy without the support of the wealthy (and politically-connected) elite is impossible, Putin radically shifted his policies by allying himself with the oligarchs and harnessing their money and power. To artificially boost his popularity among the common folk (especially conservative nationalists), Putin embarked on various wars to expand Russia’s influence and borders. Aside from the two Chechen Wars (both of which occurred within the internationally-recognized borders of the Federation), Russian under Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 to create the unrecognized “republics” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Ukraine in 2014 to annex the Crimean Peninsula as well as to create two more unrecognized puppet states (the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”).
Although looking back it might seem like it at times, the United States was far from idle during Russia’s rebirth as a global power. Russia too, clearly had a place for America in its foreign policy. At first, Russia hailed the West as an economic and political model, as well as the United States as a natural ally. As states formerly in the Soviet orbit began to chart their own paths, this realignment became ever more important. However, in reality, the two states have had different goals even from the start. Russia strongly opposed the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, and the US opposed Russia’s attempts to bring the authoritarian Belarus back into its orbit.
Eventually, Russia abandoned the West and attempted to find new allies elsewhere, especially in the Middle East (Iran), Southeast Asia (India) and even the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan (in Central Asia). In addition, Russia even tried to create an alliance with China. However, China, along with Russia’s other allies (with the possible exception of some of the weaker former Soviet states), have their own agendas, making these relationships purely transactional. This meant that Russia, if it couldn’t gain allies, would at least try to prevent former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact puppet states from leaving the new Russian sphere of influence. The United States, on the other hand, has been spending the last couple of decades pushing globalization (hard to believe, right?) in the form of Americanization. This means that Russia and the US tend to have conflicting goals in many regions of the world. Two specific examples are the Euro-philic Georgia and Ukraine, both of which were invaded by Russia (no, the choice of these two countries to invade was not a coincidence).
In 2009, at the beginning of the first Obama administration, a US-Russia “reset” was proposed (to put this into perspective, this was a year after the invasion of Georgia but five years before the invasion of Ukraine). The result?. Although President Obama continued to push for positive relations with Russia, this push went nowhere. However, it did culminate in his inaction after the Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. While this inaction was heavily criticized by the Republican Party, ironically, two years later, the same party nominated a candidate endorsed by Russia: Donald Trump. The result was a sudden resurgence of interest in US-Russia relations, focused almost exclusively on President Trump’s connections with Russia. This brought with it a new interest in Russia’s actions in Syria, which are only a small part of Russia’s foreign policy aimed at helping its allies Iran and the Assad government.
As of now, even high level officials in the US government seem remarkably ignorant with regards to Russia. Focusing only on a microscopic element of the relationship between the US and Russia certainly isn’t helping.