July 6, 2009 | Commentary on Russia and Eurasia
On July 7, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev will meet for their first full-fledged summit in Moscow. The two countries may have a window of opportunity to re-launch their relationship, which has been set back by Russia's intransigent positions and its litany of demands. While some in the U.S. believe that rhetoric alone can revitalize the deteriorating relationship between the two nations, only concrete steps by Russia--such as responding positively to the U.S. initiatives--will prove that the two sides are opening a new page.
For now, however, expectations of a major breakthrough should not be high. There are many indicators that Moscow is not ready for a comprehensive deal with Washington. To date, Russia has continued its policy--begun under ex-president Vladimir Putin--of rapprochement with China and consistent challenges to the central role the United States plays in world affairs. The global economic crisis has done little to change this behavior.
The Obama Administration is anxious to secure Russian cooperation on several pressing issues, such as arms control, non-proliferation, a joint policy on Iran and the Middle East, and energy cooperation. However, today's Russia is a tough customer. While the Cold War may be over, Moscow, bristling with anti-Americanism, is engaged in the pursuit of a sphere of influence and is reaching out to authoritarians from Beijing to Caracas to Tehran.
While pursuing the new realism and being attentive and polite to his Russian hosts, President Obama must not forget that in the last decade Russia has retreated from the partial democratic achievements of the Boris Yeltsin era. Although Putin stepped down as president last year, little has changed under Medvedev, despite his rhetoric to the contrary--probably because the real power is still in the hands of Putin and his allies.
Moscow's Five No's
Over the last few years, Moscow has crystallized a policy of negativity toward the U.S., which includes the following five planks:
Moscow's complaints have included allegations that the United States is interfering in Russia's internal affairs by promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; supporting NGOs; and generally being "preachy," didactic, and heavy handed.
Hitting the Reset Button: At What Price?
The Obama Administration has expressed its desire to "push the reset button" on relations with Russia. Specifically, this has meant:
Moscow has responded with minimal rhetorical nods yet continued its policy of push-backs and propaganda. Specifically, this spring the Kremlin has promulgated a national security strategy that fingered the U.S. as a principal threat to Russia. Moscow also declared that it is no longer bound by the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and questioned its future commitment to the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The Kremlin is also trying to gut the current principal framework for European and Eurasian security--the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)--by denying it budgetary support and blocking its peacekeeping missions. Russia's actions are the result of its objections to OSCE election observation work and the organization's democracy and human rights mission, which it pursues in accordance with the 1975 Helsinki Agreements.
Last year, Russia violated the decades-old Helsinki principle of the inviolability of European borders by recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the 2008 war with Georgia and signing a "status-of-forces agreement" that permanently deploys over 10,000 Russian troops on Georgian soil in five military bases.
Russia further demanded a linkage between the ongoing arms control talks to a U.S. commitment to halt missile defense in Europe and refused to expand missile defense cooperation by hosting radar or a data link on the Russian territory.
On the economic front, the Russian government rejected WTO membership in 2009, which the U.S. promised to support, instead prioritizing Eurasian economic consolidation through a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan--a step to boost its "sphere of exclusive interests."
Medvedev, Putin, and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin called for the G-8 to make the ruble and the yuan reserve currencies and expand IMF drawing rights, while Vice Premier Igor Sechin suggested that the world move away from the dollar in oil transactions. All of these measures, if enacted, would cause treasuries worldwide to dump their dollar reserves and thereby weaken the U.S. currency.
What Should President Obama Do?
President Obama should offer the Putin-Medvedev administration the option of joining the U.S. and the West in addressing today's major global security and economic challenges--but he should do so on terms that take U.S. national interests into account, as well as the interests of America's allies. Obama should not give in to Moscow's bullying tactics and tough negotiating posture.
Specifically, at the Moscow summit, the Obama Administration should:
New Plan Needed?
The U.S. should approach the upcoming summit with low expectations. So far, Russia has primarily responded to Obama's outstretched hand with a clenched fist; it is unlikely that things will change dramatically overnight.
One should hope for the best. The world would be a better place if Russia and the U.S. were able to cooperate on the key issues currently challenging the international community. However, if the Kremlin rejects Obama's overtures, the U.S. and Russia will face a continuation of the friction and bickering that have characterized U.S.-Russian relations over the last five years and are not in either side's interest. If such tensions persist, the Obama Administration should design a "Plan B"--one plan that upholds U.S. and allied interests in the face of Moscow's continued adversity
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security at the Allison Center of the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in the Georgian Daily