June 19, 2012
By Peter Brookes
There’s little doubt from the reporting of the lackluster meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Mexico yesterday that the White House’s Russia policy is moving from “reset” to “regret.”
Of course, we’ve seen this coming for awhile — despite lots of wishful thinking on the administration’s part.
Team Obama’s hope over the last three-plus years has been that Russia would become a partner of the United States on a range of international issues if ties could only be “reset,” pruning away thorny tensions that have grown in the relationship.
In other words, if we could just get relations chummy enough, the Kremlin and the White House would become a dynamic duo, tackling a growing list of world problems.
So much for that plan.
One key focus of the “reset” policy was getting Russia to help stop Iran’s expanding nuclear (weapons) program. While supporting some added pressure on Tehran, Moscow hasn’t really come on board.
This week’s P5+1 meeting (the latest in a seemingly endless series) in Moscow on Iranian nukes probably won’t change that.
In fact, after the supposed “reset,” Russia finished building Iran’s first nuclear reactor and provided fuel for it. If Tehran doesn’t return the fuel rods, it could reprocess them for plutonium, providing another avenue for making nukes.
The Russians have been continually cranky about US-led missile defense in Europe, too, seeing it as being aimed at their nuclear deterrent rather than at the growing Iranian missile threat.
The griping didn’t stop even after Obama unilaterally abrogated the deal to put antimissile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Not long ago, a senior Russian general rattled a Soviet-like saber, threatening a pre-emptive strike on US-NATO missile defenses in Eastern Europe, if necessary.
Another flashpoint is Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week blasted the Russians with both barrels for sending weapons to their longtime friend, the Syrian regime. Even with a few words of support for a democratic transition in Syria at the G-20, Moscow has frustrated Washington’s UN efforts to punish Syria’s Basher, er, Bashar Assad. (The Kremlin is reportedly crabby about Libya, believing the mission crept beyond its original UN mandate.)
Russia continues to befriend countries of concern, too: Venezuela is a rapacious buyer of Russian arms; Moscow held its first-ever naval exercises with Beijing in April in the Yellow Sea, waters China considers “sensitive” to US military operations.
Team Obama has tried to lump Russia in with its claimed foreign-policy successes, citing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Moscow’s provision of supply and withdrawal routes in and out of Afghanistan as proof positive of better relations.
Of course, many see New START as having advantaged the Russians, since a majority of the cuts came from us. The Russia-Afghanistan road is worrisome because it’s much more expensive than through Pakistan (currently closed) and gives Moscow leverage over us, especially when we pull out.
Critics say we’ve also given ground on a Russian sphere of influence in some parts of the former Soviet Union’s stompin’ grounds — and Obama’s certainly been pretty much mum on political and social liberty in Russia.
Yet the president may still be hoping for a “reset” redo in a second term. Who can forget his open-mike moment this spring, offering now-former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev more flexibility on missile defense after the US election?
Isn’t that comforting?
The fact is Putin wants the US to get out of the way of Russia’s re-emergence — but is willing to cooperate on issues that benefit him politically or Moscow in general. That’s really nothing new.
So it’s probably a good time to forget the reset — and instead embrace a pragmatic policy that sees Russia for what it is, not what Team Obama hopes against hope it will be.
Peter Brookes is a senior fellow for national security affairs
at The Heritage Foundation.
This article first appeared on nypost.com
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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