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
- No to NATO enlargement that includes Georgia and Ukraine;
- No to U.S. missile defense in Europe;
- No to a robust joint policy designed to halt the Iranian
nuclear arms and ballistic missiles program;
- No to the current security architecture in Europe; and
- No to the U.S. dollar as reserve currency and the current
global economic architecture (Western-dominated International
Monetary Fund and World Bank).
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
The Obama Administration has expressed its desire to "push the
reset button" on relations with Russia. Specifically, this has
- Prioritizing a strategic arms control agreement on an
accelerated schedule (before the year's end);
- Reportedly offering the Kremlin an implicit deal on missile
defense in Europe;
- Downplaying NATO enlargement to Ukraine and Georgia (also
because of European resistance); and
- Offering to speed Russian membership in the World Trade
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
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
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
- Pursue a strategic weapons limitations agreement without
an artificially imposed timetable while signing a memorandum that
would import the START II inspection procedures into the Moscow
Treaty on arms control (in force until 2012).
- Reiterate an offer of ballistic missile defense
cooperation with Moscow while pursuing plans to deploy missile
defense in Europe at the earliest date possible, as the Iranian
threat is likely to grow if the hard-liners win the day in
- Request Moscow's cooperation on robust sanctions against
Iran--including the cessation of all military supplies and spare
parts, military and dual-use technologies, and curbing gasoline
imports--unless Tehran agrees to accept full International Atomic
Energy Agency supervision of its nuclear program. The weakened
Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime may be more vulnerable to economic
sanctions now that its lack of popular support has been
dramatically revealed by massive protests.
- Uphold the rights of post-Soviet states to sovereignty
and territorial integrity. This includes Georgia's future
reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as autonomous republics
and Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, including in
the Crimea. Russian intervention, President Obama should clarify,
will be met with robust U.S. policy responses, such as diplomatic
and economic sanctions and the boosting of U.S. military presence
in Georgia and Azerbaijan. The U.S. should oppose Russian actions
aimed at expanding a "privileged sphere of influence," a
quasi-imperialist notion that has no place in 21st-century
- Expand cooperation onmatters of common interest, such as
the recent agreement on transit of military supplies to
Afghanistan. If Russia is serious about stopping the Iranian
nuclear program, it can share intelligence on Tehran's activities
with the U.S.
- Provide real incentives for
cooperation. If Russia reconsiders its anti-American
stance and is serious about a new chapter in U.S.-Russian
relations, the Obama Administration should be prepared to offer
real incentives, such as U.S. support for Russian entry into the
WTO, repealing the obsolete Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and the
resubmission of the 123 Nuclear Agreement
- Boost private and non-profit sector cooperation by
expanding business relations and improving media independence,
civil society, the rule of law, and court reform. Specifically,
property rights protection and the rule of law should be elevated
in U.S.-Russian bilateral relations, as without fundamental changes
both Russians and foreigners will continue to suffer from
arbitrariness and corruption in the economic, civil, and political
spheres. These changes can be made through joint projects of U.S.
and Russian business and trade associations, law schools, media
outlets, and NGOs.
- Request an end to anti-American propaganda in the
state-controlled media. Present a specific list of anti-American TV
programs and the most odious mouthpieces. The current
government-sponsored campaign has already caused high levels of
anti-Americanism among the Russian population, including youth, and
needs to be stopped. As Russia has a hyper-centralized regime, this
decision needs to be done at the presidential and prime-ministerial
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
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow
in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.