MOSCOW – In meetings with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the leading Russian foreign policy experts one thing becomes blatantly clear: the Obama Administration did not receive any quid-pro-quo for significant concessions it provided to Russia as a part of its “reset button” policy.
Since January of this year, the Obama Administration has resumed the START strategic arms talks, and is trying to complete them before the current nuclear weapons agreement expires on December 9th.
It looks like it will abandon ballistic missile deployment against Iran in Poland the Czech Republic, and adopt an inferior system instead. The Administration also signaled that it will listen to Russian ideas about reshaping European security architecture and at least for now it will not seriously push for Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.
Moscow will not take a “yes” for an answer. All these concessions the Russians pocketed, smiled, and moved on to new demands: European security reconfiguration; additional global reserve currency which would weaken the dollar; and a strong push-back on sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program.
In meetings I attended, both Putin and Lavrov warned against any military strikes on Iranian nukes while refusing to support a gasoline sales embargo against the mullahs. “Russia has good relations with Iran; has very significant economic interests there. Iran never supported any Islamist terrorism [in North Caucasus], and Russia will be the last state Iran would target even if it gets nuclear weapons”, says a senior foreign policy expert who regularly advises Russian leadership.
When I asked, why President Obama needed to provide all these goodies while getting nothing in return, Lavrov and Putin said that they did not view US “reset” measures as concessions. “They corrected mistakes that the Bush Administration made”, said Lavrov.
Putin had harsh words about “Condoleeza” and repeatedly criticized the previous administration. Not so the current one: he expressed “cautious optimism”, said that the athmosphere has improved, and that the US President was in the “listening mode”. “I am a simple man” said Putin half-smiling, but I learned one thing in eight years [in office] – do not criticize the current Administration.”
While the Russians clearly like the better atmospherics, and somewhat toned down the shrill anti-American rhetoric, the Iranians and the Venezuelans, who also received Obama’s “stretched hand” and, in case of Hugo Chavez, a pat on the back, are refusing to play ball. They, like their friends in Moscow, are also pocketing concessions while continuing the mischief.
The irony of this is that the Obama Administration sees nothing wrong with such behavior. Time and again, in foreign policy conferences, including with the Russians, the Obama Administration champions blame US behavior first, before criticizing the outrages committed by the hosts.
Unilateral concessions by the Obama Administration are interpreted as a sign of weakness, from Moscow to Teheran to Caracas. Blaming the Bush Administration and making unrequited concessions is bad policy, especially when dealing with chess champions (the Russians), or those who invented chess – the Iranians.