Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit the United States from June 22 through 24 at the invitation of U.S. President Barack Obama. Topping the agenda will be the New START Treaty between the two countries, a treaty that is likely to arouse controversy in the Senate. The visit occurs after the United States was able to secure a vote by Russia on the United Nations Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. The Obama Administration hails its “reset button” policy with Russia as an unqualified success. However, all aspects of the Russo-American relationship deserve an unflinching examination.
The New START treaty, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8, clearly does not serve U.S. strategic interests. Problems include limitations on U.S. ballistic missile defense and conventionally armed ICBM capabilities, as well as ambiguities surrounding verification. Key U.S. Senators and national security experts have shown reservations, citing the treaty’s potential to limit U.S. missile defense options. According to several credible reports, the Obama Administration is involved in secret talks with the Russians to derail or limit deployment of a strategic missile defense.
Furthermore, the price the United States paid Russia for the support of the UN Security Council’s efforts to censure Iran for its military-nuclear program is staggering. The United States was forced to make numerous and far reaching concessions in order to win Moscow’s vote in the Security Council, including a major loophole that allow Russia to sell its weapons systems to Iran, including sophisticated S-300 anti-ballistic missile defense system to Iran if and when it chooses to do so. Sen. John Kerry was misleading when he said in his Politico op-ed that Russia “scrapped the sale” of this destabilizing weapon system to Teheran. Thus, the White House achieved nothing but a pyrrhic victory, as the strategic objective of the sanctions cannot be accomplished.
In a rush to gain Russia’s goodwill, the Obama Administration has emasculated bipartisan policy of close engagement with post-Soviet states including Ukraine and Georgia, which had been in place throughout both the Clinton and Bush presidencies. In a series of steps, following the election of new president, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has distanced itself from the West and denounced prospects for NATO membership. It also agreed to host Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean base in Sevastopol till the year 2042.
The Administration publicly announced that there’s nothing it can do to restore sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, violated by the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia is a staunch friend who sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan above and beyond its small population’s size. Today, the Obama Administration refuses to provide even defensive weapons to Georgia. It also snubbed an important friend, Azerbaijan, by not inviting its president, Ilham Aliev, to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Summit.
The Obama Administration also handed over to the Russians the resolution of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, which had claimed 2,000 lives and rendered 250,000 homeless. Obama prefers cooperation with Russia in Kyrgyzstan to defending US interests. The Manas air base in the capital Bishkek plays a crucial role in supplying the troops in Afghanistan, but the Administration would rather have Russia partnering with us over Manas.
Obama abandoned the freedom agenda – human rights, and the rule of law – to the Surkov/McFaul bilateral commission, which disregards the beatings of Russian demonstrators in the streets of Moscow; government control of TV channels; and abuse of the rule of law and corruption of the court system, including the kangaroo trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the YUKOS oil company.
The Administration has clearly dispensed with the Freedom Agenda of the Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush years. This betrays our friends in Russia – and undermines American leadership around the world. Individual rights and civil society agenda has to remain part of the bilateral relationship.
Finally, economic cooperation is also limping. Yes, the sale of 65 Boeing 737s to Russian Technologies, a state-owned conglomerate controlled by Putin’s personal friend General Sergey Chemezov, is a good thing for American economy. However, Russia has not done enough to join WTO, to open its state-dominated energy and natural resources industries to US companies, and to eliminate corruption and bureaucratic extortion from the foreign investment sector.
Working on improving relations with Russia while keeping US interests close to heart is good for America. Misleading the public about the success of the “reset button” policy which negates American security and abandons America’s friends is a different thing altogether.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at The Heritage Foundation’s Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy.