At The Heritage Foundation’s October 25 conference dedicated to the Obama Administration’s failing “Reset” policy toward Russia, House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Members of Congress hailed freedom and democracy as the guiding principles of American foreign policy. They also asserted that Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory is going to be a sticking point in the effort to normalize trade relations between Russia and the United States and accept Russia into the World Trade Organization.
Congressional Quarterly (CQ) highlighted opposing viewpoints on the issue in an article entitled “House GOP Ties Russia Trade Bill to Resolution of Dispute with Georgia s Part of its ‘Reset’ Policy.” It reported that the Obama Administration has prioritized bilateral relations with Russia, including arms control, Afghanistan cargo transit for NATO troops, and trade. Americans officials have been working around the clock to get Russia admitted to the WTO, though Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shows a lukewarm sentiment at best for that idea.
Since 2008, when Russia and Georgia went to war, Russia has occupied the two breakaway territories of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It spares no effort to promote recognition of their “independence.” Georgian officials have threatened to veto Russia’s entry into the WTO until the dispute is settled. Many American congressmen, especially among Republicans, support Georgia—the now fully democratic former Soviet state—over the Russian Federation.
Boehner stressed on Tuesday that the GOP-controlled House would not support any legislation curtailing bilateral barriers to trade with Russia until the Obama Administration helps resolve the territorial dispute in a way that respects Georgia’s sovereignty. “Then, and only then, will there be any movement on the WTO question worth considering,” Boehner said.
Congress cannot officially bar Russia from joining the WTO, but Members can block the legislation required to realize the benefits of WTO accession and elevate bilateral trade relations with the United States. This legal authority comes from a 1974 law (PL 93-618) known as Jackson–Vanik, banning permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with countries without market economies until they demonstrate a commitment to freedom of emigration.
Russia has met these requirements, CQ maintains. However, no new legislation has been passed to formally remove Russia from the list of countries affected by the Jackson–Vanik rule. A number of issues affect the lifting of Jackson–Vanik, ranging from Russian poultry imports to human rights abuses.
Reuters reports that “The White House defended Obama’s Russia policy, saying it had succeeded in advancing U.S. efforts on a range of issues,” and “Obama can blunt Boehner’s challenge by pointing to foreign policy successes,” but these assertions ring hollow.
Boehner accurately stressed the misallocated priorities of the Obama Administration in its relations with the Kremlin. “I’ve read that the second phase of the Reset…will deal with democracy and human rights,” Boehner said. “Now, forgive me, but shouldn’t these values be at the forefront?”
The Administration’s association with Moscow has been that of one-sided appeasement. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who spoke at Heritage on Tuesday stressed that they will resist the White House in conceding any more victories to the Kremlin on issues that matter to the United States.