On Wednesday, Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller argued that the Obama Administration’s “reset” policy with Russia had succeeded.
According to Miller, rapproachment with Russia has enabled the U.S. to diversify supply routes into Afghanistan and implement tough sanctions against Iran.
Miller’s claim does not pass the reality test on several levels.
The President spent an inordinate amount of time cultivating then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, wishfully thinking that he would modernize and liberalize Russia. At that time, a top Obama official told me that the Administration had not communicated with President Vladimir Putin “because the access was so hard.” Yet, as this author predicted, Putin never wanted Medvedev to hold supereme power in Russia. Now, top White House and State Department officials privately recognize that they bet on the wrong horse and that Medvedev had no real authority.
To uphold the “reset,” the Administration agreed to cut U.S. strategic nuclear forces under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and abandoned missile defense deployment in Poland—and Moscow continues to seek concessions from Washington regarding missile defense. Most probably, after the elections, the Administration would initiate another round of strategic nuclear cuts, striving to reach “global zero”—Obama’s dream of a world without nuclear weapons.
Last March, during a global nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea, Obama was accidentally caught telling Medvedev that he will have more “flexibility” to negotiate on missile defense after November elections. In May, Russian military officials yet again threatened a pre-emptive strike against missile defense sites in Europe.
Moscow interpreted Obama’s new policy as a tacit understanding that the U.S. would not interfere in the Russian zones of “privileged interests” in the former Soviet Union. Putin is now further deeping and expanding the Russian sphere of influence, pursuing a political contraption called the Eurasian Union. It would institutionalize Moscow’s clout over its neighbors. He has also committed more than $680 billion to armed forces modernization.
Russia’s “axis of authoritarians” includes friendships with China, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. It shields the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, Iran’s closest ally, despite the civil war’s ongoing bloodshed.
Washington has also neglected the Kremlin’s recent assault on civi liberties in Russia. Since becoming President last May, Putin implemented laws to punish opposition protesters with heavy fines and criminalized libel to constrain free press. The Duma now requires foreign-supported NGOs to register as “foreign agents.” Opposition leaders are subject to prolonged house searches and criminal investigations. The state can subject peaceful demonstration organizers to draconian fines. The notorious Pussy Riot trial ended in the imprisonment of the three young women who staged a protest against Putin. Putin’s latest decision to shut down USAID operations in the country is a slap in Obama’s face.
Miller may be right in one respect: Moscow’s recent offer to allow NATO to use a huge logistics base in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk will help phase out the American military mission. But Russia is not doing this for free. Transit fees for NATO logistics already generate some $1 billion per year for domestic freight companies.
The Obama Administration and Congress need to recognize that the “reset” with Russia is in dire need of a reassessment. The U.S. and Russia have mutual interests in opposing Islamist radicalism and terrorism, nonproliferation, and counter-narcotics and in boosting trade, investment, tourism, business, and exchanges.
The U.S. should pursue its national interests in relations with Moscow instead of chasing a mirage.
Dmitri Titoff, a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation, contributed to this post.