The Magazine

Russia Remains the Same

It will be business as usual in Moscow whether Obama apologizes or not.

Jun 29, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 39 • By CATHY YOUNG
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The hope that Russia could help resolve the Iranian nuclear problem amount to little more than wishful thinking. Russia's semi-friendship with Iran in recent years has been rooted primarily in a common adversarial relationship with the United States. If a more America-friendly Russia tried to pressure Iran, it would be unlikely to have leverage. While the Russians could stop providing Iran with technology, there are always alternatives like North Korea around.

The prospects for Obama's outreach encouraging liberalization in Russia are also doubtful, given the murky politics of the "tandemocracy." There have been credible reports of Putin-Medvedev friction; some Russian political analysts believe the presidency and the premiership now act as somewhat effective constraints on each other's powers, substituting for the normal checks and balances of democracy. But there is no clear-cut rivalry between an anti-Western hardliner and a pro-Western reformer in which the United States could throw its weight behind "the good guy."

One concern among critics of the Kremlin regime is that a too-accommodating stance by Obama will embolden a more aggressive Russian stance in the "near abroad." In a Grani.ru column, Hudson Institute fellow Adrian Piontkovsky warned of ominous signs that Moscow may be preparing for a second war in Georgia this summer. While NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine is off the table for now, given the two countries' internal problems, one hopes that Obama will send a strong message that U.S. commitment to their sovereignty is undiminished.

When all is said and done, perhaps the best-case scenario to be expected from Obama's Moscow trip is business as usual--and not too many apologies.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.