The Obama administration has bent over backward in its attempt to reset relations with Russia. The result? The White House secured an agreement on START. It got Russia to sign on to U.N. sanctions against Iran. Russia also agreed to permit overflights into Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, these accomplishments are less than they first appear. START is at the mercy of the Senate. Russia is undercutting the U.N. sanctions by allowing Lukoil to sell petroleum to Iran. The number of overflights Russia has actually permitted into Afghanistan is ridiculously small. And yesterday the Kremlin announced it would send additional S-300 air-defense systems into Abkhazia, the breakaway Georgian territory Russia illegally occupies. Eli Lake has the goods:
The new challenges to the U.S.-Russia relationship come as Moscow is cracking down on dissent and expanding the powers of its domestic security service known as the FSB. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of foreign policy analysts and human rights advocates, organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, called on President Obama to personally condemn the crackdowns on Moscow demonstrations that led to the arrest of a former deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov.
"Maybe the administration feels they have developed a better relationship with Russia, and maybe they have, but there has not been an improvement in Russian behavior; in fact, it has gotten worse," Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview Wednesday.
Read the FPI letter here. My report on a recent visit to Georgia is here. To its credit, the administration has condemned the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as Robert Kagan noted in a recent column. But elements of the administration continue to operate under the delusion that Russian bad behavior is a reaction to Bush-era American bellicosity, when in reality Russia is operating in its national interest as an authoritarian power uncomfortable with the status-quo.
You could make the same argument about U.S.-China relations. The administration believed the way to China's heart was a policy of "strategic reassurance." The results were a China that is more, not less, abrasive and a crisis on the Korean peninsula. Now, in my opinion, the Obama administration has handled that crisis well. But they have done so not by voicing mealy-mouthed diplomatic slogans, but by standing forcefully alongside America's allies. If only they could take those methods and apply them to the Caucasus and the Middle East.