Last week, a senior Russian official met two Republican senators and came away warning that the GOP would drive Washington’s relations with Moscow into the ground if they came back to power.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, met with Republican senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in Washington, after which he remarked: “Today I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not with pupils, but with targeting sights.”
Rogozin, proving once again that the administration’s ‘reset’ with the Russia is an exercise in futility, is referring to two U.S. senators who have been critical of the Obama administration’s approach to Russia.
During the ratification of the New START agreement in late 2010, Kyl successfully compelled the administration to provide a guarantee that it would support funding necessary to modernize the U.S. nuclear stockpile. (The U.S. is currently the only nuclear country without a modernization program. If we continue to reduce the number of weapons in our arsenal, as New START dictates, it would at least make sense to ensure that the ones we have left are safe and reliable.) The missile defense concerns Kyl raised about New START caused President Obama to send a letter to the Senate, promising that any missile defense cooperation with the Russians will not limit U.S. missile defense.
Senators Kirk, Kyl and Jim Risch (R-Id.) sent a letter to the president last November inquiring about the kinds of concessions the U.S. may be making to secure New START. The letter included a series of questions for the president—including, “Can you certify that there is not currently any ballistic missile, any nuclear weapon, and/or chemical or biological weapons proliferation taking place between Iran and Russia or Russian entities?” And, “To what extent will Russian siting and targeting of U.S. allies including Georgia, Ukraine, and Poland, impact the proposal to include Russia in a NATO missile defense program?” Then, in April of this year, Kirk spearheaded a letter to the president, expressing his concern that the U.S. would share sensitive missile defense technology with the Russians.
But the concerns of Kyl and Kirk are not those of “two monsters of the Cold War,” as Rogozin says. To the contrary, the senators are committed to seeing the U.S. go beyond Cold War thinking. Achieving this means that the U.S. and Russia would be free to build defenses as robust as they please, and the two countries would no longer insist on having the ability to “mutually destroy” each other with nuclear weapons. It means Russia would no longer bully, intimidate, or encroach on its sovereign neighbors, and that the Russian government would not deal, or allow private Russian citizens to deal, arms to enemies of the United States.
In the same interview that Rogozin tries to ostracize senators by calling them “Cold War monsters,” he also threatens that either “we will achieve some sort of deeper cooperation in the military and political spheres that will allow us to pass ‘the point of no return' in our relationship, so no one could reverse this partnership, or we do not—then today's thaw known as ‘the reset' will be swept aside and the ferocious winter will come.”
These brash ultimatums come from the top. Last year, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev warned that the U.S. and Russia would reenter an arms race if Washington and the Kremlin did not come to an agreement on missile defense.
Interestingly, last week, Rogozin had only kind words for President Obama, in contrast to Kyl and Kirk. This might be the biggest clue that the administration is on the wrong track, and the senators’ work is more vital than ever.
Rebeccah Heinrichs is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former manager of the Congressional Missile Defense Caucus.