After Russia’s Elections

December 8, 2011

U.S.-Russia relations have reached a tight spot on several central issues: discord over plans for European missile defense, disappointment with Russia’s flawed elections, disagreement on how to end the regime crackdown in Syria and pressure Iran on its nuclear program. Led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the administration has taken strong stances on the elections and missile defense, while continuing partnership in other vital areas, including U.S. overflight rights to Afghanistan and New START treaty implementation. The ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time” – to stand strong on issues of principle, maintain communication and make pragmatic progress elsewhere – shows the success of the “reset” policy. In fact, the reset’s critics are now getting what they said they wanted on missile defense and human rights – while in Afghanistan our military gets what it needs.

In the wake of fraudulent elections — which nonetheless saw a weak showing for Putin’s United Russia party — Clinton speaks out strongly for democracy, and Putin picks a fight. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew the ire of Russian Prime Minister and likely presidential candidate Vladimir Putin for offering strong support to youthful protestors in Russia. As the New York Times reported, “By singling out Mrs. Clinton, rather than making a vague comment about the West, [Putin] effectively thrust the United States on the side of the protesters in the streets challenging the Kremlin’s authority, and not entirely without reason. Mrs. Clinton has been outspoken in her criticism of the election, issuing several strongly worded statements, beginning on Monday, after a preliminary report was released by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. ‘The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted,’ Mrs. Clinton said on Monday in Bonn, Germany, while attending a conference on Afghanistan that included Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov. ‘That means they deserve a free, fair, transparent election and leaders who are accountable to them,’ she said.” Clinton went further, saying, “[T]he United States and many others around the world have a strong commitment to democracy and human rights. It’s part of who we are. It’s our values. And we expressed concerns that we thought were well founded about the conduct of the election. We are supportive of the rights and aspirations of the Russian people to make progress and to realize a better future for themselves, and we hope to see that unfold in the years to come.” [NY Times, 12/8/11. Hillary Clinton via the NY Times, 12/8/11]

U.S. and NATO press ahead with European missile defense system, despite differences with Russia. The Washington Post reports, “Russia and NATO remain deadlocked on a long-running dispute over the alliance’s plan for a missile shield for Europe, officials said Friday, and Russia warned that time was running out for an agreement. NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reported no progress toward a deal on the contentious issue, following a key discussion among alliance foreign ministers and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that came amid political turmoil in Russia and tart criticism of the United States. Fogh Rasmussen rejected Russian criticism that NATO is ignoring its concerns that the planned missile system might one day be turned on Russia. He said discussions with Russia will continue and he expressed optimism for an initial deal before NATO’s next global summit, in Chicago in May 2012.”

CNN further notes, “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to make that argument again following the meeting. ‘We will continue to press forward on missile defense; we’ll be transparent. We have explained that our system cannot and will not threaten Russia, does not affect our strategic balance with Russia,’ she told reporters. ‘No other country will be given a veto over what threats we perceive are most salient. Ballistic missiles against the territory we are pledged to protect are not coming from Russia in our assessment but from other locations. It’s not directed at Russia, not about Russia; it’s Iran and others who are threatening to develop missile technology.’ Since NATO approved the U.S.-designed system at last year’s summit in Lisbon, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey have agreed to deploy parts of it. NATO asked Russia to participate in the system but negotiations have been deadlocked over Russia’s demand for a legally binding treaty guaranteeing the shield would not be used as a deterrent to Moscow’s own systems. Rasmussen said he hoped a political agreement with Moscow could be reached before a summit between NATO and Russia in Chicago next May. That is when NATO is expected to declare an interim operational capability of the system.” [Washington Post, 12/8/11. CNN, 12/8/11]

“Reset” is a tool for advancement of U.S. interests — and in the long term, Russian democracy — not appeasement. Samuel Charap has written: “Let’s first be clear about what the reset is not. It is not a secret weapon to vaporize all those in the Russian security establishment who deeply distrust U.S. intentions and at times act on that mistrust. It is also not a reset of Russia’s political system, some sort of magic wand for effecting instantaneous democratization. What it was, and remains, is an effort to work with Russia on key national security priorities where U.S. and Russian interests overlap, while not hesitating to push back on disagreements with the Kremlin at the same time. The idea is that engagement, by opening up channels of communication and diminishing antagonism, should — over time — allow Washington to at least influence problematic Russian behavior and open up more space in Russia’s tightly orchestrated domestic politics… This diplomatic tactic is not new; it harks back to George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, and his approach to the Soviet Union.”

The reset policy has resulted in concrete gains for U.S. security:

Reduces the threat of nuclear weapons and increases transparency:  As Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller recently explained: “The New START Treaty implementation is going very well. It’s been a bright spot in the U.S.-Russian relationship, and we see it continuing to be an area of positive cooperation… On-site inspections are underway and, as of today, the U.S. has conducted nine inspections in Russia and Russia has conducted eight inspections in the U.S. We have also just exchanged our 1,300th notification between the United States and the Russian Federation under the New START Treaty… The New START Treaty data exchanges are providing us with a very detailed picture of Russian strategic forces and the inspections will give us crucial opportunities to confirm the validity of that data.” [Rose Gottemoeller, 9/9/11]

Unprecedented cooperation toward Iran:  The U.S. garnered Russian support for strong international sanctions against Iran, a move which later resulted in the cancellation of the long-planned sale of Russian S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. [Washington Times, 6/22/10]

Stability for Eastern European allies: “American officials have worked visibly to bolster regional confidence through NATO contingency planning, Patriot missiles in Poland, military exercises in the Baltic and Black Seas, the creation of strategic consultative mechanisms and forward movement on the new missile defense architecture.” [Mark Brzezinski and A. Wess Mitchell, 4/7/10]

Overflight privileges for U.S. troops and supplies headed to Afghanistan:  The Afghanistan Air Transit Agreement and Russia’s participation in the Northern Distribution Network have facilitated critical ground and air transit for U.S. troops and supplies headed to Afghanistan – which has only become more vital as Pakistan limits use of land border crossings. [Samuel Charap, Center for American Progress, 4/10. AP, 12/8/11]

[Samuel Charap, 8/12/11]

What We’re Reading

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the suicide bombing that targeted Shiite Muslim worshipers in Kabul and killed dozens of people was plotted in Pakistan.

Egypt’s military rulers said that they would control the process of writing a constitution and maintain authority over the interim government to check the power of Islamists who have taken a commanding lead in parliamentary elections.

Syria’s president has said that he feels no guilt about his crackdown on a 10-month uprising, despite reports of brutality by security forces.

Yemen’s vice president issued a decree to set up a national unity government to prepare for elections, as fighting raged on the streets of the capital Sanaa.

The United States is in discussions with Libya over ways to help rebuild the country’s military, which the U.S. military considers essential to unify the country and bring rival militias under national control.

Kenya’s parliament has approved the integration of government troops in Somalia into the African Union force fighting militant Islamists.

The strengthening of U.S. military alliances in Asia is not aimed at containing China, a top Pentagon official said.

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to craft new rules governing the euro and oversight of member states’ budgets, though there is some disagreement over the form and extent of the new rules.

Commentary of the Day

A New York Times editorial asks why Congress is hobbling the fight against terrorism by keeping the military detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, expressly against the views of the nation’s top national security officials.

Eve Cary examines what the social consequences will be when China’s real estate bubble bursts.

Ahmed Rashid believes that al Qaeda is now turning to sectarian bloodshed in places like Afghanistan and Egypt as a tool to thwart democracy and diplomacy.

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