The United States and Russia

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The United States and Russia

Yesterday, Presidents Obama and Putin met on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Mexico. Their personal relationship has been described as “tense,” but the Obama administration’s Russia policy has been defined by pragmatism, and built upon mutual interests. This has resulted in a number of significant security benefits for America.  By contrast, the world view which sees Russia as America’s greatest foe, pitting the U.S. and Russia in a zero-sum, Cold War dynamic demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the world works – including on hard issues such as Syria and Iran.

Pragmatic, interest-based, relations with Russia. When President Obama began his presidency, U.S.-Russia relations were at a post-Cold War nadir.  The administration began a pragmatic, interest-based, approach to Russia. As Russia expert Samuel Charap wrote last year, “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.” [Samuel Charap, 8/12/11]

The relationship has provided significant benefits for American security interests:

Afghanistan. Signing and implementing an agreement for the transit of troops and material across Russia in support of the mission in Afghanistan. [CS Monitor, 3/15/12]

Iran. Russia supported UN Security Council Resolution 1929, the most comprehensive set of sanctions against Iran to date. Additionally, Russia confirmed it will not honor its commitment to deliver S-300 missiles to Iran. [Washington Times, 6/22/10]

Nuclear security. The New START Treaty significantly reduced the number of nuclear weapons and launchers deployed by the U.S. and Russia while also putting in place a strong verification regime. In addition, the U.S. and Russia have worked together to secure cooperation on North Korea’s nuclear programs, both in terms of UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral efforts.  [Rose Gottemoeller, 9/9/11]

Libya. Russia decided not to veto UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorizing the military intervention in Libya, which ultimately led to the toppling of the Qaddafi regime.

Russia plays a key role on issues including Iran and Syria – finding ways to move Moscow is necessary.

Syria. USA Today reports on the meeting yesterday, “President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday on the need for a political transition in Syria as they sought to work through ‘tensions’ in their relationship.” [USA Today, 6/19/12]

Iran. The New York Times further reports on the meeting: “Also on the agenda for Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin was the effort by the United States and Russia, along with Europe and China, to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Even as they were meeting on the outskirts of a world economic summit gathering here in Mexico, tough talks on Iran’s nuclear program were under way in Moscow. Mr. Obama said he and Mr. Putin had ‘emphasized our shared approach’ and agreed that there was still time for diplomacy to work.” Meanwhile, the AP reports today on the P5+1 talks: “Russia launched a desperate bid Tuesday to save nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran from collapse and lessen the chances of a Middle East conflict that could draw in the United States.” [NY Times, 6/18/12. AP, 6/19/12]

Cold War mentality towards Russia is unproductive, dangerous. Governor Romney famously expressed his views of U.S.-Russian relations in the 21st century in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, saying “Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.” In response, General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander, said: “Surely one lesson of the 21st Century is that America’s security in the world depends on making more friends and fewer enemies. Governor Romney’s statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears… The next president is going to have to take America forward, out of war, and into other challenges.  The rekindling of old antagonisms hardly seems the way to do it.” And Timothy Roemer, former ambassador to India and 9/11 commissioner added, “[T]he level of naiveté about foreign relations that Governor Romney displays is astounding. Worse, it is potentially dangerous for our country.” [Mitt Romney via CNN, 3/26/12. Wesley Clark, 3/26/12. Timothy Roemer,3/26/12]


What We’re Reading

The Muslim Brotherhood called for marches against the Egyptian military.

An adviser to Syrian President Bashar al Assad has denied an Iranian media report that Syria would host Russian, Chinese and Iranian military forces for joint exercises.

The Pakistani Supreme Court barred the Prime Minister from holding office.

Two militants were killed in Gaza as a result of an Israeli air strike.

Insurgents attacked a security checkpoint in Afghanistan.

Obama plans to push various European leaders on the need for economic growth.

The German parliament will not delay a vote on the European Sustainability Mechanism.

The Hague suspended Ratko Mladic’s war crimes trial until further notice, citing a procedural error.

Nigerian authorities imposed a curfew in the city of Damaturu after violence between the Nigerian army and Islamist militants escalated.

Mexico entered talks to join the Pacific Trade Pact.

Commentary of the Day

Scott Bobb examines why the Syrian government has been angered by Hezbollah’s positions and relations have cooled.

Tony Karon suggests that all parties negotiating Iran nuclear talks are overestimating their leverage.

Michael Stephens examines the loss of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and how it affects the prospects for stability moving forward.



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