More on the Total Failure of the Obama “Reset” with Russia

David J. Kramer, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush, writing in the Washington Post (Robert Amsterdam also holds forth on the same subject, over on Huffington Post):

Ahead of Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Washington this week, a “leaked” Russian foreign policy document is causing some Russia watchers to wonder whether the Russian president is shifting his country toward a more positive, pro-Western stance. A careful read of the 18,000-word document does not support such wishful thinking.

Russian Newsweek published the document in May, along with a Feb. 10 cover letter to Medvedev from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. While the foreign ministry did not dispute the authenticity of the document, neither it nor the Kremlin has issued it formally. This contrasts with Russia’s military doctrine, which was released officially in February.

Unlike the foreign policy document, the military doctrine was not greeted warmly in the West, given its clear anti-Western tone. According to the doctrine, the top dangers to Russia are NATO’s enlargement and its efforts to take on “global functions carried out in violation of the norms of international law.” Other dangers include deployment of foreign (i.e., American) troops in states bordering Russia and strategic missile defense, which would “undermin[e] global stability and violat[e] the established correlation of forces in the nuclear-missile sphere.”

The foreign policy document, by contrast, is a more polished, economically focused paper that largely — but not entirely — avoids such bellicose rhetoric. Yet a close reading makes clear that Russia’s foreign policy objectives align closely with those reflected in the military doctrine.

For example, the foreign policy document seeks the “abandonment by the United States of unilateral actions aimed at deploying in Europe elements of a global missile defense that are capable of undermining Russia’s deterrence potential, in favor of forming a ‘missile defense pool’ of interested states. It seeks to revive the noxious European Security Treaty proposed by Medvedev last year, which would create an architecture that would subsume NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and succeed in the “containment of NATO’s expansionist activities.” It also emphasizes cooperation with European Union member states that are “positively disposed toward the Russian Federation, primarily the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, and Spain” — as opposed to the newer, eastern members.

Overall, the foreign policy document clearly supports establishment of a Russian sphere of influence, emphasizing the need to “consolidate the CIS (post-Soviet) area” and the imperative “actively to counter . . . attempts by forces outside the region to interfere in Russia’s relations with the CIS countries.” It calls for bolstering the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and consolidating Russia’s Black Sea Fleet presence in Ukraine’s Crimea and argues for the promotion of Russian language and culture in the countries along its borders. It talks about providing “high-technology” energy assistance to the Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia but makes no mention of Georgia itself. So much for that country’s territorial integrity.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia should be especially concerned about Russia’s plans to expand its economic presence in the Baltic region “in light of the sharp fall in their investment attractiveness for countries of the E.U. and the substantial decline in the value of their national assets.” If assets in these countries are unappealing to European investors, one can only assume that Russia’s interest is driven by a desire to reassert control over them through economic means. Indeed, a common theme of the document is the use of Russian money to buy up critical assets in other countries.

For example, the document seeks to “promote the consolidation of Russian business in strategic sectors of the Romanian economy”; it calls for drawing Ukraine “into the orbit of economic cooperation with Russia.” It also pushes for a consortium to manage and develop Ukraine’s gas-transportation system and the “acquisition by Russian investors of controlling shareholdings in major Ukrainian enterprises.”

From the United States, the document seeks ratification of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which President Obama recently resubmitted to Congress, the lifting of unilateral sanctions on Russian enterprises and greater bilateral investment, along with the lifting of the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment and the granting of most-favored-nation status. It offers nothing in return. It praises Obama’s interest in “multilateralism” but warns against the “weakening” of his political position in the United States, which could open the door to those who want to “turn back the clock” and presumably take a less friendly approach toward Moscow. Meanwhile, the document promotes continued collaboration with Iran “across a broad spectrum of issues,” including cooperation on nuclear energy, and greater military cooperation with the junta in Burma as well as increased arms sales to Latin America and the Caribbean.

This foreign policy document is not pro-Western at all. The officially released military doctrine may be a crude expression of Russian intentions, but the more nuanced, unofficial foreign policy document differs little in substance. During Medvedev’s visit, no one should mistake this foreign policy document as reflecting a kinder Russia.

Russia under Medvedev remains a country with which we can still get some things done. But vast differences in our interests and values remain. They should not be swept under the rug.

One response to “More on the Total Failure of the Obama “Reset” with Russia

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