- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

As the Obama administration is touting the success of its “reset” in relations with Russia, America’s former Cold War rival is challenging key U.S. policies.

On Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported that Russia’s largest oil firm, Lukoil, had resumed selling refined petroleum to Iran, a direct challenge to U.S. efforts to apply economic pressure on the Islamic republic.

Meanwhile, the Russian press reported that Moscow would be sending more of its S-300 air-defense systems to the disputed Georgian territory of Abkhazia. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month called the Russian troop presence in Abkhazia an “occupation.”

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.

The senator expressed particular worry about Russia’s crackdown on human rights. He said a recent law passed by Russia’s Duma was “Stalinist” and would give the state the right to arrest “anyone who appears to pose a threat to security.”

Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday said the centerpiece of the U.S. reset with Russia was the signing of the nuclear arms control treaty known as New START.

“Actually, I think we’ve had a remarkable year, not only in the reset of our relations with Russia, but in furthering the president’s policy towards nonproliferation and setting a very ambitious goal of moving toward a world without nuclear weapons, one that has been endorsed by leaders in our country on both sides of the aisle,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton pointed to not only the START agreement but also the “strategic dialogue” she chairs with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had no immediate response about the report that Lukoil was resuming gasoline sales to Iran.

Lukoil was one of several oil companies that announced in the spring that they were suspending business with Iran, following the U.N. sanctions vote against the Mideast country over its nuclear program.

Reuters reported that Lukoil’s trading arm, Litasco, delivered 250,000 barrels of oil to the Iranian port of Bandar-Abbas last week. The news agency also reported that another shipment was expected to be delivered next week.

A Lukoil spokesman told Reuters that “one-off deliveries [to Iran] took place within the frame of previously signed contracts.”

In Georgia, the Russian press reported that Russia would be shipping new batteries of the mobile air-defense system known as the S-300 to the disputed territory of Abkhazia, one of two breakaway provinces recognized by Russia as independent countries, but considered by the United States to be Georgian territory.

The announcement of the S-300 sale comes after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Abkhazia on Sunday, marking the second anniversary of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

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