- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009


President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in principle Monday to cut their countries’ nuclear weapons stockpiles below 1,700 each within seven years of obtaining approval of a new arms treaty. Tuesday, Mr. Obama will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two countries may have a window of opportunity to relaunch their relationship, which has been set back by Russia’s inflexible positions and litany of demands.

Some in the United States believe rhetoric alone can revitalize the deteriorating relationship between the two nations, yet expectations of a major breakthrough should not be high. There are tell-tale signs that Moscow may not be ready for a grand bargain with Washington on all items.

The Obama administration has expressed its desire to “push the reset button” on relations with Russia. Specifically, this has meant prioritizing a strategic arms-control agreement on an accelerated schedule (before the year’s end); offering the Kremlin an implicit deal on missile defense in Europe; downplaying NATO enlargement to Ukraine and Georgia (also because of European resistance); and offering to speed Russian membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

To date, Russia has continued its policy of rapprochement with China, Iran and Venezuela - and consistent challenges to the central United States role in world affairs. The global economic crisis has done little to change this behavior.

Moscow has responded with minimal rhetorical nods, continuing its policy of push-backs and propaganda. Specifically, in spring the Kremlin promulgated a national security strategy that fingered the United States as a principal threat to Russia. Earlier, Moscow declared that it is no longer bound by the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The Kremlin also is trying to gut the current principal framework for European and Eurasian security — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - by denying it funding and blocking its peacekeeping missions.

Last year, Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after its war with Georgia and signed a “status-of-forces agreement” that permanently deploys more than 10,000 Russian troops on Georgian soil in five military bases.

On the economic front, the Russian government rejected WTO membership in 2009, which the United States promised to support. Instead, it has prioritized Eurasian economic consolidation through a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Mr. Medvedev, Mr. Putin and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin called for the Group of Eight leading industrial nations to make the Russian ruble and the Chinese yuan reserve currencies and expand International Monetary Fund drawing rights — measures which, if enacted, would cause treasuries worldwide to dump their dollar reserves and thereby weaken the U.S. currency.

The Obama administration has been anxious to secure Russian cooperation on several pressing issues, such as arms control, nonproliferation, a joint policy on the Near East, and energy cooperation.

However, today’s Russia is a tough customer. The Cold War may be over, but Moscow, bristling with anti-Americanism, is carving out a sphere of “exclusive interests” in the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Obama should offer the Putin-Medvedev administration the option of joining the United States and the West in addressing today’s major global security and economic challenges. But he should do so on terms that take U.S. national interests into account and also the interests of America’s allies. Mr. Obama should resist Moscow’s bullying tactics and tough negotiating posture.

Specifically, at the Moscow summit, the Obama administration should avoid a stringent timetable on a strategic weapons limitations agreement under a signed memorandum incorporating the START II inspection procedures into the current Moscow Treaty on arms control.

Washington should reiterate an offer of ballistic missile defense cooperation with Moscow while pursuing plans to deploy missile defense in Europe at the earliest date possible, as the Iranian threat is likely to grow if the hard-liners prevail in Tehran.

The Obama administration should request Moscow’s cooperation on robust sanctions against Iran — including curbing gasoline imports — unless Tehran accepts full International Atomic Energy Agency supervision of its nuclear program.

The United States should uphold the rights of post-Soviet states to sovereignty and territorial integrity. This includes Georgia’s future reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as autonomous republics and Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including in the Crimea.

Mr. Obama should provide Russia with real incentives for cooperation. If Russia reconsiders its anti-American stance and is serious about a new chapter in U.S.-Russian relations, the Obama administration should be prepared to offer real incentives, such as U.S. support for Russian entry into the WTO, repealing the obsolete Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and resubmitting the 123 Nuclear Agreement to Congress.

America should boost business relations with Russia while expecting improved media independence and the rule of law, which should be elevated in U.S.-Russian bilateral relations. Mr. Obama should request that Russia resolve notorious cases of business discrimination and human rights abuses, such as the incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the assassination of the brave journalist Anna Politkovskaya and others.

One should hope for the best. The world would be a better place if Russia and the United States were able to cooperate on the key issues currently challenging the international community. However, if the Kremlin rejects Mr. Obama’s overtures, the administration should design a Plan B - one plan that upholds U.S. and allied interests in the face of Moscow’s continued adversity.

Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy security at the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for International Studies.

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