A Bad Week for the US-Russia Reset, reports FPI Policy Advisor John Noonan

Eli Lake reports in this morning's Washington Times:

A key leader of Russia's democratic opposition said this week that Russians are unsure of President Obama's position on support for democracy and human rights in Russia.

Boris Nemtsov, former Russian deputy prime minister and founder of Russia's "Solidarity" movement, also said in a speech this week that Mr. Obama is making a strategic error if he thinks ratifying an arms treaty with Russia would "reset" relations with America's former Cold War rival.

"Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy," he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration's approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

In a statement this morning, Ohio's Republican senator George Voinovich blasted the administration for unofficially ceding to Russia's dominant role in the so-called Near Abroad: 

Mr. President, the former Captive Nations have accomplished so much as free-market democracies and members of the NATO Alliance.  Our friends and allies must have absolute confidence negotiations towards the New START treaty did not include side agreements or informal understandings regarding any Russian sphere of influence in the Captive Nations.  Moreover, I remain deeply concerned — even in the absence of such agreements or understandings — that the former Captive Nations may once again wonder, will the West abandon us yet again?  Will agreement with Russia once again be placed above the interests and concerns of our allies?  Will we forget what happened after Yalta and Tehran?  We cannot let this happen again. 

So let's quickly evaluate how badly the administration has miscalculated here. Obama annoys a necessary partner (congressional Republicans) by looking the other way on the Putin government's egregious human rights' violations and the continued, illegal occupation of Georgia, while simultaneously irritating Moscow by artificially inflating expectations on the treaty's ratification. Meanwhile Eastern Europe is still swinging in the wind after Obama unilaterally pulled Polish and Czech missile defense to curry favor with the Putin regime, advancing the perception that the administration will sell out allies to push legislation that they can't pass. And the actors who do deserve American backing, the Boris Nemstovs and Iranian revolutionaries of the world, aren't even paid the courtesy of lip service in support of their plight, because it might compromise deals (START, Iranian nuclear program) that have little chance of surviving past initial stages of negotiation.  

The folly of driving the whole of our Russia policy with new START was made apparent after Senator Jon Kyl effectively put the kibosh on ratification during the lame duck session of Congress. This is the president's own fault. He promised Moscow that he'd deliver on a treaty without first establishing how many "aye" votes he had in Congress, and completely tangled up the issue by placing new START at the center of his "reset" policy toward Russia.

- Originally posted on The Weekly Standard Blog

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