FPI Bulletin: Mr. President, Drop the Russian Reset

June 18, 2012

From FPI Policy Director Robert Zarate and Policy Analyst Evan Moore

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met this morning on the sidelines of the G-20 Economic Summit in Mexico.  Their bilateral meeting, however, came not only after Russian internal security services recently harassed, detained, and interrogated key political opposition leaders in response to large anti-government protests in Moscow, but also as the Kremlin continues its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s bloody campaign against opposition groups and civilians.
For over two years, the Obama administration has argued that its policy of “resetting” relations with Russia would lead to the Kremlin’s strong cooperation on a broad range of international issues.  However, as the Foreign Policy Initiative has argued, it is clear that the Russian Reset has failed to fully yield the promised results. 
Moscow continues to shield the Assad regime in the U.N. Security Council, and bolster Assad with air defenses and other military means.  It opposes imposing crippling sanctions against Iran, even as Iranian efforts are bringing it ever closer to nuclear weapons-making capability.  It continually excuses North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile provocations.  More recently, the Kremlin has threatened retaliation if Congress passes the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.  Named after an anti-corruption lawyer who died after being tortured in a Russian prison, the Magnitsky Act would impose a set of wide-ranging sanctions against Russian officials responsible for internal human rights violations and corruption. 
Nonetheless, the Obama administration appears to be doubling-down on the Russian Reset.  As Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters today, Washington and Moscow will “be able to sustain cooperation in some areas, we’ll have differences in other areas, and we’ll work to try to bridge those differences, because the relationship between the United States and Russia is in our interest, it’s in Russia's interest, but also it’s in the interest of the world community.”
Yet the many disagreements between Washington and Moscow today reflect the fundamental differences between the free and democratic world order that the United States has built since the end of the Cold War, and the nationalist authoritarianism of Russia’s current regime.  No reset, no quid pro quo, no confidence-building measure, no charismatic politician can bridge that gulf.
The time has come for the Obama administration to replace the failed Russian Reset with a new policy paradigm.  Instead of effectively conditioning U.S. foreign policy on the Kremlin’s approval, Washington should boldly and decisively stand with the brave men and women abroad who are taking to the streets to oppose the Assad regime, the Iranian regime, and—yes—the Putin regime.  As President Obama himself has acknowledged, the wave of democratic protests that have shook the international arena over the past three years illustrates that America’s interests and America’s values are one and the same. 
Although the United States is still the leader of the Free World, President Obama—more often than not—has hesitated to lead it.  This must change.  Finally standing up to Vladimir Putin would be a good start.

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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