Killing the "Reset", one biased article at time

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Killing the "Reset", one biased article at time
Published 8-08-2012, 09:52
As I have noted elsewhere, while I disagree with almost everything President Barack Obama has done, I as a conservative regard his ‘reset’ policy as one of a few small bright spots during his tenure.  We conservatives naturally do not want to see him re-elected, but it is not necessary to distort his record on Russia to achieve that eventuality.  

Prior to Obama’s presidency, American policy on post-Soviet Russia had been an unmitigated disaster.  It was high time we acknowledged our mistakes and made some compromises with Russia––if only in our self-interest.  The U.S. needs Russia on a host of key national security issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the war against global jihadism.

Unfortunately, as the U.S. presidential campaign shifts into high gear, Republicans of various persuasions are mounting a campaign to undermine what they see as the potential ‘reset’ feather in Obama’s cap.  The days are long gone when American politicians engaged in at least some restraint in the ‘gotcha’ political culture, particularly when an issue revolves around U.S. affairs beyond our shores.  Now every international event is interpreted as if by political operatives straight from campaign staffs in the effort to undermine their political opponents.  This was true during George W. Bush’s two terms, and it is true for Obama.  This means killing the "U.S.-Russia reset” in the minds of the American people, one article after another, in the U.S. mainstream media’s already severely-biased Russia coverage.

Thus, Michael Weiss’s article in Foreign Policy argues the futility of engaging Russia at all (Michael Weiss, "Putin’s Got America Right Where He Wants It,” Foreign Policy, 28 June 2012).  It offers that Putin has outmaneuvered Obama, and the supposedly fictional ‘reset’ is "dead,” and "only provided Obama with a justification to cover his retreat in the face of Russia's advance.” 

Beginning with Syria, Weiss criticizes the Obama administration for continuing to try to woo the Kremlin into signing UN resolutions on Syria, claiming that "Moscow has vetoed two attempts to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime.”  In fact, Russia also has signed off on several UN resolutions on the Syrian crisis, including Kofi Annan’s peace plan and Russia’s resolution 2043 setting up a UN monitoring mission. Both of which condemned Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s use of force. 

Never mind that in Bahrain, where the United States has a naval base, the government recently brutally put down an uprising (with the military assistance of our Saudi Arabian ‘allies’), and there was no call in the U.S. for a UN resolution recommending humanitarian intervention if violence didn’t cease.  Although the U.S. does not approve of these regimes or methods, it tolerates them due to "perceived American self-interests” in the real, albeit cruel world of international politics.  The same is true for Russia.

The U.S. administration has no choice but to ‘woo the Kremlin’ on Syria and similar issues, given Moscow’s veto on the Security Council.  Perhaps, Mr. Weiss would recommend that we eschew the UN and act unilaterally, perhaps send more American boys to die so the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) can come to power in a second Arab state.  In this case, our democratic ideals and penchant for humanitarian interventions may be assuaged in the short-term, but the West’s (especially ally Israel’s) security will suffer in the long-term.

Weiss claims that Russia opposes the ‘Yemen model’ for Syria (in which former Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh left after mediated negotiations with the opposition) because "(t)he Kremlin is joined at the hip with the Assad regime.”  In fact, Moscow supports the UN’s six-point peace plan which is based on the Yemeni model by calling for an "inclusive political dialogue” to stop the civil war.  Such a dialogue could result in Assad stepping aside.

Russia’s resistance to Western-sponsored UN Syria resolutions is driven by its own principle that if the Assad regime or any other is to meet its demise, it should come through an internal process, not an Arab-led or a Western-led process, as happened in Libya.  Moscow was fooled, not once but twice, when NATO violated at least the spirit if not the text of the UN resolutions on Kosovo and more recently Libya, to which Russia signed on.  Moscow’s reluctance was dictated by a legitimate fear that NATO would abuse these resolutions to dismantle Serbia, on the one hand, and intervene militarily on the ground in Libya, on the other hand, as occurred in both cases. 

We now see a similar pattern unfolding in Syria.  Yet Weiss asserts that Putin "(p)erversely” blames "foreign actors” for undermining Annan's peace plan by "facilitating the Syrian opposition,” while Russia’s state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport continues to "run weaponry to Assad,” including attempting "to ship MiG-25 attack helicopters to Syria.”  

Weiss’s obfuscatory language is unwittingly revealing: "Foreign actors” "facilitating the Syrian opposition” refers to the U.S., a NATO member (and increasingly Islamist) Turkey, and Islamist Sunni Arab countires, who are actively supporting the Sunni Syrian opposition militarily to one degree or another.  U.S. intelligence, according to the NYT, is providing logistical support to the rebels, at the very least, in terms of advice on how to deploy weapons.  These weapons are being supplied by U.S.-allied Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia through among other countries, including NATO member Turkey, out of which the Syrian rebels are in part operating.

While we can assume the rebels (who appear to be increasingly well-armed) would be weaponless without Russian weapons supplies, Russia’s ‘running of weapons’ to Syria appears thus far to be limited to the return of a handful of MiG-25 attack helicopters it had taken to repair many months ago.  Just days ago, Russia announced it was ceasing its contracted deliveries to Damascus of fighter planes and air defense systems mentioned by Weiss until stability is re-established in Syria.  In doing so, Russia is delaying up to $4bn in outstanding weapons contracts to Syria, including the delivery of 40 Yak-130 fighter jets agreed late last year and the supply of S-300 air defense missile systems. (Aledksei Nikolskii, "Rossiya otkazalos’ ot postavok S-300 v Siriyu,”Vedomosti, 26 June 2012, and Loveday Morris, "Russia cuts off Assad’s military lifeline to leave regime out in the cold,” The Indepependent (UK), 10 July 2012). 

Should the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Qiada come to power in Syria, Russia will surely have to cease all arms sales to Syria (where Russia also has a very small naval base), while the United States continues to sell arms to repressive Wahhabi and Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen and, dare we say it, MB-run Egypt and Syria, respectively.  The point here is not to say that Russia’s foreign policy is more humane than the West’s, but simply to remind that all countries do what is in their national interests.  When a country, in this case Russia, finally does something that runs counter to its national interest, it should not be bashed incessantly, as is Russia by Weiss and others.

Russia’s approach towards Iran is also a key criticism.  Moscow is castigated for building the Bushehr nuclear power station, offering to enrich its uranium in Russia, watering down UN resolutions sanctioning Teheran, and letting a Russian bank do business with Iran.  But Weiss leaves out the fact that Russia has forced its largest banks to stop doing business with Tehran, signed onto sanction resolutions, and has offered a viable solution to the dispute by offering to reprocess spent fuel, so that Iran’s supplies for enrichment and weapons development would remain below the level necessary to build a bomb.

Weiss also criticizes Moscow for serving "as Iran's arms dealer -- selling more than $5 billion in military equipment to Tehran in the past decade.”  Acknowledging that the Kremlin cancelled its S-300 anti-aircraft system sales to Tehran, he nevertheless criticizes Putin by asking why would he ever would agree to sell such sophisticated missiles to the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism in the first place?  His answer is "because his preferred style is to create a minor problem, then solve it and take a disproportionately long bow.” 

Weapons sales going back ten years could hardly be part of a strategy to create a problem in order to get credit for solving it a decade later.  The fact is that Russia cuts such deals for the same reason the U.S. sells sophisticated weaponry to a host of Arab states (who are also convinced in the rightness of their authoritarianism and support the destruction of Israel). The deal is economic interests––they will worry about the military-political complications later.  In the case of Russia, however, Moscow lacks NATO allies in western and now eastern Europe to sell its weapons.  So it sells them to the only customers left in order to keep its only viable export manufacturing industries alive – this is another negative consequence of NATO expansion to Russia’s borders.

For Weiss and those like-minded individuals, Russia’s unexpected opening its territory for air and rail transport of non-lethal supplies and personnel to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, counts only as dubious "professed support” for NATO’s AfPak mission.  This is said despite the fact that the mission’s failure will be a boon to jihadists and Islamists across Russia’s underbelly from Central Asia in the east to the Caucasus Emirate mujahedin in the west.  It is also said despite the security headache for Russia and its neighbors that U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will bring about (with the return of an even more hostile Taliban to their south). This will be a direct consequence of U.S. actions.

Regarding the post-Soviet states, Weiss begins with U.S.’ current Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul’s recent revelations in Moscow regarding the tussle in Central Asia between the U.S. and Russia that replaces what should be cooperation in the war against jihadism.  As you might expect the revival of the "Great Game”, as it is called in the West, is blamed by Weiss entirely on Russian machinations.  In Central Asia, he notes that McFaul spoke in Moscow recently about Russian bribery of Kyrgyzstan to entice it to close the U.S. military base at Manas.  What McFaul actually said is that both Russia and the Bush administration had engaged in outbidding bribe offers in Kyrgyzstan. 

One McFaul revelation Weiss chose to skip over is his acknowledgement that the Bush administration had in fact been involved in backing colored revolutions in the former USSR; (something Moscow has long asserted and the west denied).  The colored revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan are a main cause of Putin’s reluctance to accommodate his domestic opposition and ensure that only friendly regimes inhabit Russia’s ‘near abroad.’  Despite Bishkek’s Tulip Revolution and the more recent post-color revolution led by more democratic elements within the Kyrgys elite, Weiss refers to the new Kyrgyz leadership as "pro-Russian,” because it no longer wishes to host U.S. forces.  It apparently never entered his mind that Kyrgyzstan’s leadership may have made the calculation that the U.S. presence within their borders makes them a more likely target of jihadists.  The recent emergence of AQ-tied jihadism in neighboring Kazakhstan, the upcoming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Russia’s greater geographical proximity, likely informed Bishkek’s decisionmaking calculus.

Moving to the Caucasus, Weiss condemns Moscow for treating "with contempt” the ceasefire agreement that ended the Georgian-Ossetian-Russian war.  But a question arises: If the U.S. can foment the Rose Revolution in Georgia and back Georgia’s efforts to reintegrate regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) that broke away from Tbilisi (due to neo-fascist oppression and violence that led them to break away in the first place in the early 1990s), then why cannot Russia recognize the republics’ current independence and defend it with troops (not to mention that Russia was the UN-designated Peacekeeping Force in South Ossetia).  This is afterall exactly what the U.S and NATO did in Kosovo despite the relevant UN resolution upholding Serbia’s territorial integrity.  The U.S. is implied to have appeased Moscow by inveighing upon Georgia to cease its opposition to Russia’s accession to the WTO, but Georgia and China were allowed to accede while being involved in oppression of national minorities and similar sovereignty disputes.  Georgia in fact was on the verge of entering NATO despite all the above!

Using a wholly unreliable source, Weiss claims that Russia has carried out "at least a dozen successful or abortive terrorist attacks in Georgia, including one near the U.S. Embassy and NATO office in Tbilisi” (yes, it is spelled Tbilisi, not Tiblisi, Mr Weiss).  There is absolutely no evidence to tie any such attack in Georgia to Russia.  It seems that Weiss and his source are fond of taking Mikheil Saakashvili’s claims as gospel, much as the Bush administration’s American embassy in Tbilisi did, when it accepted the version that Russia had started the August 2008 war, was killing thousands of civilians, and was setting up concentration camps, none of which were factual.

Weiss also highlights FSB harassment of American officials and the anti-Americanism that is prevalent in much of the Russian state media.  The former is clearly inexcusable, having no mitigating factors, except that it is partially a consequence of our own mistaken policies towards Russia in the 1990s and early 2000s––in particular NATO’s expansion without Russia.

But regarding Russian state media, Weiss ignores the fact that Russian TV, newsprint, and radio also include positive coverage and analysis of the U.S.  For example, the state-funded radio station Ekho Moskvy that Weiss mentions in the article and to which he perhaps even listens, is a case in point.  Indeed, many of the leaders of the opposition movement Weiss mentions have their own programs on Ekho Moskvy, and the others appear on other Ekho Moskvy programs.  Yet Weiss and most other U.S. commentators would prefer to focus on Russian authoritarianism, rather than the totalitarian Saudi Wahhabites and most of their Arab allies.

Ultimately, Weiss argues that "the reset was doomed from the beginning by Russia's increasingly autocratic political system” and was "founded on two phantom premises -- first, that former President Dmitry Medvedev was actually running the country rather than keeping the seat warm for Putin; and second, that Medvedev was the liberal modernizer that he claimed to be.” 

The fact, as I (and others) have documented here and elsewhere (though U.S. mainstream media has refused to publish anything I or anyone else wrote about it), is that during the reset, coinciding precisely with Dmitrii Medvedev’s presidency, Russia’s politics were liberalized.             

Medvedev’s gradual ‘thaw’ or ‘perestroika 2.0’, as I dubbed it, culminated in a serious re-democratization of the political system this spring in response to the protest movement or nascent ‘white ribbon revolution’ that began in December 2011, the emergence of which itself resulted in part from Medvedev’s reforms.  While it remains unclear whether Putin always intended to return after Medvedev’s first term – and there is some evidence and many reasons to believe that he did not – even if he did intend to return, then it is Putin who deserves credit for much of Medvedev’s perestroika 2.0, regardless of recent evidence that Putin may now be attempting to slow down, stop, or reverse some of the reforms.

None of this is meant to say that Putin is a democrat, that Russia is a democracy, or that Russia has not been, as Weiss notes, a "thorn in the side” of the West at times. 

It is to say that NATO expansion and other mistakes in the West’s post-Soviet policies have reaped what they have sown.  More importantly, there is no point in overstating the autocratic nature of Russia’s relatively soft authoritarian regime, especially since in the U.S., we play down the much harsher authoritarianism of countries with which we have far less contentious relations or Islamist movements, which we seem willing to support. 

Russia’s Iran is America’s Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; all three of these countries have staked a solid claim for the title of "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism” that Weiss awards only to Teheran.

If Putin has the U.S. "right where he wants it,” this is a result of years of miscalculation in Washington both with regard to Russia, its near abroad, and the wider world; one in which NATO expansion to eastern Europe holds little if any weight whatsoever. 

One-sided thinking on Russia like this, which is so frequently demonstrated by Weiss and others, has led to the fruitless, indeed detrimental NATO expansion––and to the recent shift towards even more shockingly stupid policies: mindless revolutionism and interest-less humanitarian interventionism.

One-sided thinking on Russia like that so frequently demonstrated by Weiss and others has led to the fruitless, indeed detrimental NATO expansion––and to the recent shift towards an even more shockingly stupid policies: mindless revolutionism and interest-less humanitarian interventionism.

One-sided thinking on Russia like that so frequently demonstrated by Weiss and others has led to the fruitless, indeed detrimental NATO expansion.  The thinking of their opponents has led to the recent shift towards an even more shockingly stupid policy: mindless revolutionism and interest-less humanitarian interventionism.

To the extent Putin stands in the way of these approaches, he has become a lightning rod for both conservatives and liberals.  For all his faults and for whatever possible ulterior motives he might have, Putin has asked of his Western interlocutors a very important question:  After Assad, then what?  Whoever occupies the White House in November had better have an answer to this question and the larger one: What is the best set of strategies and tactics for global democratization, stability, and peace––given where we are now?

Gordon M. Hahn is Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; Senior Associate, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.; Senior Researcher, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program; Visiting Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; and Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group. Dr Hahn is author of two well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002) andRussia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine.  He has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and publishes the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER) at CSIS at


Michael Weiss, "Putin’s Got America Right Where he Wants It,” Foreign Policy, 28 June 2012.

Last week's G-20 summit was the first time U.S. President Barack Obama had seen his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, since 2009. An account of their long, loveless meeting on the sidelines of the conference, along with photographs of their unhappy tête-a-tête, was splashed on the front page of the New York Times. The real story belonged in the obituary section: The "reset," Obama's attempt to mend relations with Putin's Russia, is dead. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed it.

But the two countries' fundamental disagreement about what to do about Assad, the dictator whose bloody attempts to suppress a popular revolt has resulted in the deaths of 14,000 Syrians, was only the last straw for a policy that has been on life support since its inception. On a vast array of issues -- ranging from human rights to Iran to the territorial integrity of the post-Soviet states -- Russian behavior has consistently been a thorn in the side of the United States and its allies. The reset only provided Obama with a justification to cover his retreat in the face of Russia's advance.

Let's start with Syria, where Moscow has vetoed two attempts to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime. In the case of the May 25 Houla massacre, where over 100 civilians were murdered in cold blood, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that "both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people." This injected moral equivalence where none existed, since U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said that pro-regime shabbiha militias were likely responsible.

And yet, the Obama administration continues to try to woo the Kremlin. The White House's latest dead-letter hope is that a "Yemen model" of political transition in Syria, referring to the negotiated departure of former Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, might find favor in the Kremlin. It will not. The Kremlin is joined at the hip with the Assad regime: Lavrov, for instance, told Ekho Moskvy radio last week that asking Assad to step down is "infeasible" because the latter simply will not do so.

Perversely, while Putin blames foreign actors for undermining special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan by facilitating the Syrian opposition, his state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport has continued to run weaponry to Assad. Most recently, it attempted to ship MiG-25 attack helicopters to Syria -- the transport vessel was turned around in the North Sea only after London, acting at Washington's request, got the vessel's British insurer to revoke its insurance. Instead of expressing embarrassment, Lavrov blamed the "unreliability of the British insurance system." Meanwhile, the Moscow-based think tank CAST anticipates that, in addition to those repaired copters, Russia will also eventually deliver MiG-29 fighter jets and even more advanced air-defense systems to Syria.

The hard truth is that the reset was doomed from the beginning by Russia's increasingly autocratic political system. The White House's outreach was founded on two phantom premises -- first, that former President Dmitry Medvedev was actually running the country rather than keeping the seat warm for Putin; and second, that Medvedev was the liberal modernizer that he claimed to be.

The men and women who have paid the price for Obama's gullibility on these points are the beaten-down Russian dissidents, whose fate used to matter to the United States. Even as they have begun the hard work of constructing a domestic opposition movement, they have been denied even token support by the White House. "I can't name any real changes in [U.S.] policy that were good for democracy and human rights in Russia over the past several years," Oleg Kozlovsky, a veteran activist with the anti-Kremlin Solidarity movement, told me.

"We have been hit heavily in the last couple of months with brutal detentions during protests, arrests, and searches and would have liked a firm reaction from the U.S.," said anti-corruption activist Natalia Pelevine. "We have not seen it. This is especially humorous in view of the much-promoted idea in Russia that the opposition is paid by the U.S. State Department."

Even the architect of the reset policy has learned the hard way how the Kremlin deals with the mildest criticism. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, in a recent interview with Foreign Policy, expressed shock at how badly he's been harangued since his arrival in Moscow. "What I did not anticipate, honestly was the ... relentless anti-Americanism that we're seeing right now," he said.

McFaul seemed confused by the personal attacks: State television labeled him an agent provocateur set on fomenting a revolution in Russia, while a pro-Kremlin youth group compared him to a convicted child molester. He shouldn't have been. His predecessor, John Beyrle, vividly documented the scale and the intensity of state-directed anti-Americanism that he experienced as America's man in Moscow in a WikiLeaked cable written in November 2009, only a few months after the reset took hold. Although bilateral relations had improved, Beyrle wrote, a "cold war mentality" persisted in the minds of Russia'ssiloviki, the heads of the elite security and intelligence establishments. They are "ideologically and materially" threatened by the reset and have convinced themselves that the West is guilty of fomenting democratic regime change in Russia's neighbors.

In this atmosphere, is it really possible to pursue a genuine rapprochement? Beyrle warned of what McFaul now professes to find so remarkable: The FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, harasses U.S. Embassy personnel, the ex-ambassador wrote, slanders them in state-controlled media outlets and -- more insidiously -- traumatizes their spouses by suggesting that they have met with accidental deaths. U.S. government employees' homes were also routinely invaded and searched.

It might have been possible to justify a Faustian deal with Putin if the Russian leader had delivered on one of the most important international efforts of the day --orchestrating international pressure on Iran to convince the mullahs to abandon their nuclear weapons program. In fact, Russia used its American-dealt hand on this issue to play a clever game of offering minimal concessions in exchange for maximum benefit.

Although Putin has helped build Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr and offered repeatedly to enrich its uranium in Russia, reset champions will say that securing his backing of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed new sanctions on the Islamic Republic and banned the sale of certain weaponry to it, was an indicator of his sincere commitment to ensure that the mullahs never get the bomb.

Yet the price of getting Russia and China on board meant that the resolution was watered down and never included a full arms embargo. The expert panel set up to keep track of the sanctions, moreover, is not allowed to publish its reports, a precondition Moscow negotiated that effectively hobbles the U.N. enforcement mechanism.

Russian obstructionism should come as little surprise, as the status quo of minimal sanctions and persistent international tensions over the Iranian nuclear problem keeps oil prices high -- an economic boon for Moscow. And as European banks end their dealings with Tehran, little-known institutions such as the First Czech-Russian Bank have done a brisk trade, charging more than six percent per transaction.

Moscow has also served as Iran's arms dealer -- selling more than $5 billion in military equipment to Tehran in the past decade. Reset advocates declared victory in 2010 when the Kremlin cancelled its sale of S-300 anti-aircraft system to Tehran, which could be used to shoot down American or Israeli jets. By why would Putin ever would agree to sell such sophisticated missiles to the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism in the first place? Because his preferred style is to create a minor problem, then solve it and take a disproportionately long bow.

This is even true when it comes to the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) in Afghanistan. Since September 2009, NATO has been able to transport non-lethal supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia. And since November 2011, when Pakistan closed the supply routes that ran through its territory-- payback for a U.S. drone strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers that year --the NDN has grown even more crucial to the international war effort in Afghanistan.

But even Russia's professed support for the NATO mission -- a product of the Kremlin's own self-interest -- hasn't stopped it from making life difficult for the United States. Key Central Asian states' commitment to allowing the traffic to continue is in doubt -- largely because of Russian pressure. One cause for the latest bout of Russian attacks on McFaul is that the put-upon ambassador made the mistake of telling the truth during a recent lecture: Russia, he said, had "bribed" the Kyrgyz government in an attempt to close the U.S. military base at Manas, through which critical materiel is flown into Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan's pro-Russian president has furthermore demanded that the United States leave Manas when its lease expires in 2014.

If the Kremlin's policies toward Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan suggest that it hasn't abandoned its Cold War aspirations of competing for global influence with the West, its attempts to exert influence in what it considers its "near abroad" should shatter any doubts. Russia has treated with contempt its 2008 ceasefire agreement with Georgia, which was meant to conclude the summer war between the two countries. Despite a clear demand that Russian forces withdraw from Georgian territory, Russia has actually upped its military presence in the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Nevertheless, the United States pressured Tiblisi not to block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.

Such accommodation hasn't helped rid Putin of the idea that Georgia belongs within Russia's imperial demesne. As the Economist's Edward Lucas notes in his new book Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today, the GRU, Russian military intelligence, is tasked with waging destabilization operations in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia -- not the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service. For Putin, this is a domestic dispute, and the objectives are to weaken Georgia's defenses, keep it out of NATO, counteract its pro-European tilt, and establish a Russian "fifth column" inside the country. According to Lucas, the GRU has been credibly linked by U.S. and Georgian intelligence to at least a dozen successful or abortive terrorist attacks in Georgia, including one near the U.S. Embassy and NATO liaison office in Tbilisi.

Even though Georgia's accession to NATO is a remote prospect, that hasn't stopped Russian officials from suggesting it would be willing to spark a global war to prevent such an eventuality. Just last month, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, Russia's military chief of staff, said that Moscow might well resort to launching a "pre-emptive strike" on any NATO installation at Russia's doorstep. Talk like that hasn't been heard since before glasnost.

The Obama administration's response to these provocations has been rank appeasement, framed as adherence to the reset. The White House's campaign against the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act is the best-documented example of its ham-handed attempts at realpolitik. The act is named for a Russian attorney who was framed, arrested, and tortured to death-- during the reset -- for uncovering a $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by officials with ties to the Kremlin.

This legislation would not only impose travel bans and asset freezes against the 60 Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky case, but carries a universal clause that applies to gross human rights violators in any foreign country. This is why an ever-growing number of Russians supports the bill and Putin wholeheartedly opposes it. Remarkably, the White House sided with Putin.

The real letdown for Russians is that the attempt to quash the Magnitsky Act has revealed the true motivation of the reset. It wasn't about improving bilateral relations -- it was about flattering a mafia state into some measure of compromise, then kidding ourselves into thinking that the mafia state had changed its ways.

"The biggest problem of this administration's policy was their attempt to separate different issues," Kozlovsky, the opposition activist, put it to me. "They said that you could cooperate on, say, nonproliferation and disagree on human rights, and it's OK. It didn't work because Moscow doesn't think or act this way -- and also because all these things are connected."

But perhaps this assessment of the reset is too harsh. It has, after all, resulted in one undisputed achievement -- the disillusionment of the liberal intelligentsia, the one Russian group traditionally a stalwart American ally. Lilia Shevtsova, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center argued in a recent essay in the American Interest that today's equivalent of the Soviet dissident isn't looking to Washington for moral or intellectual support anymore. Shevtsova expanded on her thesis to me via email. The new orientation, she wrote, "is not anti-Americanism in its traditional form. This is criticism of connivance regarding the Kremlin and rejection of the normative dimension in dealing with Putin. This attitude is becoming very popular among the liberals."

In other words, the reset has achieved the worst of all possible outcomes: It has made a renewed enemy of Putin, and it's alienated the best and brightest of our would-be allies too.

Russia: Other Points of View 

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