Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Restarting U.S.-Russia Relations Will Take More Than Pushing A Button

U.S. Vice President Biden (left) with NATO's Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a recent meeting.
U.S. Vice President Biden (left) with NATO's Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a recent meeting.
By Aleksandr Golts
Commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have now taken up the mantra first uttered by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the recent Munich security conference that it is time to "push the restart button" on U.S.-Russia relations. I tip my hat to his speechwriters for their apt formulation. At the very least, it gave a little work to specialists in the area of U.S.-Russian relations: In just a couple of weeks, there have been many reasonable and highly constructive proposals, and maybe a couple of productive theories on precisely what should be done to improve those ties.

Nonetheless, in my opinion, the fundamental question remains unanswered: Why in the world would the regime of Vladimir Putin be interested in better relations with the United States? From Washington's point of view, everything is clear enough. Russia is -- if not exactly on the periphery of U.S. interests -- definitely not at the center. In the center, there is Iraq (have to get out), Iran (have to reach an agreement), and Afghanistan (have to win). And, of course, China, which is Washington's main partner-rival in the current century. It was no accident that the new U.S. secretary of state made her first trip abroad not to Moscow, but to Beijing.

Under these circumstances, Washington obviously doesn't need much from Putin and Co. -- just that they stay out of the way and don't interfere. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted, with clear irritation, that Moscow is sending conflicting signals. On the one hand, it is demonstrating its total willingness to help out regarding Afghanistan, including allowing the ground transit of nonmilitary cargoes across Russia. On the other, it is doing everything possible to hinder the U.S. effort, including, for instance, forcing Kyrgyzstan to close down the U.S. air base outside of Bishkek.

So the U.S. strategy vis-a-vis Russia is more or less clear: demonstrate all possible respect to the fallen superpower in order to placate the Kremlin's inferiority complexes. One excellent opportunity to do this would be full-scale negotiations on offensive strategic weapons. Such talks would elevate Russia's status, which after all remains the only country in the world capable of completely destroying the world's only remaining superpower. It is worth noting at this point that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her visit to Beijing, stated clearly that the new U.S. administration does not intend to get hung up on defending human rights and freedoms in other countries. She announced that Washington's priorities in relation to other countries boil down to three Ds: defense, diplomacy, and development. Commentators were quick to note the absence of a fourth D: democracy.

Putin 1:0 West?

All this would seem to signify the complete triumph of Putin's policy, the main goal of which has been ensuring the West's noninterference (it is another question whether the West intended to interfere or that is just a result of Putin's paranoia) in the domestic affairs of our native "sovereign democracy."

Achieving this noninterference was the reason for Moscow's hysterics regarding the threat of the proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Europe and over NATO's supposed superiority in conventional weapons. This is why the Kremlin was threatening the United States with all sorts of "countermeasures." This is why Moscow had identified in advance various possible future bargaining chips, such as the base in Kyrgyzstan. And now -- happily -- the Americans are ready to give ground on everything. They are ready -- as in the years of the Cold War -- to discuss numbers of warheads and delivery systems. And they are willing, if not to abandon their missile-defense plans, at least to slow them down considerably. And they seem ready once and for all to finally shut up about political rights and freedoms in Russia.

Now the Kremlin can stretch out some multiyear talks on strategic weapons, haggle over cooperation regarding Afghanistan and Iran, and -- in doing so -- show their own people that Russia has once again risen from its knees.

Not So Simple

The problem is that Putin doesn't really need this. We are in the midst of a crisis. Good relations with the United States and with the West as a whole won't help -- there is no money in it. And you can't put hungry people to work with fairy tales about getting up off your knees and about how "Washington has been forced to acknowledge Russia's international authority."

No, for this you need stronger measures. For instance, a national mobilization against an insidious enemy who is preparing an imminent attack. And we aren't talking about China. So what good are Washington's intentions to delay the missile-defense shield or to postpone practically indefinitely NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine? Moscow will immediately throw up some new conditions and complaints. For example, the Kremlin might call for overall limits on the military forces of all NATO countries so that they do not exceed the forces of the Russian Federation. Or the Kremlin might insist that any future NATO expansion be done only with Moscow's consent.

An unwillingness to comply with any of these demands will be interpreted as proof that NATO is preparing aggression against Russia. The survival of the Putin regime does not depend on cooperation with the West but with a "managed" chronic conflict. Everyone who is reciting the "hit-the-restart-button" line should give some thought to how compatible the two machines that are set to be restarted actually are.

Aleksandr Golts is deputy editor of the website "Yezhednevny zhurnal," where this comment first appeared. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comment Sorting
by: Gary Marshall
February 28, 2009 21:15
What a pile of manure. The Russians are invading sovereign countries, meddling in internal affairs, attacking democratic states formerly under Soviet control, putting weapons systems into the hands of US enemies, giving Iran, a threat to Israel, nuclear knowhow, shutting off gas supplies whimsically. It would require many days to go into how badly the Russian Government treats its own. <br /><br />Russia is a basket case, and a dangerous one. No civilized country will have much to do with them, unless compelled. The US should do all it can to isolate them by re-inforcing those nations around Russia and hostile to a renewed neo-Soviet state.<br /><br />Russia under Putin is almost dead. A couple of years of economic misery should see the whole thing collapse in upon itself.<br /><br />Gary Marshall

by: George X
March 01, 2009 04:34
Beautiful commentary. It is sad and ironic that the most sensible remarks about Washington's policy about Russia are actually coming from individual Russian observers. Another example is former Putin's economic adviser Andrey Illarionov, who, while testifying in front of House Committee on Foreign Affairs equated the &quot;push the re-start button&quot; idea to US's surrender to Russia's Checkist regime.<br /><br />Some recklessly naive congressmen actually kept asking during the hearing questions like: &quot;Why wouldn't Russians help us with Iran problem? It's in their interest&quot; Why, mister? Do you actually think Iran singular nuclear bombs would scare Putin? Even if he thinks that Iran does go suicidal and attacks Russia with a nuclear bomb? It would only strengthen Putin's position. Or do you think he would actually give a hoot about Russians dying in that conflict? Hello-o-o! This is the guy who gave the order to storm the school in Beslan, condemning hundreds of hostage children to death, just so he would not appear weak!<br /><br />It is frightening how naive some of the US policymakers are. They have no clue how the totalitarian regimes think and operate. It takes Russian observers (at the risk of their careers and often lives) to explain the stupidity and futility of trying to please the KGB-based regime.<br />

by: bv from: australia
March 01, 2009 08:10
we should listen to russia they have the largest nuclear arms stockpile and alot of oil and gas that every one else needs usa might be the only super that meens nothing in the end all you need is to push the triger.

by: Billy Hewitt from: Marion IN
March 01, 2009 18:27
The United States financial disaster that is sinking the global economy can only be saved by nationalizing all banks and insurance companies for 2 years and stopping all foreclosures. All bank and insurance officials that decide to leave their jobs during the nationalization would forfeit all pensions, health benefits, and investments. All retirees in the banking and insurance industries should have their pensions and health benefits suspended and have to reapply for reinstatement. The USA in it's aggressive and arrogant search for energy resources has bankrupted the global economy. Now the elite $BILLIONAIRES of the global derelict known as America plan for a global depression to lower energy cost so they can resume their failed FREE TRADE policies that have increased poverty and homelessness in the world.

by: Scott from: SM
March 03, 2009 09:44
Russia is a Superpower again as the United States, CNN (as stated here on CNN August 1, 2008) and other news media's have admitted,1518,572726,00.html;objectid=10527278;oref=slogin;sq=russia%20superpower%20anne%20barnard&amp;st=cse, this is an NATO expansion war. US former president Ronald Reagan promise Russia there would be no NATO expansion into post Soviet Union countries back 1989 which has clearly been violated. NATO is the new cold war, they are expanding and we cannot trust NATO. NATO is evil and Russia is the ally here. People need to Google the truth about what NATO means and what relation is NATO, EU &amp; Bilderberg together. I support Russia and I am against NATO, NATO is the enemy here. NATO wants to expand membership and spread every they can into more countries. NATO is about building a military block and when countries apply for NATO membership, they wave their rights to protect themselves or governored themselves but are under the rules of NATO. It is a communist movement on a private sector by NATO and this is wrong. Russia &amp; China has been dead set against NATO and this is why. I want Russia to make its stance and stand against NATO, this evil lieing agency that has no business taking countries rights away<br />;ei=rvusSaqCIJy4qAO31dyKCg&amp;q=russia+superpower&amp;hl=en

by: Andrew from: Auckland
March 04, 2009 09:48
Scott, you are an idiot.<br />When has any nation that joined NATO given up its right to self government.<br />NATO works by consensus, but all member states have the right to determine how and when their troops are deployed.<br />Look at the caveats given to German &amp; French troops in Afghanistan as opposed to those deployed by US, UK , &amp; Canada.<br />Has it not occured to your tiny little brain that the reason so many former soviet &amp; communist bloc nations have joined NATO is to receive protection against a Russian state that has invaded, opressed and murdered millions of their people?

by: Richard Mimna from:
March 06, 2009 12:15
NATO attempts at a 'reset' on relations with Russia is probably geared toward stemming the damage being caused by Putins regime. The best saboture is a good technician - and, the best soldier is someone that has nothing left to lose. <br />In most U.S. cities we feed the homeless; this is because it has been proven that if you feed a hungary man - he has little reason left to want to rob (or kill) you. That's why we feed North Koreans - and, maybe soon we'll be feeding hungary Russians too.