Due West: Will Obama's reset policy survive?

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Konstantin von Eggert - Sputnik International
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The Russian Foreign Ministry has been busy issuing angry statements lately. Barely had it issued its own version of the “Magnitsky list,” when John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives lashed out at Barack Obama's reset policy.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has been busy issuing angry statements lately. Barely had it issued its own version of the “Magnitsky list,” when John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives lashed out at Barack Obama's reset policy. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, he called on the U.S. administration to “show its teeth” to Moscow. Boehner is convinced that the Russian leadership sees Obama's outreach policy as a sign of weakness (which it does), and is worried by Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin. The speaker is certain that Putin wants to “restore the former power and influence of the Soviet Union.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lashed out at Boehner, saying that Russia is also concerned about many things the U.S. does, including its support for Libyan rebels.

Some in Moscow were quick to dismiss Boehner's speech as simply jockeying for position inside the Republican Party in the run-up to the primary season. It is clear that the GOP will soon launch a frontal assault on Obama's foreign policy record, which is not particularly impressive. It is also evident that with the White House branding the reset as an unqualified success, the Republicans are likely to attack it.

Boehner is not among the candidates competing for the Republican nomination. But it seems that he expresses a view widely held among the Republican establishment that Russia has lost its way and that Vladimir Putin's third term is only going to make things worse. The programs of the potential candidates, including key foreign and security policy messages, are still being formulated. However, there are already indications of the shape of things to come. For example, one of Mitt Romney's key foreign policy advisors is Leon Aron from the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Aron is a Soviet émigré and an author, among other books, of a biography of Boris Yeltsin with the self-explanatory title “Yeltsin: a Revolutionary Life,” a generally positive assessment of the first Russian president's role in history. Aron sees the late 1980s-early 1990s – a period intensely vilified by Putin and his supporters as an era of chaos and weakness – rather as a time of tumultuous but necessary change that created new opportunities for Russia, opportunities that were missed by Yeltsin and later nullified by Putin.

One might argue that although Romney is considered for now to be the strongest candidate to clinch the Republican nomination, he is by no means a shoo-in. This is true. But with his demonstrative pragmatism and political realism, Obama left the Republicans no other chance but to reclaim the ideological high ground and attack the Democrats as unprincipled opportunists who have forsaken the great American values of freedom and democracy in exchange for an illusion of normal relations with Moscow. Looking at the potential Republican candidates, one hardly sees any who subscribe to the Henry Kissinger school of realpolitik. Moreover, Vladimir Putin's decision to have a third run for the top job resulted in a strong disappointment even inside the Obama administration, which had hoped until the very last moment that Dmitry Medvedev with his modernization narrative and friendly rhetoric, would continue as president for another six years. Putin's nearly inevitable return to the Kremlin will make it much more difficult for Obama to claim the reset was a success. So it isn't inconceivable that in response to Republican criticism the White House might also show more robustness in dealing with the Kremlin.

Russian politicians do not like the West focusing on the “values agenda,” such as human rights and civil liberties, because they consider global politics to be a zero-sum game based on naked interest. And this, in turn, is because twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, both Russian politicians and Russian society barely have any values of  their own. That is why Russian political class feels very uncomfortable when its Western interlocutors start pushing the values agenda. It also has very bad memories of Ronald Reagan doing the same in the 1980s, making it an essential - and successful - element of American foreign policy.

If John Boehner's words are indeed a portent of the new bi-partisan attitude towards Russia that is developing in America, then the Russian political class has reasons to worry, as it may soon find itself on ground that it does not want to tread at all.

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

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