Due West: Confident Putin Buries Reset

© Photo : KommersantKonstantin von Eggert
Konstantin von Eggert - Sputnik International
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This week, Vladimir Putin laid to rest the reset policy.

This week, Vladimir Putin laid to rest the reset policy.

He outsourced last rites and the grave digging to the Russian Foreign Ministry, which made the official announcement: USAID must cease its operations in Russia effective October 1st.

The reasons given by the ministry's spokesman were couched in language reminiscent of the Brezhnev era. In a nutshell, USAID was kicked out because, in the Kremlin’s view, it tried to influence Russian politics by providing the bulk of financing to NGOs specializing in training election monitors, observing polls and detailing human rights abuses. A ministry statement that Molotov would have been proud of warned Washington that Russian civic society has grown up and does not need “external management.”

The Russian president seems to have decided that it is time for the era of niceties in U.S.-Russian relations to end. This is surely the first time since Gorbachev came to power that official Russia has slapped official America in the face so hard.

Putin's demonstrative step is a testimony to his distaste for all things American and his attitude to the current U.S. administration. He is offended by its perceived unwillingness to stop the “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act” from being adopted by the Congress. He is irritated by President Barack Obama’s stance on ballistic missile defence deployment in Europe and willing to gain extra points with his core audience by resolutely bashing “American agents” at home.

I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but at times it looks as if the Kremlin prefers Mitt Romney, with his harder line towards Moscow (at least, rhetorically), to win. This would create an ideal opportunity to whip up anti-American sentiment in Russia and boost Fortress Russia thinking among the citizenry.

The U.S. reaction was dismal and chaotic. Firstly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not reveal that her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov gave notice of the USAID closure at the APEC summit in Vladivostok earlier this month. Then, after the Russian announcement, the White House and the State Department vacillated between pleading for an extension to USAID’s stay in Russia “in order to wind up the work” and counterattacking by trying to prove that Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, made use of the agency’s funds too. It was a PR disaster.

Putin has always believed Obama to be weak and indecisive, at least, when it comes to Russian affairs. Now he has proof.

What this show of force testifies to is the utter shallowness of U.S.-Russian political relations. In the last ten years it has whittled down to just a few perennial topics – all seemingly unbridgeable – such as Iran, North Korea, ballistic missile defense and, recently, Syria.

Russia became an irrelevant second-tier policy issue for the Americans quite some time ago. Until fairly recently, the Russian leadership had responded by using the so-called nuisance factor – i.e. making life difficult for the U.S. without crossing any red lines that might prompt an unpredictable U.S. reaction. No more.

First by openly challenging the U.S. and the EU over Syria, and now by booting out an American government agency, Vladimir Putin has shown that he intends to turn this irrelevance to his regime's advantage and draw the red lines himself.

He also demonstrated that his main policy concern is in fact domestic. Priority number one for Putin and his entourage is keeping his regime firmly in power and preventing development of the so-called Orange Scenario, along the lines of the peaceful 2004 revolution in Ukraine, which is widely perceived in Moscow to have been a Western plot to change the pro-Moscow regime there.

If reaching this goal means giving the Americans (or the Europeans, for that matter) a little bit of a hard time, then so be it.

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

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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