Re­tire the ‘re­set’ with Rus­sia

Putin’s na­tion doesn’t merit su­per­power treat­ment, but

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By E. Wayne Merry

On March 9, fol­low­ing Rus­sia’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Obama tele­phoned Pres­i­dent-elect Vladimir Putin to re-es­tab­lish con­tact with some­one he once pub­licly de­scribed as a man of the past but who will run Rus­sia for the re­main­der of Mr. Obama’s pres­i­dency. Mr. Putin gen­uinely be­lieves Washington or­ches­trates Rus­sia’s do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion in or­der to re­move him from power and thereby weaken Rus­sia. That’s cer­tainly not an ideal ba­sis for bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion.

How­ever, Mr. Putin deeply val­ues his legacy. His re-elec­tion slo­gan was “dostroika” — com­ple­tion or ful­fill­ment. He thinks he has laid the foun­da­tions for a strong and pros­per­ous Rus­sia and needs only time and au­thor­ity to bring it to fruition. Oth­ers (my­self in­cluded) doubt both his vi­sion and his meth­ods, but Mr. Putin is not a petty dic­ta­tor. He knows re­la­tions with the United States will be key to his legacy, for good or ill.

Washington is over­due to re­tire the “re­set” as a con­cept for ties with Moscow. The Rus­sians never liked the no­tion be­cause it im­plied restor­ing the preGe­orge W. Bush re­la­tion­ship, a pe­riod they re­call as one of weak­ness and hu­mil­i­a­tion. In ad­di­tion, the achieve­ments of the re­set in strate­gic arms con­trol and Afghanistan hold di­min­ish­ing prospects for fu­ture progress.

The New START may be the last for a long time be­cause nu­clear weaponry plays a vastly more im­por­tant role in Rus­sian strat­egy than in ours. If all nu­clear weapons were to van­ish from the earth overnight, Amer­i­can se­cu­rity would be en­hanced be­cause of our global dom­i­nance of non­nu­clear mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties and tech­nol­ogy. By con­trast, Rus­sia would face a pro­found cri­sis of se­cu­rity and, worse, pres­tige.

A large nu­clear arse­nal with global reach is one of the few at­tributes of great power sta­tus that Rus­sia pos­sesses. Rus­sia also main­tains a huge stock­pile of “non­strate­gic” nu­clear weapons (a cat­e­gory we largely have aban­doned) be­cause of its dif­fer­ent strate­gic con­text (mainly China) and the per­sis­tent weak­ness of its con­ven­tional forces and de­mo­graph­ics. Rus­sia can­not com­pete in cut­ting-edge mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies, so it must main­tain the one type where it en­joys dom­i­nance over all other Eurasian states.

Thus, Rus­sia op­poses any­thing that might di­min­ish its nu­clear ad­van­tage, such as de­ploy­ments of mis­silede­fense sys­tems by the United States and NATO. We can as­sert un­til we are blue in the face that these have noth­ing to do with Rus­sia, but Moscow sees them as the thin edge of a wedge to weaken its nar­rowly based na­tional strat­egy. This is­sue stands as an im­ped­i­ment to fur­ther se­cu­rity agree­ments with Moscow.

Afghanistan has been an un­der­re­ported area of real co­op­er­a­tion. The North­ern Dis­tri­bu­tion Net­work, of which Rus­sia is the key­stone, has been vi­tal to break­ing Pak­istan’s choke­hold on lo­gis­tics for Amer­i­can and al­lied forces. The flex­i­bil­ity we gained was crit­i­cal in al­low­ing the United States to pen­e­trate Pak­istani ter­ri­tory and kill Osama bin Laden. How­ever, as the U.S. “exit strat­egy” de­vel­ops, the im­por­tance to the United States of Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion will di­min­ish, leav­ing an un­sta­ble Afghanistan loom­ing to Rus­sia’s south.

Rus­sia lacks ef­fec­tive in­flu­ence in ei­ther Iran or North Korea, while its Syria pol­icy shows that Moscow can be very stub­born, even at great cost to its broader in­ter­ests, in de­fend­ing one of its re­main­ing for­eign clients. Rus­sia is not a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional player in fi­nance, com­merce or in­no­va­tion. Even in en­ergy, Rus­sia de­pends as much on its cus­tomers as they do on it.

Rus­sia can ob­struct in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tives if it feels chal­lenged or dis­ad­van­taged, how­ever. This is why China, Europe, In­dia and Turkey main­tain bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia than we do; as Eurasian neigh­bors, they want to keep the neigh­bor­hood civil. They also have more com­merce at stake. An abid­ing fail­ure of Amer­i­can pol­icy has been to at­tempt too much with Moscow, to search for part­ner­ship with­out a shared agenda and not to com­pre­hend that Rus­sia will not ac­cept ju­nior-part­ner sta­tus. We need to work on build­ing some­thing re­sem­bling nor­mal re­la­tions with a Rus­sia that is no longer a global or ide­o­log­i­cal com­peti­tor. More trade and in­vest­ment would help, as will Rus­sian mem­ber­ship in the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Se­ri­ous progress in Rus­sian rule of law would do even more.

With Mr. Putin back in the Krem­lin, we should main­tain per­spec­tive and rec­og­nize that Rus­sia to­day is a great re­gional power like In­done­sia, In­dia and Brazil, but no longer a global ri­val. Washington does not need a spe­cial agenda with Moscow, but rather bal­anced and re­al­is­tic nor­mal re­la­tions.


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