The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the United States is yet to begin in earnest, but some folks already haven't spared efforts to make it fail. In the current climate, however, this isn't as easy as it used to be. U.S.-Russia relations are certainly on the rise ("The reset is working", claims Nikolas Gvosdev's piece at TNI). Medvedev comes to Washington on the heels of Russia's recent decisions to back a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran and to cancel the sale of the S-300air-defense system to Tehran, both moves having been actively sought by the White House. And this is atop of 10,000 railroad containers and 300 flights with 35,000 personnel aboard that Russia has allowed to pass through its territory to Afghanistan (according to Sen. John Kerry).
With the lack of obvious negative developments to upset the success of the Obama administration's "reset policy" toward Russia, the opponents of better relations between Washington and Moscow should now look for something else. The Washington Post, for example, has embraced a familiar bogeyman: human rights. The newspaper urges President Obama to place alleged violations of human rights in Russia on the top of his U.S.-Russia agenda and to make any further cooperation with the Kremlin contingent upon Russia's following "Western principles of freedom and human rights."
There is every reason to believe that muddying the well of U.S-Russia cooperation with human rights issues is here to stay. First, it provides uninterrupted employment of both the neo-con and neo-lib camps of the DC "democracy-promotion" crowd. Second, given the vagueness of what "Western principles of freedom and human rights" really stand for, there is no chance that Russia will ever pass the test under the friendly watch of the unbiased Post's referees. Remember the Greek philosopher Zenon with his Achilles and the turtle?
The German Marshall Fund's David Kramer, who in the past months has become one of the most active and vociferous critics of "reset" (shall we call him a Reseterminator?), aimed at it from a different angle. Kramer argues that no rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia is possible until Medvedev "shift[s] his country toward a more positive, pro-Western stance." And now, says Kramer, Russia's foreign policy isn't "pro-Western." Worse, as the title of his recent piece declares, it's "anti-West." Kramer draws his conclusion from reading a Russian foreign policy "doctrine" leaked to the press a few weeks ago. It's truly astonishing to learn which parts of this document Kramer considers "anti-West." For example, President Medvedev's last year's proposals for a comprehensive European Security Treaty. Russia's emphasis on cooperation with Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, too. (Kramer seems to think that these countries don't belong to "the West" anymore). Moreover, if one takes Kramer's writings seriously, Russia's desire to get rid of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and see the Nuclear Cooperation ("123") Agreement ratified in Congress is also a sign of its "anti-West" stance.
Making bilateral relations dependent upon improved "behavior" by one side is hardly a new proposition, and Kramer is likely to be applauded by many in Washington for his creative "pro-" and "anti-" labeling. Besides, his arguments will go very well with hardliners in Moscow who insist that a closer U.S.-Russia cooperation is impossible until the United States adopts a more "pro-Russian" position.
The very structure of Medvedev's visit – Silicon Valley before DC — shows Russia's intention to push economic cooperation to the forefront of U.S.-Russia relations, and recent Medvedev public statements send a clear message that American business is welcome in Russia. Banging this message with human rights "violations" and foreign policy "misbehavior" (using in both cases highly questionable argumentation) will undoubtedly please the Cold War warriors of all generations. It may even help the GMF raise money. It's the U.S. companies that stand to be long-term losers. Potentially lucrative Russian contracts will go to their "non-Western" (according to Kramer) competitors in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.