Will The Reset Last?

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

The reset in U.S.-Russia relations is going through a difficult time. A signature foreign policy achievement for both U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it has succeeded to a large extent because of the personal rapport between the two leaders. However, from the very beginning, the reset has been hampered by a deep mutual mistrust – rooted in the days of the Cold War — among political elites in both countries. Equally troubling, the anemic state of U.S.-Russia economic cooperation deprives the reset of a much-needed anchor in respective business communities. Consequently, the reset remains dangerously vulnerable to every negative turn in the bilateral relationship, be it a fundamental policy disagreement or a short-term setback.

The issue with the most potential for derailing the reset is the future of European missile defense. Since the Lisbon summit last fall, where Russia and NATO agreed to look for a common ground, Moscow has been actively promoting President Medvedev’s idea of a joint Russia-NATO anti-missile system with full interoperability of the Russian and NATO components. To much of the Kremlin’s disappointment, this idea was rejected – at the Jun. 9 Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels – in favor of an arrangement calling for two independent systems connected only by a flow of information exchange. To add insult to injury, the U.S. and its NATO allies have turned down Moscow’s request to provide legally binding guarantees that the European missile defense system will not be directed against Russia.

To its credit, Moscow wisely refrained from harsh rhetoric following these developments. In a show of goodwill, a Russian delegation, headed by the deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov and Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, visited Washington in July to discuss the feasibility of creating joint-operating centers for missile threat assessment and information exchange. The Russians met with high-ranking officials at the White House (including National Security Advisor Tom Donilon), the State Department and the Pentagon and were invited to tour the U.S. missile defense center in Colorado Spring.

Moscow’s sober and responsible approach to the ongoing talks was mismatched by unnecessary comments made by Rogozin after his meeting with two Republican senators, Jon Kyl (Arizona) and Mark Kirk (Illinois). Having called Kyl and Kirk “monsters of the Cold War” – questionable language for a diplomat under any circumstances – Rogozin warned that U.S.-Russia relations would collapse if “radical” Republicans came to power in the United States. In Rogozin’s opinion, Moscow must take a cautious approach to its cooperation with Washington on security issues so that a “sudden change” in U.S. politics would not harm Russia’s national interest.

It was not immediately clear from Rogozin’s comments which Republican politicains he considers “radical” and what exactly “coming to power” means for the American system of split government. (Incidentally, Sen. Kyl is not seeking re-election in 2012 and therefore won’t be around in a year and a half.)  However, it's easy to imagine an uproar in Moscow if a U.S. officials stated that the future of U.S.-Russia relations depends on the outcome of parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia.

Ironically, Rogozin’s escapade brought to memory a discussion that took place in Russian analytical circles in 2008. Many pundits suggested that the election of then-Republican candidate John McCain as U.S. president would be better for Russia because Republicans, as compared to Democrat, would pay less attention to the issue of human rights in Russia. What a difference three years make! Now, Rogozin and his soul mates in Russia seem to believe that a Republican president will be a death knell to the whole body of U.S.-Russia relations.

Anti-Russian forces in the U.S. perfectly understand that for as long as presidents Obama and Medvedev remain in their offices, strategic disagreements over European missile defense have little chance of killing the reset; something more “acute” is needed. Enter the long-forgotten story of a Sept. 22, 2010 bomb explosion near U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia that suddenly made headlines in the U.S. media at the end of July. What triggered such attention was a classified report from last year that put the blame for the explosion on Russian military intelligence.  Sen. Kyl went as far as to characterize the incident as an “attempted bombing of the U.S. Embassy” and called for a halt to all joint missile defense talks.

What Sen. Kyl described in such grave terms was in fact an explosion of a tiny device that happened in a vacant lot about 200 feet outside the embassy’s wall. No one was injured and no damage to the American property occurred as a result of this brilliant “intelligence operation.” Moreover, analysts with the National Intelligence Council, the analytical arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, quietly admitted that there was “no consensus” within the intelligence community on responsibility for the explosion. In plain English, that means no evidence implicating Russian secret services ever existed.

By its reliance on classified reports leaked by unidentified intelligence officials, the Tbilisi bombing case looks like a sequel to the last summer's “Russian spy ring” thriller. What is lacking this time around is a media buzz caused by the intriguing personalities of the suspected Russian spies.  With no real victims of the Tbilisi blast in place – and with no evidence that the femme fatale Anna Chapman was involved — the “attempted bombing of the U.S. Embassy” won’t fly with the American public.

In the meantime, the continuing back-and-forth over the so-called Magnitsky list has a potential to damage the reset in a way that the Tbilisi bombing can’t. Last week, in a shrewd attempt at persuading Congress to abandon the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (a.k.a. the Cardin-McGovern bill), the Department of State announced that it had put a number of Russian officials allegedly involved in the Magnitsky death on a U.S. visa blacklist. As reported by the Washington Post, this list include fewer names than appear on the Cardin-McGovern bill and, more importantly, doesn’t call for any financial sactions against listed individuals. Moreover, citing the confidential character of the visa application process, DOS officials didn’t disclose the specific names of individuals placed on the list.

Moscow’s reaction to this development was as harsh as Russophobes in Washington must have hoped it would be. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern statement promising “adequate measures” in response, while President Medvedev ordered to compose an “anti-Magnitsky” list of sorts, a reciprocal list of U.S. officials whose travel in Russia will be banned. Yet, fortunately, Medvedev didn’t listen to some "advisors" who wanted to “punish” Washington by curtailing Russian cooperation with the U.S. on Afghanistan and Iran.

The Kremlin has obviously overreacted. Denying U.S. visas to Russian citizens is nothing new: the current U.S. visa blacklist includes, among others, a top Russian business tycoon and a prominent member of the Duma. There is no need for Russia to fuel the controversy by composing any special lists. Rather, should a Russian official be denied U.S. visa in the future, Moscow can always respond in kind by denying entry to Russia to the next “available” member of U.S. political establishment.

Will the reset last? It will for as long as the leaders of both countries remain realistic with regards to what the other side can or can’t deliver given the domestic constraints. It will last if the supporters of the reset protect it from hardliners by constantly reminding the public of the tangible fruits of the reset, however modest. The reset will last if, in the heat of election battles, politicians in both countries will resist using the reset to score cheap points over their opponents.

There is one more thing Russia can do to help the reset succeed: to begin actively lobbying its interests in the U.S.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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18 Responses to Will The Reset Last?

  1. Luis Alcalá says:

    I believe that with the dominion of the world mass media for USA and awful Russian exterior propaganda. Russia will keep on being a marionette in the hands of the interests of the United States.
    Be the bomb in Tblisi, or the case Magnistky any matter can be praised according to the interests of the United States to harm Russia or to turn away the attention of the public opinion of the United States of other topics in any moment.
    Curiously much more serious topics as the execution of a Mexican citizen in USA without consular attention, fact that has been an enclosed reprobate for the United Nations happen unnoticed.
    I believe that Russia must not wait much of the “reset” and continue your own interests, although certainly it must improve, and very much, his international relations and the exterior propaganda, an example between thousands: A moratorium has declared Russia not to kill the annual quota of polar bears that corresponds to her, the United States not, and it will keep on killing them. In a world as “ecological” as current this fact although child might be praised in the style of the United States, but this time against him. That I Know has not been done at all and neither of the journalists’ RT arrest for the American police has been the most minimal aftereffect.
    As the congress of the United States dares to speak about the liberation of Osetia of the South and Abjasia , the Duma of Russia might ask for the liberation of Puerto Rico and of the Base of Guantanamo returning it to Cuba, although only out a symbolic fact, but nothing is done either.
    Also Russia should intensify for all the means the relations with Mexico which economy is developing hard.
    In short Russia must act as more active and intelligently and not wait for big thing of those who only wish his ruin.
    A sad symbol of the international weakness of Russia is that only four countries have recognized the Abjasia independence and Osetia of the South, not even Belorussia and Kazastan. It is difficult to be more alone.

  2. Eugene says:

    Dear Luis,
    I certainly agree with you that Russia must dramatically improve the way it projects its image on the West — as this blog has advocated for years already.
    Yet, I can’t support your notion that Russia would be better abandoning the reset and pursuing its own interests. I do think that the reset IS in the best Russian interests.
    Best Regards,

  3. Виктор Кривчун says:

    Здравствуйте, Евгений! Вы сказали: “Есть еще одна вещь, которую может сделать Россия для обеспечения успеха перезагрузки: ей надо начать активно лоббировать свои интересы в США.” Однако, через кого может лоббировть свои интересы Россия в США? На мой взгляд, если к власти в США придут неоконы, то “перезагрузке” наступит конец. Поскольку неоконсерваторы в своей политике по отношению к Россию придерживаются стратегии, намеченной Збигневым Бзежинским
    в его кгиге “Великая шахатная доска”. А эта стратегия ничего хорошего России не сулит, так как она ставит целью раздел России на ряд мелких регионов и овладение её ресурсами.

  4. Luis Alcalá says:

    Dear Eugeni:
    I do not propose that Russia to leave the “reset” completely, but she must not wait much of the same one. I believe that in the interests of the countries, as with the persons, there are interests in short, average and long term and they usually do not coincide.
    All the relations and exchanges of ideas are good, but you know the persons when you treat with their money.
    The scarce commercial exchange between USA and Russia – Obama said that it was equivalent to the one that they have with Thailand – it does that treating badly or well to Russia by the United States does not have economic importance for him.
    In the long term the interests of the United States collide with the development of Russia and China and it is independent from the politicians who occupy the presidencies of both countries. Of course it is a sights shortness on the part of USA since that more one country develops commercial exchange is a benefit for all. From the exports of China to USA most of the benefit they remain in American companies of distribution and that have the commercial mark ( more that 90 % sometimes , interesting article in The Atlantic ).
    But the economic development is joined to the military development, and to the struggle for the prime matters and there it is where they collide with USA.
    Therefore it is a difficult balance for Russia, to try to pacify the hawks of USA, while it teaches the teeth occasionally so that they do not think how to wave to small countries in the border against her, like dogs in the hunting for the bear.

  5. Interesting to compare and contrast
    WaPo on 26 Jul “U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a classified report late last year that Russia’s military intelligence was responsible for a bomb blast that occurred at an exterior wall of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, in September.”
    NYT a couple of days later:
    “American intelligence officials have concluded in a classified report that a Russian intelligence officer may have been behind a string of bombings… The official cautioned that it was “not a rock-solid assessment” and reached no definite conclusion about whether the bombings were ordered by officials in Moscow.”
    Hard to believe they’re talking about the same things.
    Those of us who remember how deluded the US Embassy was during the war (we have people on the ground – at the Interior Min HQ!), the shooting incident near South Ossetia, the “military coup”, Saakashvili’s various versions of how the war started, the photographer plot etc etc can afford to be more sceptical than the WaPo.

  6. Eugene says:

    Здравствуйте, Виктор!
    Здесь есть несколько моментов. Первое, начать лоббировать свои интересы в США Россия может немедленно. Для этого нужно только нанять профессиональную лоббисткую контору, специализирующуюся на такого рода активности — таких в Вашингтоне много, я могу Вам назвать их имена — и их ребята сразу же станут “обрабатывать” американских законодателей. Так делают порядка 100 государств. Так делает, например, Грузия, которая тратит на лоббирование в США порядка миллиона долларов в год (я полагаю, из тех денег, что мы им даем “в помощь”). Я подозреваю, что и Россия миллион-другой найдет, если захочет.
    Второе, почему Вы считаете, что в США нет людей, готовых отстаивать российские интересы? Я лично знаю несколько человек, американцев, со связями в Конгрессе, которые с радостью стали бы этим заниматься (по разным причинам, не обязательно из “любви” к России). Но Москва тоже должна делать свою часть работы, а то получается, что эти люди “святее Папы Римского.”
    Третье, термин “неоконы” довольно заношенный, тут надо четко оговаривать, кого конкретно Вы имеете в виду. В строгом смысле слова, неоконов в Америке не так уж и много, и по уходу Буша-младшего их влияние в Вашингтоне сильно упало. Так что мне не очень понятно, как они могут прийти “к власти.” Президента-неокона мы можем исключить на 200%, такого просто не изберут. Так что на мой взгляд, “перезагрузке” грозят не неоконы, а невнимание политического руководства страны: понятно, что у Обамы — да, и у следующего президета — будет много других забот, помимо отношений с Россией. “Перезагрузка” скорее помрет “естественной” смертью, нежели от рук неоконов.
    И последнее. Я знаю, что теория Бзежинского о развале России у вас популярна. Однако, мало кто замечает, что в последние годы Бзежинский изменил свои взгляды и теперь выступает за сотрудничество с Россией. Отчасти это из-за его про-польских взглядов: у Польши с Россией отношения потеплели, и Збигнев к ней подобрел. А относительно идеи расчленить Россию на мелкие кусочки, то эта идея сильно подустарела. Не думаю, что есть серьезные американские политики, выступащие сейчас за расчленение РФ. А причину перемены во взглядах, я Вам обьясню одним слоом: Китай. Думаю, Вы понимаете, что я имею в виду.
    Через пару дней я вывешу пост о медведевском “грузинском” интервью. Заходите посмотреть.
    С уважением,

  7. Eugene says:

    Thanks Patrick,
    I also wonder if you, former diplomat, is aware of any formal/legal definition of “at” when speaking of “an exterior wall of the U.S. Embassy.” The explosion took place 200 feet away of the wall and happened – as I read in one place but couldn’t confirm – within abandoned cemetery in Tbilisi. This cemetery happened to have a wall around it, one side of which happened to face the Embassy lot. Pretty stretching interpretation of “at”, isn’t it?

  8. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    Thanks – it was an interesting reading. So, after “the U.S. and its NATO allies have turned down Moscow’s request to provide legally binding guarantees that the European missile defense system will not be directed against Russia.”, I wonder where a “joint system” would be targeted?
    And Rogozin ..He is very good. At least he cares about the image of the country he represents. I do not believe Americans can understand – and listen to – any other tone.

  9. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Alex,
    Well, it’s been a while…
    Tactically speaking, U.S. Senate won’t sign any bill that could be perceived as a “concession” to Russia — and this one will be considered such BIG TIME. What, Russia doesn’t know that? Then why ask?
    Strategically speaking, who needs pieces of paper, however “legally binding”? The only way for Russia to make sure that the system isn’t targeted against it, is to participate.
    As for Rogozin. Rumors are that his days at NATO are numbered, and he’s returning into big politics in Russia. I suspect that his statement on Kyl and Kirk was an attempt at confirmation of his tough guy bons fides. So it’s more admiration of Russian hawks than Russia’s image abroad is what Rogozin cares about.
    Don’t disappear.

  10. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    Yes, awhile – I’m having a short break – and so read worthwhile blogs in my free time 🙂
    IMHO “presentation” for Americans (not only for their politicians : ) is more important than the substance. So yes, Rogozin could have played a nice guy for them, and perhaps, even get a (small)bone from барсrого стола for Russia, but this would not have gained Russia any respect. Besides the leftovers from US tables are not distributed on the basis of someone being a nice guy – rather how profitable (for someone there) the act of giving is. The “profit” includes minimizing potential future losses – that – IMHO – is the only chance for Russia to find an “understanding” with US. That is – to be demonstrably able to inflict significant material/financial losses. To be a **potential** pain in the …- whatever business part of their political body they care the most. Well, and with such friends as Americans are – being prepared to continuously **demonstrate** Russia’s ability to defend itself.
    What you say about Rogozin **could** be correct, but he has always been like that, not just recently.

  11. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Alex,
    Rogozin may say whatever he wants — as a private person. But he’s a diplomat (well, supposed to be) and his job is to articulate an official Russian position. I was unaware that Russia in now officially engaged in insulting members of U.S. Senate, regardless of whether the insult is warranted or not.
    Sure, I agree with your on “profitability” and “losses.” With this in mind, who is going to lose more from the “Magnitsky” vs. “anti-Magnitsky” lists war? The Americans who rarely travel to Russia or Russians who have a habit of sending their kids to study in the US?
    The major problem with Russia is not that the U.S. is bad, but, rather, that Russia is weak. Russia should follow China’s lead: focus on getting better, faster, stronger — and not waste time and political capital on meaningless “retaliations.”

  12. Mark says:

    Good Afternoon, Zhenya;
    We’re certainly singing from the same song sheet where poor Russian image management is concerned, and I know we both advocate a much more serious PR effort. Your previous half-joking suggestion that Alina Kabaeva be pressed into service in that capacity seems to have been de facto answered by the storm of ridicule for Putin’s “Girl Army” and similar efforts on Medvedev’s behalf – on the upside, leaders of Russia have seldom enjoyed such a high profile, although the attention is almost uniformly negative.
    Although direct trade with Russia is negligible, it might be possible to express in terms Americans will understand what it might mean to have an oil producer of Russia’s magnitude taken out of the market. Of course that wouldn’t happen, but somehow the reality that oil is an internationally-traded commodity could be got around. It’s difficult for Americans to see that Russian oil is part of their daily trade with Russia, even though the USA doesn’t buy any oil from Russia, because Russia’s share of the market keeps prices down or at least stable. You need only look at what the Libyan intervention did to gas prices at the pump, and Libya’s share of world production is only around 2% if I recall correctly.
    So, if a simpleton like me understands economic reality correctly, we have a dichotomy – if the world’s largest oil producer ceased production, even for a week (which it could easily afford), the price of both oil and gasoline at the pump (to which the consumer pays closer attention) would leap dramatically upward, even for consumer nations who buy no oil at all from Russia. At the same time, Russia would never do it, because it relies heavily on income from the oil industry and needs to be perceived as a reliable supplier.
    For me, if I were running it, a new-and-improved and slicker PR effort would focus on getting westerners to understand their deep implicit obligations to trade with Russia in terms of what it might be like for them to walk to work because they couldn’t afford to drive.

  13. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mark,
    You’re making excellent point: a good PR campaign must first focus on benefits of having good relations with Russia — and, by implication, the perials of bad relations.
    (That said, you and I are mostly engaged on the other side of the coin: in fighting Russia’s critics:)
    Yet, your choice of the topic, oil, might be somewhat risky, given the constant noise in the US about Russia using its oil as gas as “weapons” 🙂
    p.s. True, Libya’s total share of oil production is only 2%. But it produces 10% of the so-called “sweet crude,” the most valued brand of oil.

  14. Hello,
    Rogozin speaks his mind on another diplomat:
    As diplomats, Sikorski, the late Holbrooke and some other non-Russian diplomats have at times carried on in a way that some would see as undiplomatic – a sign of the times.
    On the “reset”:
    Excerpt –
    “Getting there will take some time: the United States is still the most important country on the planet and Moscow obsesses over it (perhaps too much: Mikheil Saakashvili is not Washington’s creation and neither was Viktor Yushchenko).”
    The two Soviet born individuals in question have nevertheless been encouraged/nurtured by some influential foreign policy elements in the US to carry on as they have in the role of president of their respective nation. Post-Soviet Russia understandably sees such manner as an affront to their legitimate interests.
    Reminded of a panel when Michael McFaul spoke of how Russians savor in tweaking the US. By itself, that comment is (put mildly) misleading. At the time, he said nothing of such reverse manner regarding some leading Western politicos involved with the commentary on Russia. In certain situations, it’s apparently inconvenient for some to do things like present a timeline of instances showing where Russia exhibits signs of reaching out to the West, followed by acts of negativity towards Russia.
    In short, numerous roadblocks continue to exist for pro-Russian/pro-Western advocacy. Some changes in the lineup can serve to improve the standing of this sentiment.

  15. Eugene says:

    I agree with Patrick Armstrong: Russia’s foreign policy is too “US-centric.” In part, as I argued many times already, this stems from personal preferences of Sergey Lavrov. I think Russia needs to replace its foreign policy team with some new blood.
    As for Holbrooke: true, he was tough, but he was also productive. Can you say the latter about Rogozin?

  16. Eugene,
    No disrespect intended, I feel that the follow-up was appropriate vis-a-vis the remark made about Saakashvili and Yushchenko not being US creations.
    Yes, Russia shouldn’t be too focussed on the US. Lavrov included, I think Russia generally understands this point.
    New blood can benefit across the board (in Russia, the US and elsewhere).
    Holbrooke had the benefit of being put in a more prominent foreign policy position than what Rogozin has so far experinced. I respectfully question just how positively productive the former was. That said, I also see reason behind some of the second-guessing of Rogozin. For now, I wouldn’t altogether rule out Rogozin having the potential to serve a more productive role in the future.

  17. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    Our mutual respect for each other’s position needs no additional confirmation.
    I agree with you that comparing diplomats is a futile excercise. That said, what was the purpose of Rogozin’s Kyl-Kirk escapade — even if we leave aside his precise words? To warn the Russian government that the “radical Republicans” may “come to power” in the US? This is nonsense. Again, Rogozin is official representative of Russia, and his words matter. If this is a position of the Kremlin, then it must clarify it. If Rogozin was freelancing, he must be punished. Honestly, I see no “third” way.

  18. Hi again Eugene,
    I agree with your view of that particular from Rogozin.
    Over the course of time, I don’t in overall terms see “radical” Republicans as being considerably more harsher towards Russia than neocon to neolib leaning types within Repub and Dem ranks.
    I don’t share Bachman’s economic views. However, on foreign policy, I often mind myself in agreement with a good number of the libertarians who support her.
    In any event, I don’t see her becoming prez. I think there’s a very good chance that Obama will win in what can be termed as default conditions – bickering among themselves Repubs and Dems pretty much content with Obama.
    Among key Russians dealing with foreign policy, Rogozin isn’t alone in periodically making (put mildly) questionable remarks. Offhand, I’d have to research the lead up to Rogozin’s latest. I’m of the impression that some other higher ups recently might’ve said some questionable comments which arguably served as encouragement for further manner.
    Not to be overlooked are some of the comments said on the American side – McFaul and the late Holbrooke included.
    On the other hand, I also see reason behind not always being so high strung on prior remarks. That view can be influenced by how often someone says questionably confrontational things – that don’t appear to be particularly beneficial.

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