The Russia Reset has failed. Add the New York Times to the list of papers writing eulogies for one of President Obama’s major first term foreign policy efforts. Though the outreach initiative did lead to some notable achievements—the signing of a nuclear arms control pact and the admission of Russia into the WTO, to name two—the Times is hearing from administration officials that the second term relationship between the two countries will be much frostier:
The distancing began with the recent withdrawal by the United States from the “civil society working group,” one of 20 panels created in 2009 to carry out the reset between Moscow and Washington under an umbrella organization known as the Obama-Medvedev Commission.If that step was barely perceptible outside diplomatic circles, the strategy will soon become far more obvious. American officials say President Obama will decline an invitation — publicly trumpeted by Mr. Lavrov and the Russian news media — to visit Moscow on his own this spring. Instead, he will wait until September, when the G-20 conference of the world’s largest economies is scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia.And while Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to select his first overseas destination, officials said Russia had been ruled out.The main goal seems to be to send a message that the United States views much of its relationship with Russia as optional, and while pressing matters will continue to be handled on a transactional basis, Washington plans to continue criticizing Russia on human rights and other concerns. As for the anti-Americanism, the new approach might be described as shrug and snub.
For now, all this talk of snubbing is mainly diplomatic theater seemingly fueled by the disappointment of the human rights people within the Obama administration. And it may not amount to much in the long haul.But as we’ve pointed out before, though far from the catastrophe this might’ve been during the Cold War, it’s a pity that things are working out this way. We are trading the modest benefits of a marginally better relationship with Russia for the moral satisfaction of hectoring an authoritarian regime on its human rights abuses—without being able to do much about them. It doesn’t seem like a terribly good deal to us, especially as the Obama administration settles in to advancing its difficult agenda on Iran and Syria in its second term.