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Moving Beyond the Reset: Russia & the U.S.

Moving Beyond the Reset: Russia & the U.S.

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Published by The Wilson Center
The reset policy was originally conceived by President Barack Obama’s administration as a means of reinvigorating the U.S.-Russian relationship and placing it on more solid and pragmatic ground. President Vladimir Putin’s first few months in office, however, witnessed the “resetting of the reset” in which Putin unilaterally canceled several major U.S. assistance programs and generally showed little interest in improving U.S.-Russian relations. As a result, the Obama administration will have to reassess its strategy with Russia and find alternative ways of engaging with the Russian people. Such a strategy will include lowering the profile of the reset policy while pursuing more traditional exchanges that bypass high-level politics and promote direct links between the two countries.
The reset policy was originally conceived by President Barack Obama’s administration as a means of reinvigorating the U.S.-Russian relationship and placing it on more solid and pragmatic ground. President Vladimir Putin’s first few months in office, however, witnessed the “resetting of the reset” in which Putin unilaterally canceled several major U.S. assistance programs and generally showed little interest in improving U.S.-Russian relations. As a result, the Obama administration will have to reassess its strategy with Russia and find alternative ways of engaging with the Russian people. Such a strategy will include lowering the profile of the reset policy while pursuing more traditional exchanges that bypass high-level politics and promote direct links between the two countries.

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Published by: The Wilson Center on Aug 15, 2013
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08/28/2013

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Moving Beyond the Reset
In 2008, an air o optimism surrounded U.S.-Russian relations as both nations turned to a newgeneration o leaders who had come o age in thepost–Cold War era. The United States amouslypushed the “reset button,” an action that promisedthe possibility o a new beginning in relationswith Russia, in which shared interests would bepursued and disagreements, while duly noted,would not derail the search or common ground.In 2012, when Vladimir Putin returned to power,he essentially pushed the reset button too, butinstead o moving orward, he sent U.S.-Russianrelations backward, abruptly ending Russia’sassociation with several longstanding programs,such as the U.S. Agency or International Devel-opment (USAID) and the Nunn-Lugar Coop-erative Threat Reduction Program. As a result,the Obama administration must also reassess itsstrategy with Russia and nd low-prole, sustain-able programs that bypass Putin and high-levelpolitics and instead directly engage with the Rus-sian people.Since returning to the presidency in May 2012,Vladimir Putin has done nothing to build on thebroadly recognized gains o the past our years,nor does he necessarily eel compelled to do so.The United States used its reset policy in largepart to enhance the credibility o Russian Presi-dent Dmitry Medvedev and to make him appear to be a more important international player thenhe actually was. Putin requires no such assistance;on the contrary, he is now the longest-servingleader among the world’s major powers—an elder statesman, as it were—with a clear understandingo his oreign policy goals and objectives.
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Summary
The reset policy was originally conceived by President Barack Obama’sadministration as a means o reinvigorating the U.S.-Russian relationship and placingit on more solid and pragmatic ground. President Vladimir Putin’s frst ew monthsin ofce, however, witnessed the “resetting o the reset” in which Putin unilaterallycanceled several major U.S. assistance programs and generally showed littleinterest in improving U.S.-Russian relations. As a result, the Obama administrationwill have to reassess its strategy with Russia and fnd alternative ways o engagingwith the Russian people. Such a strategy will include lowering the profle o thereset policy while pursuing more traditional exchanges that bypass high-level politicsand promote direct links between the two countries.
dcmbr 2012
 
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Tackling Global Issues Through Independent Research, Open Dialogue and Actionable Ideas
The order in which Putin met with Russia’s major oreign cohorts during his rst weeks in oce— theCommonwealth o Independent States, the Euro-pean Union, China, and the United States—in manyways refects his global priorities. Most notably,Putin seems to be one o the ew prominent Rus-sian politicians who actually believe that there is stillsome value to be gained in increased cooperationamong the ormer Soviet republics. One particularlyimportant position is his steadast support o theCustoms Union between Russia, Belarus, and Ka-zakhstan, an economic project that, despite criticismrom skeptics, has led to a signicant uptick in tradeamong the three nations. Putin evidently has greatexpectations or the Customs Union, including acommon currency and greater political integrationamong its members.Putin has managed to wrap himsel in the Sovietpast in a way that no other present-day Russianpolitician can, projecting an aura o toughnessand strength that allows Russia to punch aboveits weight in global aairs. Russia has, in act, arelatively weak hand to play internationally, includ-ing a declining population, a shrinking military, aneconomy that is overly dependent on the energysector, crippling levels o corruption, and a vast,unprotected border. Putin has done little to addressthese undamental weaknesses since returning tooce, other than to criticize the government (nowheaded by Prime Minister Medvedev) or ailing toimplement his presidential decrees and policies. Thatbeing said, Russia still possesses some importanttrump cards that allow it to play on the world stage:nuclear weapons, a strong arms export industry, andthe United Nations veto. But most experts perceiveRussia as a regional power at best.So how should the new administration deal with adeclining but still relevant Russia? To begin with,the United States should not play into Putin’s handand end up enhancing either his stature or Russia’soverall position in world aairs. Thus, the trappingso the reset—a presidential bilateral commission or U.S.-Russian relations that persistently trumpetsevery single interaction between the two states— should be toned down, i not eliminated outright. I Putin does not care about such top-level exchangesbetween the two countries, then the best approachwould be to push the discussions down a ewbureaucratic notches, so as not to make those talkshostage to high-level politics.A change o style, however, does not mean that theUnited States should abandon important elementso the reset—in particular, the numerous exchangesbetween U.S. and Russian citizens. Such links nowexist on multiple levels, such as proessional, cultural,scientic, and scholarly, as well as occur spontane-ously through the Internet. Those connectionsshould be cultivated as a means to bypass Putin andthe anticipated political roadblocks. Tourism alsorepresents an excellent avenue or altering Russianperceptions o the United States. One o the unda-mental changes in post-Soviet Russia is the right totravel abroad, thus breaking decades o isolation andgiving Russians the chance to experience rsthandthe United States and other countries.Although a return to low-key exchange programslacks the glamor o the presidential reset, such anuts-and-bolts approach to U.S.-Russian relationsmay lead to a more ruitul and long-term dialogue.The one new wild card in U.S.-Russian relations istrade. U.S.-Russian trade remains miniscule in com-parison with the other major economic relationshipso each respective country. With Russia’s accessionto the World Trade Organization, resh opportuni-
 
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Moving beyond the reset
ties now exist to expand trade, thereby orging newlinks that could, in the long run, promote a morestable relationship between the two nations. Yet even an improved trade picture will not allowthe next administration to ignore Russia’s humanrights record. I one reviews Putin’s recent legislativeagenda (both passed and proposed laws), the Russianstate has laid the groundwork to go ater nongov-ernmental organization activists, protest organiz-ers, slanderers, blasphemers, and traitors. Such anoensive against Russian civil society inevitably willprovoke a public response rom the U.S. governmentthat, in turn, Putin will treat as another example o U.S. intererence in Russian domestic aairs. In real-ity, the new administration will have to nd that ad-mittedly elusive balance between trade and humanrights without letting economic interests overwhelmthe relationship.At this stage, neither current levels o trade nor selective human rights interventions (such as theMagnitsky List) give the United States signicantleverage over Russia. Indeed, i anyone has some im-mediate clout on these two issues, it is the Europe-ans. Every controversial piece o legislation passedby Putin invariably will be contested beore theEuropean Court o Human Rights. The most likelyresult will be nes in individual cases and demandsthat Russia bring its laws into compliance with theEuropean Convention on Human Rights. The Eu-ropean Commission has also set its sights on Russia,most notably through its investigation o Gazpromor the Russian gas company’s violation o EuropeanUnion antimonopoly regulations. Russia has alreadytried to slow down this inquiry, but as Google andMicrosot can attest, the European Commissionrarely loses such cases.Obviously, the United States is not about to out-source its Russian policy to oreign institutions, nor should it. However, to exercise real leverage over Russia, the United States must understand that it isnot acting alone but instead is working in collabora-tion with European allies to hold Russia to interna-tional trade and human rights standards.The Obama administration will have several optionsor responding to Putin’s reset o the reset. PresidentPutin cannot necessarily be ignored, especially inthose international hot spots where Russia’s partici-pation is required. At the same time, the Obama ad-ministration will have some leeway in determiningthe extent to which it wants to engage with Russia,given that the United States clearly has other, morepressing global priorities. The underlying challenge
The one new wild card in U.S.-Russian relations istrade. U.S.-Russian trade remains miniscule in comparisonwith the other major economic relationships of eachrespective country. With Russia’s accession to the WorldTrade Organization, fresh opportunities now exist toexpand trade...

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