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Right Turn
Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 05/30/2011

Russia ‘reset’= Giving the thugocracy whatever it wants

The Post reports: “President Obama’s pick for the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow is a trusted adviser who helped engineer the ‘reset’ in U.S.-Russia relations three years ago, while also frequently chiding Kremlin leaders for backsliding on democratic reforms. An administration official confirmed on Sunday that Michael A. McFaul will be nominated for the key diplomatic post, replacing John Beyrle, who has held the job since July 2008.”

During the administration of George W. Bush, McFaul was contemptuous of our Russian policy. He reeled off the problems with Russia (authoritarianism, economic failure) and blamed the Bush team.

In 2007 he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “For many years, President Bush and some members of his foreign policy team downplayed the significance of these anti-democratic trends in Russia. Three major assumptions shaped the Bush’s Russian policy: (1) Putin’s antidemocratic moves were a logical and temporary response to the anarchy of the 1990s, but the long-term trend in governance was still positive; (2) even if Putin did not share our values, he was a rational pragmatist with whom we could do business; and (3) Bush’s close personal relationship with Putin could be leveraged when needed to persuade the Russian president to do the right thing. To varying degrees, all of these assumptions have now proven to be erroneous.”

Now McFaul is the Obama administration’s point man on Russia. So how’s he doing? In the last week or so we saw the sentencing of Russian businessman Mikail Khororkovsky. Democracy seems to be in dire straits in Russia.

Russia also managed to make the biggest arms purchase since World War II. The Financial Times reported:

Russia has finalized a controversial agreement to buy four Mistral-class warships from France in its first big arms purchase since the end of the Cold War.

“We have reached a final agreement, and the contract will be signed within 15 days,” Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said after talks with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian leader, at the G-8 summit in on Thursday.

You can understand that some might find this problematic:

Some former Soviet states, including Georgia and the Baltic republics, have complained about the deal, fearing that Russia might use the powerful French warships to put pressure on littoral states.

Adding to tensions, a Russian naval commander said that if the Mistral had been available in 2008, Georgia would have been defeated “within 40 minutes.”

Some U.S. Republican senators have raised questions about the deal, saying it signaled French approval for Russian action in the Georgian conflict.

But Obama imagines he’s got Dmitry Medvedev all figured out. These two are tight, you see. And they’ve teamed up to put the screws on Georgia (20 percent of which is occupied). Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reported:

Senior Obama administration officials have been saying for months that the United States would not get involved in the Russian-Georgian dispute over Russia’s desire to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Today, it was revealed that the administration, including President Barack Obama, has been deeply involved in the dispute for a long time.

Russian accession to the WTO is a major goal of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy with Russia. However, the country of Georgia, a WTO member that has long-standing grievances with its larger northern neighbor, stands in the way because new members must be admitted by consensus. Russian troops have occupied the Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, and Georgia wants concessions on customs and border administration before it agrees to allow Russian to join the WTO.

Are we getting anything from Russia in exchange for the help in manhandling Georgia? If so, it’s a better-kept secret than the Obama team’s WTO meddling.

But there is more. Just as the Senate is stepping up to the plate to impose sanctions on Russian human rights abusers, Obama and his BFF Medvedev have worked out a deal.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama announced plans on Thursday to liberalize visa restrictions for businessmen and tourists traveling between the two countries.

The plan intended to simplify travel between the two countries was announced in a joint statement at the G-8 summit in Deauville [France].

“We have instructed our officials to concentrate on visa liberalization on a reciprocal basis for the largest segments of our traveling nationals,” the statement said.

Let’s recap. Russian democracy is moribund. Putin and Medvedev are scooping up the goodies while Obama gets only photo-ops in return. Russia is arming to the teeth. And as Congress is using its leverage to put pressure on the regime, Obama is throwing open the doors to Russians. And McFaul? Well, ABC News reports, he cheerfully told the media that he is “playing sherpa” for Russia to gain entry to WTO. Apparently the post of valet was taken.

And the Bush administration’s Russian policy was too weak?

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 05/30/2011

Categories:  foreign policy, President Obama, Human Rights

 
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