Don't be naive about Russia's real aims
At this week's G-20 summit in London, President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time. The two men share the burden of improving much-frayed relations between their two nations.Skip to next paragraph
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They agreed to launch negotiations for a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and reexamine Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. The two countries will explore cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran, but agreed to disagree on ballistic missile defense. And Mr. Obama announced he will visit Russia in July. All positive-looking signs.
Many Europeans, especially the Germans, are swooning over Obama–Medvedev pictures that marked the event. The notion of pushing the "reset" button to begin a new era of harmonious relations between the two states is particularly lauded. To many, though, it's déjà vu.
In the 1970s, strategic arms talks between Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union and a US reeling from the debacle in Vietnam were a part of the era of détente and "peaceful coexistence." It ended ingloriously, when Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan in 1979. And all of Jimmy Carter's pining for peace or shuttle diplomacy couldn't put the broken dream back together again.
Thirty years later, the Nixon Center and the Belfer Center of Harvard University issued a report that tried to set an upbeat tone for US-Russia rapprochement. This may have been guided by the authors' formative experiences of another era. It's important to remember that this is not your father's Russia – neither the geriatric Brezhnev regime of the 1970s, nor the USSR in terminal decline under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.
Today's Russian leadership is younger and tougher. It is increasingly anti-American, and continues to aggressively challenge its neighbors' sovereignty. It questions former vassals' sovereignty by opposing ballistic missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, or preventing Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO. Moscow also wants to neuter or dismantle the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the post-Bretton Woods economic system.