Obama must reset relations with Russia along economic lines
When Vladimir Putin arrives in Camp David for the G8 summit in May, President Obama must be ready to lay out the framework for a new reset. With Russian membership in the WTO, the US and Europe could create incentives for greater rule of law in the economy and elsewhere in Russia.
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If the US is to have any credibility in this effort, it must finally repeal the Jackson Vanik amendment of 1974. This relic of the cold war no longer serves any real purpose, as the Soviet Jews it sought to protect have long since emigrated. But by keeping US barriers to Russian trade abnormally high, Jackson Vanik ensures that the US – and US-based companies – will be at a serious disadvantage as Russia expands its global trade.Skip to next paragraph
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Repealing Jackson Vanik should not be seen as a favor to the new Russian government. Opening markets to Russia is essential to convince the Russian public and business leaders that their future is with the West. In return, US business will have better access to a growing economy and consumer market.
Second, if the new Russian reset is focused on economics, then Europe must be a strong partner with the United States. The EU and its member states bring tremendous leverage. The EU is Russia’s most important trading partner, accounting for 47 percent of all Russian trade, while trade with the US is only 4 percent of the Russian total. European companies are also among the biggest investors in Russia.
Yet Europe has struggled to find a unified approach to its large Eastern neighbor, in part because some European countries depend on Russian energy supplies, and in other cases because of traditionally close relationships.
If the Russian government continues to divide the West, there will be no pressure for change. Instead, the US and European governments must stand together, pushing Russia to implement reforms needed for a stronger economic relationship.
Third, the US and Europe must also stand together if the Russian government abuses its people or its neighbors. They should remind all that the 2008 occupation of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be neither permanent nor a precedent.
They should speak out together when Russian citizens are subject to faulty trials or illegal confiscation of property, not to mention mistreatment and worse at the hands of the authorities. The US and Europe should also make clear their support for Russia’s remaining free media, which is the best safeguard against government abuse or corruption.
When necessary, US and European governments may have to go beyond criticism. But these responses should be carefully aimed at punishing responsible individuals through visa restrictions and other means, as in the proposed “Magnitsky law,” rather than the broad sweep of Jackson Vanik.
In either case, President Putin is likely to lash out in response, threatening to spoil the “reset.” But one lesson of the first reset is that, despite the rhetoric, Russia will move forward when in its interest.
Criticism of Russian human rights policy is unlikely to stop Russia from seeking to expand its exports. Instead, Russia’s need to modernize its economy, including through expanded exports, could make it possible for the US and Europe, working together, to create incentives for greater rule of law in the economy and elsewhere in Russia.