As Putin rises again, will the US-Russia 'reset' of ties hold?
Vladimir Putin's return to center stage has sharpened criticism by American critics of the US-Russia 'reset' that improved relations. US critics see an effort to revive a Soviet-style rivalry.
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The current cold war-style spat between Moscow and Washington over the suspicious death of Sergei Magnitsky, an anticorruption lawyer who died after being denied medical treatment in a Russian remand prison two years ago, clearly illustrates the reasons Moscow prefers Obama to any Republican who might come into the White House.Skip to next paragraph
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A bill currently before the US Senate, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, and heavily supported by Republicans, would impose tough visa restrictions and financial penalties on a list of Russian officials deemed to be implicated in his fate.
But the US State Department has moved to preempt the bill by issuing its own "secret" list of proscribed officials, without imposing any financial sanctions, and connecting it with global human rights policies rather than a measure specifically targeted at Russia. Last weekend Moscow announced its own list of US citizens allegedly implicated in human rights abuses, who would be denied entry to Russia.
"On the surface it looks like a bad dispute, but actually we see the actions of the Obama administration as proof that it is committed to the reset," says Dmitry Suslov, an expert with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, an influential Moscow think tank. "The Senate bill is purely anti-Russian, and for the time being at least, Obama has managed to blunt this. It's greatly appreciated in Moscow.... We know that if any of the current Republican presidential nominees makes it to the White House, things will go very badly for the US-Russian relationship."
Apprehensions that Putin is an anti-Western hardliner who will reverse the more liberal foreign policies of Mr. Medvedev are greatly exaggerated, he adds.
"Putin was involved with the reset from the very beginning. In fact, it would be weird to think that any major policy could have been developed in Moscow over the past four years without his leadership," Mr. Suslov says.
"And Putin is not, by nature, an anti-Western ideologue. He understands the benefits of maintaining good relations with the US. Whatever happens in Washington, what you will see on the Russian side in the coming years under Putin is mostly continuity," he adds.
The reset has delivered
Russian analysts argue that the reset has so far delivered quite a few benefits, and if the next US president abandons it the world will become a more dangerous place. Besides the START deal, which slashed nuclear arsenals on both sides and installed a system for mutual verification, they point to greatly improved Russian cooperation in pressuring Iran to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.
A Russian-approved "northern corridor" through former Soviet territory is now used to deliver almost half of all supplies reaching embattled NATO forces in Afghanistan, and stepped up anti-drug collaboration between Moscow and the US may finally be making a dent in the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan to the West via pipelines through former Soviet territory, experts say.
"The reset was a very good idea, but it's reaching its limits," says Gennady Yevstafyev, an independent foreign policy expert. "And, unfortunately, no one in Russia is optimistic about the prospect of Republicans coming to power in Washington next year."