U.S.-Russian Ties Still Fall Short of ‘Reset’ Goal

New York Times

Just days before Vladimir V. Putin reassumed the presidency of Russia last year, President Obama dispatched his national security adviser to Moscow. Mr. Obama had made considerable progress with Dmitri A. Medvedev, the caretaker president, and wanted to preserve the momentum.

Any hopes of that, however, were quickly dashed when Mr. Putin sat down with the visiting American adviser, Tom Donilon, at the lavish presidential residence outside Moscow. Rather than talk of cooperation, Mr. Putin opened the meeting with a sharp challenge underscoring his deep suspicion of American ambitions:

“When,” he asked pointedly, “are you going to start bombing Syria?”

At the time, Mr. Obama had no plans for military involvement in the civil war raging in the heart of the Middle East, but Mr. Putin did not believe that. In Mr. Putin’s view, the United States wanted only to meddle in places where it had no business, fomenting revolutions to install governments friendly to Washington.

The meeting 16 months ago set the stage for a tense new chapter in Russian-American relations, one that will play out publicly this week when Mr. Obama travels to St. Petersburg for a Group of 20 summit meeting hosted by Mr. Putin. Although Mr. Obama had no intention of bombing Syria last year, on Saturday he said he now favored military action against Syrian forces, not to depose the government of Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally, but in retaliation for gassing its own citizens — an assertion Mr. Putin denounced as “utter nonsense” to justify American intervention.

While it was the Kremlin’s decision last month to shelter Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, that finally prompted Mr. Obama to call off a separate one-on-one meeting he had scheduled with Mr. Putin while in Russia, the core of the schism is not so much that case as the radically different worldviews revealed by the Syria dispute. Where Mr. Obama feels compelled to take action to curb the use of unconventional weapons, Mr. Putin sees American imperialism at work again.

The story of the administration’s “reset” policy toward Russia is a case study in how the heady idealism of Mr. Obama’s first term has given way to the disillusionment of his second. Critics say he was naïve to think he could really make common cause with Moscow. Aides say it was better to try than not, and it did yield tangible successes in arms control, trade and military cooperation before souring.

“There’s this cycle of initial enthusiasm and hope that gives way to reality,” said Robert M. Gates, Mr. Obama’s first defense secretary,

Mr. Obama expected more when he arrived in London in April 2009 for a Group of 20 meeting and his first encounter with Mr. Medvedev.

The two sat down and found they had much in common — both were new-generation leaders, trained in law, unburdened by the past, who saw themselves more as pragmatists than ideologues. And while it was clear Mr. Putin, then serving as prime minister, was still the paramount figure, Mr. Obama resolved to build up Mr. Medvedev in hopes that he would eventually emerge as the real power.

The theory, advanced by aides like Mr. Donilon and Michael McFaul, then the president’s Russia adviser, was that after the rupture over Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia, there were opportunities for cooperation in areas of shared interest. That did not mean there would no longer be disagreements, but they would try to delink them so that the entire relationship did not suffer. “It was an opportunity to make things better,” said a senior official.

Not everyone was so optimistic. Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, supported the reset and even presented an ill-fated button to her Russian counterpart with the word “reset” mistranslated into Russian. But privately she had a more jaundiced view of Mr. Putin. So did Mr. Gates, who recalled that he “thought it was worth a try” but was not sanguine about the prospect.

Determined to proceed nonetheless, Mr. Obama in London proposed that the two countries negotiate a new arms control treaty. By the time Mr. Obama arrived in Moscow in July, the two sides had managed to work out the framework for a treaty that would trim their nuclear arsenals to their lowest in decades.

They also signed an agreement allowing the United States to transport troops and arms bound for Afghanistan through Russian territory, part of what was called the Northern Distribution Network being expanded as an alternative to the unreliable supply route through increasingly volatile Pakistan. Mr. Gates said that for “an old cold warrior” like him, sending the American military through Russia was “never in my wildest imaginings.”

But the future was foreshadowed when Mr. Obama sat down for a separate meeting with Mr. Putin. Over breakfast, an offhand comment by Mr. Obama about old tensions touched off a nearly hourlong harangue by Mr. Putin outlining grievances with the United States. If Mr. Medvedev was a man he could do business with, Mr. Obama walked out worried that Mr. Putin was not.

Taking advantage of his growing partnership with Mr. Medvedev, Mr. Obama persuaded the Russians to approve tough United Nations sanctions against Iran and the two sides renewed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement shelved during the war in Georgia. Eventually, Mr. Obama succeeded where his predecessors had failed in helping Russia join the World Trade Organization after nearly 20 years of talks.

The highest-profile victory was their treaty called New Start, paring the legal ceilings for deployed strategic warheads by a third and launchers by half. But it proved to be more of a slog than Mr. Obama and his team expected. “We thought Start was going to be easy, we really did,” said a former official. “And it turned out to be very, very hard.”

The high-water mark came in March 2011. When Mr. Obama decided to join an allied bombing campaign in Libya, his new friend Mr. Medvedev agreed not to block it at the United Nations Security Council — a move that infuriated Mr. Putin, especially when what started as a humanitarian mission turned into regime change.

“The Russians felt they had been played for suckers on Libya,” Mr. Gates said. “They felt there had been a bait and switch. I said at the time we would pay hell ever getting them to cooperate in the future.”

The Return of Putin

On a Saturday morning that September, Mr. Obama got word from his staff: Mr. Medvedev was on his way out and Mr. Putin would be returning to the presidency the next spring.

Some Obama aides hoped that Mr. Putin’s formal resumption of power might not make a difference, since he presumably had still been calling the shots. But others disagreed. Mrs. Clinton, who had several rough meetings with Mr. Putin and did not care for him, pushed for a hard-eyed assessment of what his return would mean. At least one memo circulated in the State Department predicted the rise of anti-American rhetoric and a far more nationalistic policy.

“We had gotten a lot of important things done, but from here on out, because we were dealing with a different state of mind in the Kremlin, a different set of assumptions, it was going to be more difficult,” recalled John R. Beyrle, who was ambassador to Moscow at the time.

By the time Mr. Donilon arrived in Moscow in May 2012, that had become apparent. Large street protests had unnerved Mr. Putin, and he accused Mrs. Clinton of instigating them. White House officials had hoped the hostile talk was just for domestic campaign purposes, but even after Mr. Putin formally won re-election he kept it up. When Mr. Obama sent Mr. McFaul, the architect of the reset, to replace Mr. Beyrle, the new ambassador was the subject of an unusual campaign of public harassment in Moscow.

The meeting with Mr. Donilon at Mr. Putin’s dacha outside Moscow went on for three hours and covered a variety of topics like arms control, missile defense and Afghanistan. But the focus on Syria suggested how much Mr. Putin resented the United States action in Libya and saw it as part of a continuum of illegitimate and even imperialistic American interventions from Kosovo under President Bill Clinton to Iraq under President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama, to his mind, turned out to be no different. “Putin was very dug in on this idea that we will never have another Libya,” said an American official.

Mr. Putin made clear that he did not especially like Mr. Assad, but he saw him as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism, much as he saw himself fighting jihadists in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Mr. Donilon argued that was the reason for Russia to help ease Mr. Assad out and let a democratic government take his place because otherwise an extended civil war would open the door to the very radicalism Mr. Putin feared.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin ended up sitting down a month later in Los Cabos, Mexico, on the sidelines of another Group of 20 meeting. In classic alpha-male fashion, Mr. Putin kept Mr. Obama waiting for more than 20 minutes, and the two picked up the Syria debate. Mr. Putin asked why the United States was seeking to take out stable if autocratic leaders like Mr. Assad and why it was so intent on waging war in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama reminded him that he had opposed the war in Iraq and said they should negotiate a peaceful resolution in Syria to avoid a radical outcome. “Putin didn’t buy it at all,” a senior administration official recalled. When the two leaders sat for the cameras, they were stiff and seemingly tense. While aides said the meeting was not as bad as the resulting picture seemed to imply, they acknowledged that the two men had talked past each other much of the time.

One More Try

While Mr. Obama returned home to focus on his re-election, Mr. Putin used the time to crack down on dissent in Russia.

Protests were broken up, organizers were arrested, and a popular girl band was put on trial for an anti-Putin song. New laws were passed targeting nongovernmental organizations, and the United States Agency for International Development was kicked out of the country. Congress responded with the Magnitsky Act, imposing new sanctions on human rights abusers in Russia. Mr. Putin retaliated by banning American adoptions of Russian children.

After his re-election, Mr. Obama sat down with his advisers to discuss what to do about Russia. He decided to try to put forward a new set of proposals to get the relationship back on track, and again he sent Mr. Donilon to present them quietly to Mr. Putin. “It was important to go there and say, ‘Let’s try to reset this again,’ “ said another senior administration official. “ ‘And here’s a path forward.’ ”

Mr. Donilon arrived in April with a package of ideas — another, deeper round of nuclear arms cuts, a data-sharing plan to reduce tension over American missile defense, and ways to expand trade and investment, all things Moscow had suggested in the past. As it happened, he arrived just days after the administration had released a list of Russian officials sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.

Despite the awkward timing, the tension over Magnitsky barely came up at the meeting. Mr. Donilon gave Mr. Putin a letter from Mr. Obama outlining areas for new agreement, and the Russian leader sat and read it aloud, marking up the document and commenting, “I agree with this” and “I don’t agree with that.”

But the reset of the reset didn’t work. When Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin met again in June at a Group of 8 meeting in Northern Ireland, the White House hoped for an agreement to open negotiations for a new nuclear arms treaty. Mr. Putin did not agree, nor did his government respond to most of the other suggestions. “We just thought” what the heck, said a former administration official. “Come on, these were your ideas.”

Even without an agreement, Mr. Obama proposed a one-on-one summit meeting in Moscow in advance of the St. Petersburg meeting. Mr. Putin accepted. And Mr. Obama went ahead with a speech in Berlin publicly proposing mutual arms cuts with Russia — the kind of announcement not usually made without a prearranged understanding that the other side would be interested. It was a test, and again Moscow showed little interest.

The arrival of Mr. Snowden in Moscow, coming on top of anger over a new Russian law against pro-gay “propaganda,” was nothing more than a final death blow to the reset. Inside the administration, advisers squared off over whether to go ahead with the Moscow summit meeting.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been trying to arrange a Syria peace conference with the Russians, favored going, as did Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Susan E. Rice, who had just replaced Mr. Donilon as national security adviser, was more skeptical, wondering if it was worth the president’s time if nothing would be accomplished.

“You have a small clique of people who see themselves as realists and want to deal with Putin,” said Anders Aslund, a Russia scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who has ties with administration officials. “Then you have the vast majority lower down who think this is not acceptable.”

When Russia decided to give Mr. Snowden temporary asylum, the debate ended; the trip was off. According to administration research, no such Russian-American presidential summit meeting had been canceled since 1960. Mr. Obama said it was time “to take a pause” and described Mr. Putin as a slouching “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”

Absent change, the reset has “run its course,” as Mr. Aslund put it. Republican critics like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina call it a “failure” and a symbol of a bankrupt foreign policy. Obama advisers argue it worked in a way by restoring relations after the rift over the Georgia war. There are areas of cooperation even now. Moscow has not reneged on the New Start treaty or the Afghanistan supply route.

“The reset was a smart and pragmatic recognition that we were going to have important differences but also needed to work together where we could,” said James B. Steinberg, Mr. Obama’s former deputy secretary of state.

Mr. Gates said Mr. Obama’s effort was sincere and puts the blame squarely on Mr. Putin. “He’s about lost power, lost empire, lost glory,” Mr. Gates said. “It will be very difficult to make headway as long as he’s there.”

But Obama aides say they oversold the reset, both to the public and maybe even to themselves; it was never meant to transform Russia into an American-style democracy or eliminate all areas of friction. “We probably overestimated the shared-interest angle,” said one official.

The goal now is to keep it from sliding much further. “I don’t think it’s going to get any better any time soon,” said a former administration official. “In fact, I think the potential for something worse is pretty high.” онлайн займы buy viagra online www.zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/best-payday-loans.php hairy woman

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