Late last week, outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech in which he praised the Obama administration’s effect on the U.S.-Russian relationship, commenting that “these have perhaps been the best three years in relations between our two countries over the last decade.” His statement was made at the same conference in which Obama promised to sell out Poland (at least that’s how the Poles interpreted the president’s gaffe) just as soon as he won reelection. That the White House has not seen fit to trumpet Medvedev’s warm words perhaps indicates a heretofore undetected modicum of self-awareness.
The Russians are pleased. Of course they are.
To preserve its vaunted “reset,” the Obama administration has systematically downplayed and acquiesced to a four-year Russian campaign of intimidation and dirty tricks against our diplomats, extending into threats, home break-ins, and manufactured sex scandals.
Despite Secretary Clinton twice raising with Foreign Minister Lavrov the issue of Russian intelligence officers helping to bomb our Georgia embassy, the GRU officer linked to the blast was pointedly not even recalled. The Kremlin was either unwilling or unable to act, meaning that either the government was smugly pocketing U.S. concessions or that Moscow had become a more stable Islamabad, with military intelligence outfits both more powerful than and working at cross-purposes to elected officials. This rather stark double-bind, with either conclusion making a mockery of a political reset, was lost on the Russia apologists who rushed to attack Eli Lake for blowing open the affair (some initial skeptics recanted on the basis of facts; others never did; none drew the obvious conclusions, with one even holding out hope that the bombing was being ignored to preserve the by-then incoherent reset).
All of which might have been justified if we were getting anything in exchange for letting the Russians push us and our diplomats around. But instead, Russian officials have dismissed IAEA reports on Iran’s drive to weaponize its nuclear program, and have threatened to intervene should the West take military action. Putin himself once described Khamenei as literally Christ-like, which in retrospect might have been a clue that an anti-Iran coalition was going to be a tough sell.
The Russians have similarly blocked international action on Syria and begun aggressively crowding out the West, not only sending in naval assets but even reportedly dispatching “anti-terrorism” troops. (Assad’s evaluation of Russia’s approach: “balanced”).
But at least Medvedev feels good about U.S.-Russian relations, and is appreciative of how Obama helped him feel good. And in fairness, Russian harassment could have been worse (at least if you ignore the bombing thing). In comparison to how Russian diplomats and agents comport themselves in the U.K., our officials have actually been treated fairly well.
So that’s not one but two silver linings around this cloud of lost global influence and supine geopolitical stumbling.