Stormy days lie ahead for US-Russia relations, many say. Progress
on issues like missile defense and NATO-Russia relations could
suffer serious setbacks if the Syria and Iran crises deteriorate
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton doffed her diplomatic
gloves after Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council
resolution on Syria. Calling the February veto "despicable," she
laid at Moscow's feet the "murders" of Syrian "women, children,
[and] brave young men."
Not to be outdone, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin railed
against the United States for indulging its "bellicose itch" to get
involved in other countries' internal affairs. And he vowed that
Russia will thwart American designs in the Middle East.
Whatever happened to the "reset," President Obama's ballyhooed
reorientation of US-Russia relations to a more cooperative path
focused on common interests?
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Russia would say Libya happened - the conflict where the West and
the US in particular demonstrated a zeal for intervention that
struck at Russia's sense of sovereignty and of what the UN should
and shouldn't do. The US would say Syria happened - revealing
Russia's revived obstructionist tendencies on the Security Council
and demonstrating Russia's determination to protect an old ally at
the expense of the Syrian people.
Both countries might say that what happened is this: The common
interests that the "reset" was meant to emphasize - arms control,
counterterrorism, the global economy - have taken a back seat to
awakened geopolitical rivalries and diverging international visions.
Add to this the fact that Mr. Putin is expected to return to
Russia's presidency in elections Sunday, bringing with him a blame-
the-west perspective for explaining many of Russia's ills.
The result is that stormy days lie ahead for US-Russia relations,
many say. Progress on issues like missile defense and NATO-Russia
relations is likely to remain stalled - and could suffer serious
setbacks if the Syria and Iran crises deteriorate further.
"I foresee a tough year for US-Russia relations," says Andrew
Weiss, a former director for Russian affairs on the National
Security Council under President Clinton who is now a Russia analyst
at the RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va. With little prospect for
advances, he adds, the Obama administration is likely to focus on
preventing backsliding. "The emphasis will be on ensuring that these
fast-moving conflicts don't put the remaining areas of cooperation
at risk," he says.
Others say the current frictions demonstrate how relations,
despite the efforts of three administrations, have never overcome
cold-war mistrusts to progress to a deeper level.
"Under both Clinton and Bush, the US made it look like things
were moving forward with Russia by focusing on things that were
easier to do and that didn't require sacrifice from either side,"
says Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the
National Interest in Washington.
"But in both cases, they ran out of ideas on how to work together
before crossing a threshold in relations that would have allowed
them to weather the differences that remained," he adds. …