Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Return of Russia

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Return of Russia

Article excerpt

President Barack Obama has made the reset with Russia a priority while Governor Mitt Romney has called the Kremlin America's "number one geopolitical foe." Who's right? Was it smart of Mr. Obama to put so much emphasis on getting along with Russia when the results are mixed, at best? And, why would Mr. Romney point to Russia, and not Iran, North Korea, or Al Qaeda as our most dangerous adversary? One thing is certain -- Moscow has emerged as the key powerbroker in this summer's two hottest foreign policy crises -- Syria and Iran. That means Washington can't afford to ignore the complex, difficult, and often inscrutable Vladimir Putin.

The Russian president for life is a complicated and brooding presence on the international scene. He has brought a gigantic chip on his shoulder to negotiations with Mr. Obama, and did the same with George W. Bush. When I served in government, it seemed he woke up each morning determined to block the United States at every pass. As a former KGB officer, he is still very much a Soviet man, memorably citing the USSR's collapse as the greatest calamity of the 20th century. His cynicism and capacity for brutality is evidenced by his mistreatment of opponents such as the still-imprisoned tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and vetoing, with China, UN Security Council resolutions to aid suffering Syrian civilians.

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has found ways to work with the mercurial Mr. Putin when necessary. During the past decade, Russia has helped the United States to counter Al Qaeda, disrupt drug traffickers, and resupply American troops in Afghanistan through Russian territory. Can Mr. Obama now build on those successes by convincing Mr. Putin to help resolve the nuclear crisis in Iran and the civil war in Syria?

That will, of course, be a tall order. Iran has shown little inclination to negotiate seriously in this summer's nuclear talks. The major obstacle is Iran's historic animosity toward the United States and its myopic belief that it can escape the increasingly tough EU oil and US Central Bank sanctions that take effect this week. The one leader who might possibly break through to Iran's reclusive and suspicious Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is Mr. …

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