Putin's Got Us Right Where He Wants Us
Even the architect of the reset policy has learned the hard way how the Kremlin deals with the mildest criticism. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, in a recent interview with Foreign Policy, expressed shock at how badly he's been harangued since his arrival in Moscow. "What I did not anticipate, honestly was the ... relentless anti-Americanism that we're seeing right now," he said.
McFaul seemed confused by the personal attacks: State television labeled him an agent provocateur set on fomenting a revolution in Russia, while a pro-Kremlin youth group compared him to a convicted child molester. He shouldn't have been. His predecessor, John Beyrle, vividly documented the scale and the intensity of state-directed anti-Americanism that he experienced as America's man in Moscow in a WikiLeaked cable written in November 2009, only a few months after the reset took hold. Although bilateral relations had improved, Beyrle wrote, a "cold war mentality" persisted in the minds of Russia's siloviki, the heads of the elite security and intelligence establishments. They are "ideologically and materially" threatened by the reset and have convinced themselves that the West is guilty of fomenting democratic regime change in Russia's neighbors.
In this atmosphere, is it really possible to pursue a genuine rapprochement? Beyrle warned of what McFaul now professes to find so remarkable: The FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, harasses U.S. Embassy personnel, the ex-ambassador wrote, slanders them in state-controlled media outlets and -- more insidiously -- traumatizes their spouses by suggesting that they have met with accidental deaths. U.S. government employees' homes were also routinely invaded and searched.
It might have been possible to justify a Faustian deal with Putin if the Russian leader had delivered on one of the most important international efforts of the day -- orchestrating international pressure on Iran to convince the mullahs to abandon their nuclear weapons program. In fact, Russia used its American-dealt hand on this issue to play a clever game of offering minimal concessions in exchange for maximum benefit.
Although Putin has helped build Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr and offered repeatedly to enrich its uranium in Russia, reset champions will say that securing his backing of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed new sanctions on the Islamic Republic and banned the sale of certain weaponry to it, was an indicator of his sincere commitment to ensure that the mullahs never get the bomb.
Yet the price of getting Russia and China on board meant that the resolution was watered down and never included a full arms embargo. The expert panel set up to keep track of the sanctions, moreover, is not allowed to publish its reports, a precondition Moscow negotiated that effectively hobbles the U.N. enforcement mechanism.