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Another Take on the Reset

Here goes a counter-argument to Brian Whitmore’s Foreign Policy piece. While Whitmore sees the Russia reset policy as benefiting Georgia and other post-Soviet states, Ariel Cohen, writing in the Wall Street Journal today, warns that the reset means the US is turning a blind eye to Russia’s efforts to “strengthen its dominence in the region”.

While the Obama administration praises soft power, Russia still speaks the language of arms. In the past two years it has built five military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Later this month, during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Yerevan, Moscow will provide military guarantees to Armenia, assuming a “joint” responsibility to protect the country’s borders against Azerbaijan and Turkey. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has prepared a draft protocol for President Medvedev’s signature that would commit Russia’s troops at its military base near the Armenian city of Gyumri to the country’s defense and sell advanced weapons to Yerevan. Baku and Ankara must be livid.

While the previous contract called for the Gyumri base to be dismantledin 2015, the new protocol will allow Russia to stay there until 2049.The arrangement is similar to the renegotiated lease for the Sevastopolnaval base in Ukraine, which is extended to 2042 as it, too, preventsthe country’s future membership in NATO.

Russia’s pledge to defend Armenia puts Azerbaijan in an untenablesituation. It’s a clear warning against any Azeri attempt to regain thesecessionist Nagorno-Karabakh region or its seven Armenian-occupieddistricts. The subtext is clear as well: Azerbaijan should scale backcooperation with the West or face the consequences. TheRussian-Armenian protocol makes Russia the dominant power in SouthCaucasus, as the U.S. and NATO are unwilling to commit to long-termmilitary presence there…

…To roll back the Kremlin’s growing regional influence, Washingtonshould expand its political-military cooperation with the countries ofCentral Asia and the Caucasus; lift the de facto weapons embargo onGeorgia; and engage in meaningful efforts in the realms of energy,security and good governance. Washington should explore sales ofPatriot missiles and modern military equipment to Azerbaijan; boostsupport for the Nabucco and trans-Caspian gas pipelines in coordinationwith European capitals; and promote greater transparency, democracy andthe rule of law in the region. The Obama Administration, in short,needs to reset its Russian reset policy to protect America’s interestsin Eurasia.