Bemused and Confused by the Reset

obama_medvedev101010.jpgAs a lawyer presently engaged on cases in Russia, the CIS, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere, I cannot understate the dramatic changes which we have seen occurring in many of these countries in terms of their foreign relations. Partially as the result of a generalized withdrawal from many diplomatic positions by the Obama administration, a global power realignment is taking place. The psychosis of “reset diplomacy” has proven to be contagious, spreading from the poor decision making in the relationship with Russia, toward other concessionary policies – journalist Steve LeVine has even gone as far as arguing that the United States has left the “Great Game” in Central Asia. The Obama foreign policy doctrine mirrors an effect we have witnessed in France, whereby interests and foreign policy outcomes are held hostage to domestic politics. In a desperate search for results to soothe disenchanted electorates, Washington has backed itself into an irresolute position which leaves our allies bemused, confused, and often forced to start hedging their bets and diversifying ties. Like many other observers, I was pleased to see the Nobel peace prize awarded to the courageous Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, but Obama’s sudden call for China to release him is unfortunately received like a joke – it’s just completely inconsistent with any policy position of the administration. With respect to Russia, it will be interesting to see how long the Obama administration will be able to see a domestic political benefit. Whatever “victories” are obtained in terms of U.S. priorities with Iran and Afghanistan are unconvincing, given that Moscow’s options in these spheres is so inherently limited anyways. Confirming and illustrating several of these trends, I wanted to point out an incisive commentary published in the Times of London yesterday, entitled “As Obama looks away, the bear digs its claws back into former Soviet states.” I am unable to find any direct link to the article online, but below is an excerpt:

First it clawed back Ukraine, then tightened its grip in the Caucasus. Now it has Kyrgyzstan in its sights, as the Kremlin seeks to restore Russia’s dominance over its former Soviet empire. The Central Asian republic votes tomorrow to establish the region’s first parliamentary democracy – a move condemned as a “catastrophe” by President Medvedev, with Russia openly supporting a pro-Moscow party pledging to undo the reform.In Belarus, meanwhile, there is talk of “regime change” with the once-loyal dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko the target of Kremlin-ordered attacks, broadcast on Russian state television in advance of presidential elections in December. Mr Medvedev accused the Belarussian leader this week of making an “enemy” of Russia, while state television is screening unflattering documentaries about Mr Lukashenko entitled “Belarussian Godfather”.Both former Soviet republics are feeling the impact of Russia’s determination to assert what Mr Medvedev sees as its sphere of “privileged interests”. This is spurred by a belief that the “reset” in relations offered by President Obama means that the US is no longer contesting Moscow’s dominance of the region, as it did under President Bush. (…)Russia has been turning the economic screw elsewhere in Central Asia to maintain its dominance in a new “Great Game” against the West and resource-hungry China over the region’s energy reserves. Gazprom now monopolises Uzbekistan’s huge gas exports after a deal with President Karimov, its long-serving Soviet-era dictator. However, neighbouring Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fifth largest gas reserves, has opened a supply pipeline to China, the first in Central Asia to bypass Russia. The EU is also courting Turkmenistan to supply the proposed Nabucco pipeline that will skirt Russia, to reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow.Kazakhstan’s entry into Mr Putin’s customs union prompted internal fears of a gradual Russian economic takeover, particularly after it was suggested that a single currency would be the next logical step. President Nazarbayev, in charge since 1991, has maintained a balance between Russia, Europe and China, but he will be 70 this year and has no clear successor, opening the door for Moscow to play a role in selecting a new ruler.