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Biden’s Blind Eye

US Vice President Joe Biden’s praise of President Dmitry Medvedev for his ‘personal leadership‘ really makes it look as though a new leaf has been turned over in the book of US-Russia relations.  Biden’s words, of course, single Medvedev out as an independent leader, removing him from the usual tandem-leadership assumptions automatically made by those in the know.  This indicates that Biden’s government is keen to align itself with the ostensibly modern and modernizing President, in contrast with Russia’s more austere Prime Minister Putin.  

But in spite of feel-good meetings between the two (surely sweetened by the news that Boeing is to get $2 billion from a deal with Aeroflot), today’s Moscow Times editorial today suggests that, despite the surface appearance of healthy, pro-democratic relations, this ‘reset’ goodwill comes at the expense of Russia’s opposition and its chances for democracy.  Furthermore, it says, Obama’s neglect of Ukraine and Georgia has been a ‘gift to the Kremlin‘: 

“Together with the promised reset, Obama offered the Kremlin a welcome gift during a visit to Moscow in July 2009 by promising not to “lecture” the country about democracy. True to his word, the White House has been noticeably silent on the issue, with perhaps the exception of Obama’s Russia adviser, Michael McFaul, nudging Moscow on its democratic record during a conference in Yaroslavl last September and the U.S. State Department expressing concern about police crackdowns on anti-Kremlin demonstrators last summer.

Gone are the days when the White House publicly prodded the Kremlin on the politically tinged case of jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The 2009 prison death of Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky inspired barely a nod, even as it infuriated lawmakers in Washington and elsewhere.

An even bigger gift to the Kremlin has been Obama’s de facto rejection of Bush’s policy of “spreading democracy” in Russia’s backyard, notably in Georgia and Ukraine. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is making a visit to the United States this week, perhaps to calm his jitters as Biden visits Moscow. But the trip does little to mask the fact that his government misses the staunch, public support that it received from the Bush administration. It’s no surprise that Tbilisi has no plans to name a street after Obama, an honor already afforded to Bush.”