I must confess that I was expecting this New York Times editorial on President-elect Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin to be much, much worse. Still, most everyone who has found their way to this blog is likely way above this shallow treatment of U.S.-Russian relations.
Mr. Obama does have a few advantages in dealing with Russia: He is new, and the Russians are no less intrigued by him than the rest of the world. Neither he nor his foreign-policy team can have any illusions about Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. And Russia is deep in economic crisis. Mr. Putin’s popularity and power have been based largely on Russia’s windfall profits from soaring energy prices. Now the Russian stock market is in free fall and factories are closing, while Mr. Putin’s ratings slip.
Mr. Obama should signal to the Russians that he wants better relations. That would mean cutting back on belligerent talk and inviting the Russians to high-level consultations on areas in which the two countries can quickly achieve cooperation — say, on combating piracy. Mr. Obama should consider renewing the Start 1 treaty on reducing strategic nuclear forces, which expires in December 2009. He could tone down demands for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, especially since neither is ready, and review plans to station defensive missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.
For every gesture, the United States would make clear that it expects a tangible response, starting with help in ending Iran’s nuclear program and continuing with cooperation against international terrorism and a withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia.