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The Failure of the Russia Reset

Michael Weiss has an interesting comment on the Obama administration’s reset diplomacy posted over at Pajamas Media.

“Reset” in hindsight has claimed one extraordinary achievement for the administration: it has wiped out what once seemed a permanent memory with respect to U.S.-Russian relations. As Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Washington bureau chief of RTVi television network and a former advisor to Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Bukovsky, has written recently, there is no surprise in the fact that the avalanche of American concessions to the Kremlin has not precipitated a similar outpouring of generosity and good will by the latter, only smirking satisfaction. “Repressive regimes view concessions as a sign of weakness,” wrote Kara-Murza, “not a cause for reciprocity. Why would a government that is dishonest and aggressive to its own citizens behave like a noble and trustworthy partner on the world stage?”

This is lesson that should have been learned twenty years ago, after Reagan successfully put pressure on Gorbachev about Soviet political prisoners while also getting down to business on nonproliferation and arms reduction. It is not an indication of statesmanship or geopolitical maturity, pace Michael McFaul, to be unable to hold these two separate concepts in one’s head at the same time. The administration’s failure is only heightened by historical circumstance. There is no ideological superstructure or totalitarian stranglehold on culture in today’s Russia. Why, then, should Putin and his improvisatory siloviki find themselves the easy beneficiaries of a fire sale of Western principles that managed to make it through a far more challenging epoch?