The Use of Illusions about Russia

There seems to be a growing chorus on the right wing of those adamantly opposed to Joe Biden’s idea of “pressing the reset button” on relations with Russia.  After the concessions we’ve seen put forward so far with no clearly discernible reciprocal gesture from Moscow, it’s a pity to see that the crabby neocons will probably score a point on this call (as a friend told me, “I think it would be great if they could hit reset, but I doubt they can find the button”).

From Matthew Kaminski in the Wall Street Journal:

Here Foggy Bottom’s finest chime in: Yes, but imagine a world with a friendly Russia, able to help us, say, stop Iran’s atomic bomb program. So let’s not push so hard to deploy anti-Iran missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia hates — use, if necessary, the excuse that costs and feasibility require further study. Back off on closer NATO ties for Ukraine and Georgia. Make Russia feel important and consulted. Joe Biden sketched out this sort of bargain at last weekend’s Munich security conference.

The conceit is we can win the Kremlin over by modifying our behavior. Before Mr. Obama tries, he should be aware of recent history. On missile defense, American diplomats spent as much time negotiating with Russia as with the Central Europeans, offering Moscow the chance to join in. Nothing came of it. On Kosovo independence and Iran sanctions, Russia blocked the West at the U.N.

Last spring, NATO snubbed Georgia and Ukraine in a signal of goodwill to Mr. Putin. The day after, Mr. Putin privately told Mr. Bushthat Ukraine wasn’t “a real country” and belonged in the Russian fold.Five months later, Russia invaded Georgia and de facto annexed itsbreakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Obama may be tempted to think Russia can be won over. After all,they would seem to need America (short for the West) far more thanAmerica needs Russia. We’re not the enemy. Russia’s real strategicchallenges are in the East: China looks ravenously at the vast,mineral-rich, lightly populated Siberian steppe cut off from Moscow (tothis day, you can’t drive across Russia). And to the South: The arc ofIslamic extremism, starting with a possibly nuclear Iran, a competitorfor Caspian energy and influence. (…)

Ultimately it’s up to the Russians to decide to be friends. One day,someone in the Kremlin will have to confront a hard choice: Does anisolated and dysfunctional Russia want to modernize and join up withthe West, look toward China, or continue its slow decline? Until then,Mr. Obama better stock up on aspirin and dampen his and ourexpectations about Russia.