This Financial Times editorial came across my email alerts last night, reminding us that somewhere along the line either the U.S. government or the media or both came up with this mythic assumption that talking to Russia about security issues became mutually exclusive from any discussion on values. The whole “sphere of influences” topic is quickly rising as the #1 problem between Russia and the United States – and, as pointed out by this editorial, Mr. Obama’s July trip could easily be ruined by an “unexpected incident” in these unstable regions.
But the real test of the Obama approach to Russia will come in how the US responds to Moscow’s claims for primacy in its “near abroad”, the former Soviet Union. Washington has postponed talk of soon bringing Ukraine and Georgia into Nato, and has gone quiet on plans for missile shield bases in eastern Europe.
But Russia wants more and demands a say on all strategic matters in the region, not least energy supplies. The US must not abandon the former Soviet republics to a renewed Russian domination. Washington cannot offer Georgia as much support as it gives, for example, the Baltic states, but Russia must not be allowed a free hand.
Much will depend on events in two key countries – Ukraine and Georgia – which are both wracked by instability, as was shown last week in Georgia’s apparent failed coup. Mr Obama’s carefully defined Russia strategy could yet fall foul of unexpected incidents in Kiev or Tbilisi.