U.S. Needs Corrective Vision on Russia

correctivevision052309.jpgDaniel Kimmage writes in Foreign Policy today about the myth of mutual interests between Russia and the United States.  We’ve held some of these arguments in the past, such as the idea that Russia has completely opposite intentions with Iran.  Kimmage is also skeptical about those who tip the scale too far, describing the Russian business environment as “selective kleptocracy” – which falls short of the “loony larceny” of Mobutu’s Zaire.  The fact that Russia has created a strong stabilization fund, successful hard currency, and gold reserves is not consistent with its portrayal of a complete mafia state.  Like any good Russophile/Russophobe, Kimmage kicks off the discussion with complaints of frustration over the traditional myopia of Western media on Russia, and all the flawed assumptions it creates.  Below he explains how Obama should play hardball when the realist plan falls through.

Yes, Obama should present Russia with agood-faith offer of a constructive role in ensuring nuclearnon-proliferation, energy security, and common solutions to the globaleconomic crisis. But he needs a Plan B if Russia responds withrhetorical sops while continuing to undermine a rules-based system ofinternational relations.

Plan B will involve measures aimed atdispelling the Kremlin’s impression of Western weakness. If Russiasends the message that the road to Kabul runs through Moscow — as itdid when it enticed Kyrgyzstan to shutter a U.S. military base whilekindly offering to facilitate a new U.S. supply line through Russia –send a stronger message by exploring a new base in Georgia. OrAzerbaijan. Or even Turkmenistan. If Russian energy skullduggery leavesEuropean customers out in the cold, go after the ill-gotten assets ofthe Russian elite, targeting the sleazy offshore networks ofindividuals in leadership positions.

These are hard-nosed movesthat don’t need to happen in the full glare of public back and forth.Merely telegraphing a willingness to get tough — through messages sentbehind closed doors — can create a new, more realistic, context forachievable cooperation on clear terms.

Moscow won’t like any ofthis, but it will understand it perfectly. Hardball is a familiar gameto folks who cut their teeth far from the polite confines ofWashington’s elite foreign policy conclaves.

Back in thosehallowed halls, much of the Washington expert community will respondwith predictable howls of outrage: “We need Russia!” they will say.Really? What, exactly, has Russia done for the United States on Iran?Afghanistan? Counterterrorism? Energy security?