Who Wants to Reset?


We’ve heard from a lot of observers that the most critical flaw in the “reset button diplomacy” proposal from the Barack Obama administration was the shaky assumption that the Russian counterparts hold any interest whatsoever in improving relations.  Today, however, at least in preliminary terms, we have seen Mr. Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev appear to be willing to sign a wide raft of deals.  This may come as a surprise to Clifford Gaddy of Brookings, who commented to Der Spiegel that the Russians never really warmed up to the reset button idea.  Naturally “resetting” relations is not mutually exclusive from the achievement of positive agreements.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So the Russians instead see in Obama’s visit an opportunity for them to underscore their standing in the world and to legitimize the status quo in international relations?

Gaddy: Exactly. In fact, the Russians themselves have been engaged in a “reset” project of their own for some eight years. Putin’s explicit goal upon assuming power in 2000 was to reverse as much as possible of the geopolitical imbalance imposed upon Russia during the 1990s. He believes that in that decade of Russia’s extreme financial weakness, the country effectively lost its sovereignty. The US and its NATO allies, he argued, used the opportunity to re-constitute the world order over Russia’s head. They expanded NATO eastward and reshaped other international institutions to serve their agenda. They treated Russia’s domestic economic, political and social policies as their own project, engaging in a crusade to shape Russia in their own image for their own interests. Putin’s priority during his tenure as president, from 2000-2008, was to reverse the West’s leverage over Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some experts say there is an “empathy deficit” inthe US — a lack of understanding for the importance of such symbolicpolitics to the Russians. Has that changed with the new administrationand how willing is Obama to accommodate such sentiments?

Gaddy: Empathy is a hallmark of Obama’s policy at home and abroad.He has been well-coached by his team about Russian sensitivities, andhe will undoubtedly go out of his way to send the right signals to theRussian population.

Artwork credit: Peter Schrank, Economist