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The Did-You-Talk-to-Russians Witch Hunt
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Edward Lozansky: Tandem and Russia's Foreign Policy
Discussions on the effectiveness of the Putin-Medvedev tandem started right after the 2008 presidential election and will definitely continue at least until the next one in 2012. Whether such a tandem is good or bad for the country appears to me to be a moot point. Frolov believes it is good for Russia's domestic development while counterproductive with regard to its foreign policy. In my humble opinion, though, even in foreign policy the picture is not necessarily all black: there are some clear white areas as well.
First, when Medvedev became president in 2008 he had practically no experience in international affairs. U.S. - Russian relations were at the lowest ebb since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the new edition of the Cold War was almost there. Worse still, just a few months after the new president was settled in the Kremlin the war with Georgia broke out. At a certain point the situation was pretty close to World War III breaking out. Had Vice President Dick Cheney's proposal to bomb Russian troops in the Roki tunnel linking South Ossetia to North Ossetia succeeded, the consequences would have been horrific indeed.
Frankly, I like Medvedev and wish him every success in the upcoming election. But! Please let us be honest, dear ladies and gentlemen. Do we really believe that a young and inexperienced professor of law was ready to calmly handle this quagmire without strong backing from his mentor Putin?
Apart from Georgia, the years that followed the conflict also saw some foreign policy successes under the tandem, including, above all, some positive developments in U.S. - Russian relations.
NATO membership applications from Georgia and Ukraine have been archived, as have the George Bush administration's plans for ballistic missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. In Lisbon, NATO and Russian leaders as good as embraced each other as comrades in arms.
It may be argued, of course, that all this was due not so much to Moscow's wise policy as to Obama's new, pragmatic approach known as the 'reset.' Let us recall, though, that, like Medvedev, Obama did not have much foreign policy experience, so at least in the beginning it was Biden who was calling the shots. And we all know that Biden is far from being a great friend of Russia.
I am talking here not only of his famous statement, when he was still a Senator from Delaware, that Russia must not be graduated from the Jackson-Vanik until it buys a lot more American chicken. Let us recall also that it was Biden who screamed, along with many others, about Russia's 'aggression' against Georgia. More than that, he delivered $1 billion of U.S. taxpayers' money, most likely borrowed from communist China, to reward the real aggressor Saakashvili for destroying the South Ossetian capital Tskhinval and murdering Russian peacekeepers and hundreds of South Ossetian civilians.
For all these reasons I do not believe the policy of 'reset' would ever have materialized had its authors not seen Putin's chilly eyes behind Medvedev's shoulder. Despite obvious shortcomings and weaknesses in handling the country's foreign affairs from two centers, certain advantages still accrue to the good cop - bad cop policy. This policy is still on the books, and I believe this particular tandem has used it as wisely as could be expected.
However, if Medvedev wins in 2012, this 'tandemocracy' arrangement may not be necessary any longer since his experience of four years should have been enough for him to learn the ropes, and I am sure both he and Putin are smart enough to figure out how to handle their future relationship with dignity.
As for the future of U.S. - Russian relations I completely agree with Andy Kuchins who stated in his latest CSIS report that 'U.S. policies will be a far more important factor in affecting Russian leader and elite views of the United States than who the next Russian president is.'
I'd add that instead of meddling in Russia's election campaign by advising Putin not to run, the United States should show and prove with real deeds rather than words that it does take into account Russia's core security and economic interests. Accepting some meaningful joint missile defense system would be a major step in building a mutually beneficial and long-lasting relationship. Discontinuing an obviously unfriendly pipeline policy of bypassing Russia in the energy flows on the post-Soviet space would be another important factor.