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The Nation: Obama's Russia 'Reset' Another Lost Opportunity?

Author: Stephen F. Cohen
June 20, 2011


Stephen F. Cohen of The Nation discusses the political challenges of putting Obama's Russia 'reset' into practice.

An enduring existential reality has been lost in Washington's post–cold war illusions and the fog of subsequent US wars: the road to American national security still runs through Moscow.

Despite the Soviet breakup twenty years ago, only Russia still possesses devices of mass destruction capable of destroying the United States and tempting international terrorists for years to come. Russia also remains the world's largest territorial country, a crucial Eurasian frontline in the conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations, with a vastly disproportionate share of the planet's essential resources including oil,natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, timber, fertile land and freshwater. In addition, Moscow's military and diplomatic reach can still thwart, or abet, vital US interests around the globe, from Afghanistan, Iran, China and North Korea to Europe and Latin America. In short, without an expansive cooperative relationship with Russia, there can be no real US national security.

And yet, when President Obama took office in January 2009, relations between Washington and Moscow were so bad that some close observers, myself included, characterized them as a new cold war. Almost all cooperation, even decades-long agreements regulating nuclear weapons, had been displaced by increasingly acrimonious conflicts. Indeed, the relationship had led to a military confrontation potentially as dangerous as the 1962Cuban missile crisis. The Georgian-Russian War of August 2008 was also a proxy American-Russian war, the Georgian forces having been supplied and trained by Washington.

What happened to the “strategic partnership and friendship” between post-Soviet Moscow and Washington promised by leaders on both sides after 1991? For more than a decade, theAmerican political and media establishments have maintained that such a relationship was achieved by President Bill Clintonand Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s but destroyed by the “antidemocratic and neo-imperialist agenda” of Vladimir Putin, who succeeded Yeltsin in 2000.

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