The Obama White House has exhibited a misguided optimism about Kremlin intentions ever since the introduction of the “reset” with Russia in 2009, which was intended to inaugurate a new era in US-Russia relations, following the cooling off that had occurred after the Russian invasion of Georgia in August of 2008. The new rapport, which Obama pursued with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (Putin was at the time Prime Minister) was based on pragmatism and deal-making, rather than attempts to promote American values. The chief architect of the reset was McFaul, who served as Obama’s advisor on Russia in the National Security Council from 2008 to 2012 before becoming ambassador to Moscow, a post he has just vacated.
As McFaul and other Obama administration officials portray it, apart from a few hiccups like the 2008 invasion of Georgia, Moscow has spent much of the Putin years integrating itself with the West. Thus, they argue, after 9/11, the Russian government cooperated with the US on counter-terrorism; it allowed American military flights to Afghanistan to traverse Russian airspace; and it developed economic and energy ties with Europe. Since the “reset,” they maintain, Russia helped pressure Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program; it joined the World Trade Organization; and, until 2012, had in Medvedev a “moderate” in the Kremlin under whom—in McFaul’s words—the “policy of engagement and integration…appeared to be working again.” In recent months, Washington has also credited Russia with brokering a deal with Syrian President Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons program.
In fact, hardly any of these purported achievements holds up to scrutiny. Russia used the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an excuse to pursue its brutal suppression of Chechnya and expand its unaccountable security state, a process which, as I have noted, continues to this day. It has persisted in arms sales to Iran and provided crucial military hardware, along with diplomatic support, to the Assad regime in Syria. Regarding the Afghan conflict, it has long pressured Kyrgyzstan to expel the US from Manas air base—a crucial supply link for allied forces—which will in fact be closed this summer.