From The Failed Obama–Medvedev "Reset" To The Ukraine War


After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration changed its language and some of its actions, but bilateral ties with Russia never truly recovered. 

This was partly due to President Bush's commitment to the creation of an anti-ballistic missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a program that Moscow fiercely opposed. 

As a result, when Dmitri Medvedev took over as Russian president in March 2008, ties between the US and Russia remained tight. 

In reality, Russia engaged militarily in Georgia shortly after President Medvedev assumed office. 

Medvedev was also the one who publicly said that the post-Soviet zone was a place where "Russia, like other nations in the world, had prioritized interests" (Kramer 2008). 

Furthermore, Russia started pressing for fundamental reforms in the international system, causing the East–West rivalry to spin out of control. 

President Medvedev, for example, suggested a new European Security Treaty shortly after the Russo–Georgian conflict in August 2008, based on assumptions significantly different from those of the current security architecture (Fernandes 2012; Lomagin 2012). 

Because the ideas were presented so soon after the Russo–Georgian conflict, and at a period when Russian foreign policy was becoming more military, the West was unlikely to take them seriously (Kanet 2010a). 

The US, on the other hand, quickly started its own strategy to repair ties with Moscow. 

Barack Obama has emphasized the necessity of repairing ties with Russia throughout his 2008 presidential campaign. 

Vice President Joe Biden advocated for a "reset" in US policy with Russia in a speech in early 2009, urging a change toward "cooperation and consultation" (Cooper and Kulish 2009; Moshes 2012; Biden and Carpenter 2018). 

"The previous several years have witnessed a worrying deterioration in ties between Russia and our [NATO] alliance," Biden said. 

It's time to reset the clock and review the several areas where we can and should collaborate" (Biden, cited in Sherwell 2009). 

The Russians have previously said that they would not deploy missiles near the Polish border. 

Relations between the two nations improved later in the year when President Obama officially indicated that the US will forgo the construction of an anti-ballistic missile system pushed by his predecessor. 

Moscow and Washington made significant headway in addressing numerous important political and security concerns during the following several years. 

The ultimate agreement on and ratification of the New START Treaty of 2010, which lowered both sides' nuclear arsenals by half over the following decade, was by far the most significant. 

The Russians withdrew from the treaty after the US abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, despite the fact that the two countries had agreed to substantial arms limitations in 1992. 

The US Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and the Russians withdrew from it after the US abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. 

Only after the "reset" did the tone and substance of ties between the two nations improve enough to allow for a New START agreement ("New START" 2010). 

Other benefits of improved bilateral relations for Russia included an agreement with the US on civilian nuclear technology sharing (Rojansky and Torychkanov 2010), a greater US willingness to support Russia's application for membership in the World Trade Organization (Sestanovich 2011), and an implicit understanding that the US would reduce what the Russians saw as "meddling" in its near neighborhood (Sestanovich 2011). 

In exchange, Moscow permitted supplies for the continuing NATO campaign in Afghanistan to travel across Russian territory, despite Russian attempts to decrease the US military presence in Central Asia. 

In reality, the two nations struck a formal agreement on this topic in April 2012. 

Moscow's message seems to be that it must be the ultimate arbitrator of what the US should or should not do in Central Asia. 

For its own interests, it was ready to help NATO fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but it would do all it could to prevent the creation in the area of quasi-permanent US military outposts over which it had no authority. 

Despite its opposition to the most severe US sanctions on Iran, Russia agreed not to supply the S-300 surface-to-air missiles that Tehran had requested ("Russia May Lose Billions" 2010). 

However, Washington and Moscow are increasingly finding it difficult to achieve a consensus on how to deal with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons development. 

However, under the presidencies of Medvedev and Obama, the United States and Russia clashed the most over support for the "Arab Spring." Although Russia agreed to support the formation of a "no-fly zone" in Libya at the United Nations to spare the people from oncoming calamity at the hands of the Gaddafi dictatorship, it was outspoken in its opposition to the West's use of the authorisation to act directly to depose Gaddafi (Stent 2012). 

This response is at the heart of Moscow's unwillingness to back attempts to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. 

Despite persistent tensions and, at times, severe mutual criticism, the three and a half years of overlap between the Obama and Medvedev administrations constituted a period of slightly better relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. 

However, as Michael McFaul (McFaul 2018, 411–412) points out, this collaboration demonstrates that past Western activities were not the fundamental reason of the near-total breakdown of relations after 2012. 

The severe deterioration of ties was sparked by domestic events in Russia. 

Large-scale protests over Putin's declaration that he would seek for a third presidential term in 2012 erupted, and Putin's party's dismal showing in legislative elections in late 2011 resulted in extensive government assaults on civil rights and the expulsion or closure of several NGOs. 

This crackdown was accompanied by an intensified campaign of antagonism against the US, NATO, the European Union, and the West in general. 

This was also the start of a resurgent and successful nationalist movement in Russia, aimed at bolstering popular support for Putin's administration. 

19 As a result, when Putin was re-elected president of Russia in 2012, the rhetorical sparring and direct combat continued, if not increased. 

In other words, while the "reset" had some positive outcomes, they were limited and did not extend to several key areas where the two sides have been at odds for the better part of a decade and a half, such as a US-sponsored missile defense system and US support for democratization in the post-Soviet space and, more recently, in the Arab world.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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