Russia Is Not Wowed by Obama

08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President Barack Obama was received last week in Moscow by a smiling President Dimitri Medvedev and a mostly scowling Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Their "good cop/bad copy" routine left everyone continuing to wonder which of them was really the boss of Mother Russia.

Of course, people used to wonder the same thing about George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Given the media's constant threat-mongering, it's easy to forget that America's primary national security concern is not Iran, Iraq, al-Qaida, Taliban, or Afghanistan. Nor North Korea, whose unloved `Dear Leader,' Kim Jong-il, appears terminally ill.

It is Russia, which has over 2,000 nuclear warheads on some 800 delivery vehicles pointed at the United States.

Russia holds a nuclear gun to America's head, as America does to Russia's head. The two great powers cannot and must not risk crises when nuclear annihilation is only a button-push away. There were enough close calls during the Cold War.

Clearly, Washington's first priority is maintaining correct, civilized relations with Moscow. That means avoiding confrontation, and treating Russia with a large amount of respect even if we do not like its increasingly autocratic government and gruesome human rights record in Chechnya.

The Clinton and Bush administrations put the US and Russia on a collision course by expanding American strategic influence into the Baltic, East Europe, Georgia and Ukraine. This Drang nach Osten violated a reported secret agreement between former party chairman Mikhail Gorbachev and the first President George Bush which stipulated that in exchange for Moscow allowing its former satellites to go free, Western power would not be extended up to Russia' borders. According to Russia's understanding, a 'cordon sanitaire' in the Baltics and Eastern Europe would be left between NATO and Russia's much diminished borders. The Caucasus was left as Russia's backyard.

This, of course, did not happen. Quite the contrary. Then, to Moscow utter outrage, Bush announced plans for an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland (only 190 km from Russia's border) to supposedly shoot down Iranian nuclear-armed missiles that don't exist was a act of monumental stupidity and pointless belligerence.

That would have been like Russia building an anti-missile/anti-aircraft system in Juarez Mexico to protect Cuba from American attack.

Last year, the Bush administration encouraged Georgia's not so bright leader to invade the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia, sparking a short, nasty Russo-Georgian fracas that brought Washington and Moscow into dangerous confrontation. US warships moved into the Black Sea and US military aircraft began ferrying supplies to Georgia, which lies on Russia's edgy southern border.

So President Barack Obama he went to Moscow last week to push what he called the 'restart' button on battered US-Russian relations. A good decision, and one badly needed. The two great powers should enjoy precisely the kind of mutually respectful relations that Obama has been advocating.

Moscow and Washington signed another nuclear arms reduction treaty making modest cuts in their nuclear arsenals over ten years to 1,500-1,675 warheads each - still enough to destroy civilization three times over. Interestingly, the US's large reserve of nuclear warheads was excluded.

The `reduction' was a major disappointment. Neither side needs more than a few hundred nuclear warheads. In fact, the 'anti-war' Obama should have begun seriously negotiating scrapping all nuclear weapons rather than the modest reductions announced.

Every American president since Dwight Eisenhower has called for global nuclear disarmament, mostly recently Barack Obama - but to no avail. Resistance from America's national security complex, problems of verification, and the difficulty of convincing other nations to disarm, thwarted nuclear disarmament.

Few people realize that both the US and Russia are also violating the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which called on all nuclear powers to rapidly and completely eliminate their arsenals of nuclear weapons.

Obama came away from Moscow with the Kremlin's curious agreement to allow the US to fly soldiers and supplies across Russian territory to Afghanistan. Either Moscow got some serious secret payoffs from Washington, or the Kremlin is happy to see the US sink ever deeper into the Afghan morass.
Last week, the US also launched massive search and destroy missions in Afghanistan, shades of Vietnam.

Obama's golden oratory did not move Russia's leaders or people. Both remained deeply skeptical of Washington's professions of friendship and concerned by America's growing influence around Russia's borders.

A just-issued World Public Opinion survey finds that opinion of President Obama is generally positive on a personal level and has boosted America's battered image around the globe.

But 66-68% of British, French, Poles, Ukrainians, Iraqis and Egyptians surveyed believed the US was abusing its great power. In Russia, the result was 75%. In two key US allies, an alarming 86% in Turkey, and 90% in Pakistan, felt the US abused its power. These last two figures are very ominous: they show intense public opposition to the pro-US policies of these nations, a recipe for violence or even revolution.

Russia and the Muslim world are waiting to see President Obama turn his professions of change, friendship, and improved relations into actions. Unfortunately, they often seem to be seeing the opposite.

The US is pressing ahead with the Polish/Czech missile project, still says it wants to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, and is expanding American strategic power into former Soviet Central Asian Republics. In short, surrounding Russia on the strategic chessboard. This strategy has played right into the hands of anti-western Russian hardliners and extreme nationalists who believe the Western powers are determined to crush Russia and tear it apart.

Is Washington really ready to risk a possible nuclear war with Moscow over Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Luhansk, Ukraine - places very few Americans could find on a map if their lives depended on it. Building anti-missile sites on Moscow's doorstep is a reckless and pointless provocation. You don't kick a man in the shins who is holding a gun to your head - particularly not the dour ex-KGB chief Vladimir Putin.

In fact, many Russians, Europeans, peoples of the Muslim world, and even a growing number of Americans are wondering if they are seeing Bushism without Bush?

Half a century ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned
Americans about the growing power of the military-industrial complex. Is the updated version -- the financial-military-industrial complex -- making US foreign policy no matter who is in the White House?

This is a question I was repeatedly asked when talking to members of Congress recently.

Hopefully not. But, aside from the thinning of US forces in Iraq, there has been remarkably little change of direction in US foreign policy since Obama took office.

To many of Moscow's 'siloviki' - the hard men of the security complex - it's Washington's old 'imperialist ruling circles' still hard at work. Back at the Pentagon, there is palpable relief that the 'reds' are again running things again in Moscow. The Cold War devils you know......

Perhaps America, like the old British Empire, has only permanent interests. It matters little who sits in the White House.