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Reese Schonfeld Headshot

Tea with Medvedev or GFY

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Last May, I, along with a group I'm part of, was invited to have tea with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Our group, including many more illustrious than I, was invited to the Russian White House as a courtesy to our Russian partners, the Moscow State University Higher School of Economics.

More than two dozen of us, including our Russian partners, were ushered into a grand reception room where we waited for the Russian President around a rectangular table for his appearance. A half dozen television cameras, and more than a dozen still photographers, were arranged along the wall opposite to the side on which the President would be sitting.

The group with which I am associated actively promotes and assists in the development of democratic governments, social justice and regulated private capitalism. I enthusiastically endorse all its aims, but the group is not famous for its discretion. We were in Moscow to present our message to Russian academics and government officials. The invitation to meet the President was a grand and more than welcome surprise.

President Medvedev arrived a few minutes late and explained that he had been held up by a last minute message from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad criticized Russia and the Russian President for agreeing with the United States to support further sanctions against Iran because of its continuing nuclear build up. He reminded the Russian President that Russia and Iran were neighbors, had a cordial relationship, and were cooperating with each on other issues. President Medvedev told us that he had informed Ahmadinejad that he appreciated Russia's neighborly and cordial relationship with Iran, and that he wished to continue that relationship, but that, in this case, he would support the United States because he believed that the sanctions were in the best interests of the people of Russia and he always tried to act in the best interests of his country.

Our group then began its presentation. Our leader pointed out to President Medvedev all of what he perceived to be Russia's shortcomings: its lagging economy, its unjust judicial system, and its rampant corruption. This was followed by criticism from a former Latin American president of Russia's decision to supply Venezuela with weapons worth billions of dollars.

I have mentioned a lack of discretion above, but it seemed to me that our presentation had gone beyond indiscretion to rank arrogance. President Medvedev seemed to feel the same way. He immediately dismissed all the camera crews and all the photographers from the room. He then informed us that he was well-aware of Russia's weaknesses, and that he would do all he could to remedy them. But he reminded us of Russia's long tradition and its strengths, saying that his remedies would be derived from Russian traditions and implemented in a Russia way. And he told us, just as he had told President Ahmadinejad that he would always act in the best interests of the Russian people. He had told us politely and without rancor to "GFY".

I had hesitated before this to write about it, because I did not know if there were any ground rules about our meeting -- was it off the record or could we report on it? Then Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) announced that he would not support New Start, the arms control treaty that President Obama had negotiated with Russian leaders. Since foreign treaties must be approved by two thirds majority, Senator Kyl's support was necessary to pass the bill. Without his support, there was no chance of getting that from the Republican side of the aisle. Once again, an American institution, one far more important than our little group, was demonstrating its arrogance, and dissing Russia.

It is as if we don't understand that Russia has ways of dissing us. For instance, we bring in arms and other supplies for our troops into Afghanistan through Russia because Russia has agreed to let us do so. If Russia decides that its in "Russia's interest" to withdraw that permission, our troops will suffer, might even die, and we might lose the war. Nevertheless, Senator Kyl would've succeeded in dissing President Obama.

To quote Pat Buchanan, "Simply because this treaty is 'Obama's treaty' does not mean it is not in America's interest. If Republicans should kill New Start, and Vladimir Putin [or President Medvedev] responds by using U.S. rejection to rev up Russian nationalism to terminate the 'reset' and return to a policy of cooperating with American's enemies from Pyongyang to Tehran to Caracas, does the Republican party wish to be held responsible for that?"

When I hired Pat Buchanan as one of the first co-hosts of Crossfire, I knew he was one of the smartest guys in Washington, but I didn't expect that I'd agree with him about very much. On this question, I couldn't agree with him more.