Admittedly, Putin has a more or less free hand in shaping the foreign policy agenda, whereas Obama faces an openly hostile Congress and an overwhelming anti-Russia media bias. Thus seeking compromises is for Obama a much tougher job. Still, it is on the record that he is prepared to do so –through the message he passed to Putin through Dmitry Medvedev about showing “more flexibility” on ballistic missile defense (BMD) after the elections. Moscow has every right therefore to expect him to keep his word and deliver on that promise.
Such flexibility, of course, must not hurt US security interests. On the contrary: it should to a large degree benefit these interests. We are talking about joint US-Russia effort in developing BMD. It is very hard to understand the logic of those in Washington who adamantly oppose this idea.
A country that is approximately equal to the US in terms of weapons of mass destruction has for more than 20 years been practically begging the West to form a joint security infrastructure to protect the US, Russia and their allies from a possible attack from the rogue states. Regrettably, this plea has been stubbornly ignored.
It follows that the obvious question is: Who are the better American patriots? Those who say to the Russians: Sorry guys, we have been making a bad mistake all these years by turning you down; now let's talk serious business; let's discuss what we can do together to meet the mutual security threats? Or is it those who keep saying arrogantly: Thanks, no way; you Russians are no good on democracy and human rights; you do not share our values, so we'll stick to our BMD program and you stay out?
Clearly, only folks unable to think straight will believe that it is indeed Russia's deficient democracy that stands in the way of serious consideration of a solid Russia-West joint security effort. Democracy? Just look at the list of American and European allies in "building democracy" in the Middle East. Or look at the so-called “rebels”, supported by the West through the flow of arms and money. Many of those “rebels” are now fighting in Mali and Algeria.
For some time now Ukraine has had a standing invitation to join NATO, yet everyone knows who the heroes of the “Orange revolution” were and how that “revolution“ was enthusiastically supported by the West. Are President Viktor Yushchenko (who schmoozed with Nazi collaborators) and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (who stands accused of paying nearly $3 million for the murder of a colleague) the great “democrats” who share Western values?
One could go on endlessly citing such examples. They show most clearly that the truth behind US-Russia relations is quite different from what the politicians and the media say. It is, of course, hard to fathom what goes on in the minds of those, no doubt very bright, analysts in high places who help shape the White House's foreign policy agenda, including, of course US policy toward Russia. Maybe they know something we do not. However, from what we do know (including what is discussed above), their continued advice to turn down Russia's entreaties for security cooperation is a huge geopolitical mistake.
It is therefore very doubtful that Obama will propose any dramatic changes in US policy on BMD or in other areas. It takes the vision of someone like Ronald Reagan to ignore his advisers and map out a daring new strategy.
Obama is no Reagan, that's for sure. Still, with the two new pragmatic lieutenants at his side, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, he might have more room for maneuver. It is pretty doubtful, though, that he can do more than offer some very modest compromises. Most likely they will not be sufficient for the Russian side.
So what’s next? Can things get worse?
As Stephen Cohen, a top expert on Russia, rightly says, "[W]ith the full support of a feckless policy elite and an uncritical media establishment, Washington is slipping, if not plunging, into a new cold war with Moscow".
Now, is there anything that can be done to avoid such an undesirable turn of events?
Strange as it may sound, I believe that the ball is in Russia's court. Since the general public in the United States is unaware of the BMD details and of the possible benefits of security cooperation with Russia, what is needed is a simple and clear outline of Russia’s proposals in this area. These proposals must be promoted through all available soft power channels to win the hearts and minds of the public in America and Europe.
Needless to say it will not be an easy task. Such an initiative will meet with fierce resistance from and denigration by the huge army of anti-Russia lobbyists and Western media. However, the alternative scenario – a fresh round of the Cold War, with all its unpredictable and harmful consequences – is unacceptable.
0President American University in Moscow Professor of World Politics, Moscow State University