Congress considers "resetting" Russian relations

Tom Ramstack – AHN News Legal Correspondent

Washington, D.C., United States (AHN) – It might be time to rethink the Obama administration’s “reset” toward greater cooperation between the United States and Russia, witnesses told a congressional panel Thursday.

The hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee responded to accusations by some members of Congress that President Obama has gone too far in trying to please the Russians, but received little in return.

To foster warmer relations, the Obama administration has overlooked the Russians’ authoritarian human rights policies, assistance to Iran’s nuclear development program and interference with NATO’s European missile defense plans, according to his critics in Congress.

“The Obama administration has offered one concession after another, but the concrete results have been meager at best,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Some of her harshest criticism was directed at the Russian interpretation of last year’s New START treaty that seeks to limit nuclear weapons of both countries.

President Obama says the treaty does not restrict U.S. efforts to set up a missile defense network in Europe.

The Russian government interprets the New START treaty to mean the missile system should be banned in Europe.

“Russia’s true motive is a political one,” said Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. “Namely, to divide NATO and to demonstrate to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that, despite their close alliance with the U.S., Moscow intends to retain a dominant influence over their affairs.”

Examples she mentioned included a cyber attack against Estonia for its removal of a Soviet memorial in its capital and the 2008 Soviet invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

“The tepid U.S. response has set a dangerous precedent and convinced Moscow that it has little to worry about,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

The term “reset” of relations between the United States and Russia resulted from a joint statement of President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the 2009 G20 summit in London.

The statement promised a “fresh start” in relations and called on Iran to abandon its nuclear development program.

Months later, on March 24, 2010, the United States and Russia reached the New START agreement that limits long-range nuclear weapons each side can hold to 1,500. It places additional restrictions on missile launchers and other weapons systems.

Since then, the Russian national security establishment has resisted any cooperation with NATO, which it distrusts, said Stephen R. Sestanovich, former State Department advisor on the Soviet Union and now a college professor of international relations.

“Here the influence of old thinking is undoubted,” Sestanovich said. “The Russian military was for years untouched by reform and new ideas and many of its arguments against missile defense and cooperation are absurd.”

Nevertheless, the alternative to cooperation with the Russians is a return to mutually destructive hostilities, he said.

“We need to carry forward the reset without pretending that Russia and the United States have attained a greater degree of mutual trust and respect than they have,” Sestanovich said.

Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow on Russian affairs at the conservative public policy group Heritage Foundation, suggested the U.S. government pressure the Russians to cooperate more fully in the “reset” toward better foreign relations.

“Congress and the administration should not tolerate Russian mischief, either domestic or geopolitical,” Cohen said.

Among the challenges faced by the United States is widespread corruption among Russian government officials and businessmen.

“Congress should enable the U.S. to deny visas to corrupt Russian businessmen, examine their banking practices and acquisitions, and target Russian police and prosecutors who fabricate evidence and judges who rubber stamp convictions,” he said.

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