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The ‘Reset’: 3 Months Left? – OpEd


By Andrei Ilyashenko

The ‘Reset’ is the name of the current stage in the Russian-American relations that is about to mark its third year anniversary. On March 6, 2009 in Geneva Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with widest public participation jointly pressed a red button, which was supposed to symbolize the beginning of a new stage in the bi-lateral relations. But instead of the Russian word meaning ‘Reset the word on the button read ‘overload’. That funny mistake proved that the device was produced not in Russia, but in the USA.

The ‘reset’ first mentioned by the US Vice President Joseph Biden was presented as an element of the new foreign policy of Barak Obama which was supposed to overcome the deadlocks created by the previous Administration of George Bush (the Junior) and his neoconservative team. The new President of the US started resetting relations with the Muslim world, China and Europe by offering a course towards interaction and cooperation instead of the one sided diplomacy of Bush.

Such approach was more than needed for the Russian-American relations that were comatose after the Russian-Georgian military conflict of 2008.

Having pressed the Reset button, Lavrov and Clinton discussed the future basis for the Russian-American relations the same day. The main topics were the anti-missile defense, reduction of strategic weapons, Iranian dossier, cooperation on Afghanistan and Middle East, as well as the resolution of the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula. During the final press conference both diplomats called the dialogue that had taken place “very productive”. “Today we get a great chance to build our relationship, a chance we cannot miss”, said Clinton 3 years ago.

The beginning of the Reset was quite promising. START-3 treaty was signed; the parties managed to find mutually acceptable solution on introducing UN sanctions against Iran; cooperation on delivering supplies for the US troops in Afghanistan reached major scale. It is important that the dialogue went further than the military and political issues: after 17 years of negotiations Washington gave its consent to Russia’s entering the WTO, which implies repealing the discriminatory Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Cooperation in the area of nuclear energy and investment became more active.

“The Reset really took place!” believes Michael McFaul, the US Ambassador to Russia, who developed this concept while he served as the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and oversaw Russia policy. Academician Sergey Rogov who is the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the USA and Canada is of the same opinion. He has one correction though, “I believe the Reset is over; it was successful, now there is a problem with next stage. And here similar to riding a bike: one needs to keep pedaling in order to move forward”.

The official Kremlin’s point of view is close to this evaluation. “Over the last years the atmosphere of political dialogue between our countries has noticeably improved,”  said President Dmitry Medvedev during his meeting with foreign ambassadors that took place on February 22. And he continued:  “… guided by principles of mutual respect and equality, we are able to jointly work towards the stability and security in the world and by this create the basis for further development of Russian-American relations”. The word ‘equality’ is the key.

In essence, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talks about the same thing. His words, however, were not limited by the diplomatic protocol. “It seems to me that our partners do not want allies, they want vassals. They want to rule. Russia does not work like that,” said Prime Minister in the documentary “Cold Politics” which was shown by the 1st TV Channel in February.

One cannot attribute this tome just to the election campaign rhetoric. While the dispute over the Syria’s problem lasts for half a year, the positions of Washington and Moscow on the Iranian nuclear program have differed for years.

As far as missile defense problem goes, one of the first Russian-American documents that Putin had to deal with, as Russian president was the joint statement on missile defense announced during the G8 summit meeting in Okinawa in 2000. The problem only grew worse since then, despite the fact that Moscow tried to organize cooperation and joint efforts in this area on equal terms.

The ‘Moment of Truth’ for the ‘Reset’ will come during the May summit in Chicago which will take place there simultaneously with the G8 meeting. Sergey Rogov believes that if a compromise solution is announced there, then Russia and the USA can start negotiations that «can lead to a new quality of agreement on the issues of strategic stability by the middle of this decade».
If not, in three months the Reset will “turn into history”.

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VOR, or the Voice of Russia, was the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service from 1993 until 2014, when it was reorganised as Radio Sputnik.

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