By Andrei Ptashnikov
The results of the March 4 presidential election in Russia and the November 6 presidential election in the United States will be crucial to the future of the U.S.-Russian reset policy.
Launched by U.S. President Barack Obama soon after came to power, the reset has been rolling on with varying success for more than three years. It peaked in April 2010 when the new Russian-American Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed in Prague, but then slowed down sharply over Washington’s plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe with Russia vehemently opposing them. The follow-up turbulent events in Northern Africa and the Middle East revealed serious disagreements between the two countries over how the acute problems facing the Arab world should be approached. The same can be said of the situation around Iran. Finally, the pre-election campaign in Russia and the United States has pushed domestic problems to the foreground. Yet despite the above circumstances and despite the fact that both sides have been closely watching each other, the Russian-U.S. relations have on the whole improved under Obama.
Will the reset continue after the presidential elections? Most experts agree that it will if Vladimir Putin becomes Russia’s next president and Barack Obama returns to the White House. But there may be other options in case Obama fails to win a second term. Two major events held in Washington a few days ago prove that the future of Russian-American relations arouses huge interest. One was a roundtable on the issue and the other was the World Russia Forum with prominent politicians and experts from both countries attending. Although opinions divided, everyone agreed that broader cooperation in various fields was needed. Congressman Gregory Meeks believes that much will depend on bilateral trade. Unfortunately, the “cold war”-era Jackson-Vanik amendment restricting trade with Russia is still in force. The “cold war” has long become a thing of the past, yet continues to hamper business, the congressman said. It’s hard to disagree with Mr. Meeks. But far from all U.S. congressmen share this view, which explains why President Obama’s repeated promises to lift Jackson-Vanik remain unfulfilled.
A recent opinion poll held by the authoritative Gallup service shows that the number of Americans who see Russia as a threat has shrunk dramatically from more than 30% two decades ago to just 2% now. Let’s hope that the trust-building momentum will be preserved after the elections.