Early in the Obama Administration’s mandate, in July 2009, President Obama traveled to Moscow in an apparent effort to repair relations with Russia and hit the so called “Reset Button”. Russia for its part played “good cop, bad cop”. President Medvedev was the good cop, while Vladimir Putin remained in the background, but probably in full control. There should be no doubt now that Putin always intended to come back as the head of state in Russia.
First, there was the news from the NATO defense ministers meeting this past week that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had told his counterpart from Poland, Bogdan Klich, that the Patriot air-defense battery promised to Poland last August as part of a broader agreement to increase strategic cooperation between the two countries would be rotated in and out of Poland and used exclusively for training purposes. As such, he added, there would be no need for the missiles to be live and armed. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/644cmkls.asp
Since the 2009 visit, relations between Russia and the U.S. have been slowly deteriorating. Russia abstained from the vote on the UN Resolution to establish a “no fly zone” over Libya and take all necessary action to protect civilians and later on was critical of the NATO action.
Russia has also not been very helpful in regards to the Iranian nuclear crisis and the crackdown by the Assad regime in Syria. The recent capture a Sentinel RQ 170 stealth drone by Iran has also raised concerns. If the drone, a secret CIA drone, was captured intact, the technology can be made available to both China and Russia, not unlike the stealth helicopter left behind during the Bin Laden raid in Pakistan.
The seizure of the unarmed surveillance drone intact would give access to a treasure trove of classified information including the designs of the aircraft and its payload of sensors.
The U.S. – Russia relationship has been complicated by Russia’s parliamentary elections this weekend. While Putin’s party “United Russia” lost a significant number of seats, it received close to 50% of them. Observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), feel that the election was fraudulent, with several cases of ballot stuffing and voter intimidation.
Hillary Clinton weighed in on the alleged electoral fraud. Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers of member states of the OSCE member-countries in Vilnius, Clinton said Russia’s elections were neither free nor fair.
“Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation, and we hope in particular that the Russian authorities will take action,” Clinton said.
Despite the “United Russia” party losses in parliament, there is no question that Vladimir Putin will win next year’s presidential elections. He will still wield power in parliament with close to 50%. Putin will take a tougher stance against the United States, while trying to establish friendlier relations with Europeans. Russia has already indicated if the United States continues with missile defence, it will have missiles facing the United States. Could it be the start of another “stand off”.
While the gestures and threats won’t equal the “Cold War”, it could set off an arms race, which neither side could afford. It would appear though that the reset button has malfunctioned.