Obama's 50-50 Russian Strategy

By Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek - March 29, 2009

Click here to join the NEWSWEEK community, post comments and subscribe to our e-mail newsletters

Successful arms-control talks between Russia and the U.S. could also help matters in Iran and Afghanistan.

Please fill in the following information and we'll email this link.

Separate multiple addresses with commas

Even to some of the closest observers of Russian foreign policy, it's almost impossible to know which direction Moscow is headed. One day it's threatening to station missiles aimed at Poland in its western enclave of Kaliningrad; the next, it's proclaiming its eagerness to take up Washington's offer to press the "reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations. One day, it's vowing to help with supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan; the next, it's offering Kyrgyzstan some $2 billion in loans and aid, emboldening the Central Asian country to demand the closure of the U.S. air base there. One day, it's signaling its solidarity with Western efforts to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons; the next, it's refusing to rule out the sale of sophisticated S-300 ground-to-air missiles to Tehran.

All this raises a key question: at President Barack Obama's meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in London on April 1, which Russia will he be seeing? Most likely, both leaders will accentuate the positive, voicing hopes for a new cooperative relationship between their two countries"”and for good reason: Moscow and Washington have more in common than one might think.

For starters, both sides are eager for new nuclear-arms-control agreements that would allow them to scale back their arsenals and prevent a new arms race that neither side can afford in the midst of the current economic crisis. And the history of U.S.-Russian relations shows that talks on doomsday weapons tend to set the tone on all issues. A breakthrough on arms control could spill over into other fronts, including Afghanistan and Iran.

Moscow is more worried than it lets on about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, despite its major commercial and arms deals with Tehran. Like Washington, it is well aware of the potential wild card this could be. An Iran armed with nuclear weapons would have a huge psychological impact, raising the confidence of Muslims throughout the region"”including in rebellious regions of southern Russia and the ex-Soviet republics over the border.

The same factor"”resurgent Islam"”makes the quest for stability in Afghanistan as important to Russia as it is to the United States. Washington worries that Muslim extremists could spark more terrorist attacks on Western targets; Russia is concerned that Afghanistan's failure would spill over into Tajikistan and other border states, where Muslim extremists would destabilize pro-Russian governments.

In one sense, Afghanistan is a live threat to Russia. Victor Ivanov, the head of Russia's anti-narcotics service, recently warned that a massive influx of heroin from Afghanistan is "a key negative factor for demography and a blow to our nation's gene pool." With Russia facing a sharp drop in its population because of alcoholism and an abysmal health-care system, the heroin explosion is only worsening the downward spiral. An estimated 2.5 million Russians are now addicts, according to the Ministry of Health.

Russia ??? What Part Of This Don???t You Get?Determined to wage yesterday???s war, President Putin is reenacting an imaginary Cold War, but this time with Russia tying America to an honorable draw. Well done, Mr. Putin. Now, exactly what have you gained? Are any of Russia???s strategic interests strengthened? In your obsession to heal your Cold War past, have you secured Russia???s future?

A resurgent Islam should not be a headache for the West, or for other regions, but there should be a resurgent Islam, all the same. How do we equate the increasing voices of unhappiness of the Muslims, and it's manifestation in the form of ugly incidents, with a 'resurgent Islam'? I am not for the bloodshed that is happening in the different parts of the globe, but Islam is the fastest growing faith in the world, in respect to it's followers. The followers of Islam, must not be allowed to view the rest of the world, as enemies of Islam. I do not call myself a Muslim, but I am a well wisher of Islam.

Enter comments if any for reporting abuse

Only $25!

Read Full Article »

Latest On Twitter

Follow Real Clear Politics

Real Clear Politics Video

More RCP Video Highlights »