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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Russia Update: Obama’s Russia ‘Reset’ Policy Under Fire

by Newsteam Staff
June 15, 2012

President Barack Obama meets Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow July 7, 2009 (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama meets Vladimir Putin, then Russia's prime minister, in Moscow, July 2009 (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters).


The United States’ fraying relationship with Russia, exacerbated by differences over how to respond to escalating violence in Syria, is likely to inform the U.S. presidential election in November, analysts suggest. 

As U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin attempt to rebuild their relationship (Reuters) at the G-20 summit in Mexico next week, there is growing doubt that the two men can find common ground on issues ranging from Syria (LAT) and Iran to missile defense (Chicago Tribune) to human rights.

This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged Russia with sending attack helicopters to Syria (CBS), while Russian and Iranian officials countered that that the United States has escalated the conflict by allegedly arming the Syrian opposition (NYT).

Obama has touted the “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia as one of his signature foreign policy achievements. But presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney says Obama’s “reset” policy has failed, while worsening tensions with Syria and Iran. “Russia has openly armed and protected a murderous regime in Syria, frustrated international sanctions on Iran, and opposed American efforts on a range of issues,” Romney said this week. “This is an unfortunate failure of President Obama’s foreign policy.”

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin argues that the Obama administration’s approach to Russia has resulted in U.S. policy paralysis on Syria. “Understand that just days ago the administration was banking on getting Russia’s help to oust Assad. That is how totally out to lunch the Obama foreign policy team is when it comes to Syria and to its ‘reset’ relations with Russia,” she writes. 

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates and U.S.-Russia Relations and on The Candidates on Democracy Promotion in the Arab World.

Suggested Other Reading:

The Economist says the West must approach the new Putin administration with “constructive engagement” on economic issues and use a firm hand. “In foreign policy, too, the West should stand firm. Russia cannot be allowed to veto America’s missile-defense plans in Europe. Nor should Mr. Putin’s continued blocking of UN Security Council resolutions authorizing intervention in Syria be treated as an insurmountable bar to action, any more than it was in Kosovo in 1999.”

Foreign Policy’s Aaron David Miller says the key players in the Syrian crisis–the United States, Russia, and Iran–are acting more in their own interests than those of the Syrian people. “In short, we have a coalition not of the willing but of the disabled, the unwilling, and the opposed. And each has a clear agenda. The tragedy for Syria is that it’s just not a common agenda,” he says.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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