The Real “Reset” we need with Russia

by Congressman Francis Rooney

A new plan of action is needed to respond to one of our greatest  geopolitical threats, Russia. Too often, the past Administration focused their Russia strategy on empty statements and the pressure of  sanctions in an attempt to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations, a position of weakness instead of strength. The first action the Obama Administration took was to remove the Bush missile shield from Poland and the Czech Republic, followed by accepting a defective ICBM agreement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been encouraged to test the United States’ resolve, and has followed up with a series of aggressive actions. A strategy based on actions which are firm and clear is all that will deter Russia from further aggression.

A constant theme in Putin’s foreign policy has been his desire to regain formerly conquered territories in a throwback to the “golden age” of the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great. Under Czarina Catherine, Russia achieved its greatest territorial extent, including the Baltics, modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, and a third of Poland after its partition in 1795. This spread Russian culture, including its language and Slavic immigrants, to these conquered territories. Protection of the populations of Russian speaking Slavs living
in these now independent countries is used as justification by Putin for his recent invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, his interference in the Balkans and the Trans-Caucasus, and his threats to the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Putin’s boldness has been encouraged by a series of foreign policy blunders committed in President Obama’s Administration. In a 2009 speech in Moscow, President Obama called for a “reset” to U.S.-Russian relations, declaring that “Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for co-operation.” He called for “a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House.”

These actions were followed by President Obama’s infamous statements during his 2012 re-election campaign, where he was caught on a hot mic saying that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate with Russia after he won re-election. President Medvedev responded that he would pass the message along to Vladimir Putin, who at the time was the prime minister of Russia, waiting to re-ascend to the presidency.

President Obama’s statements and actions have made any United States, NATO or Western European threats appear empty. This emboldened Putin to test the U.S. and Europe in 2014 by invading Ukraine and occupying the Crimean Peninsula. The Obama Administration reacted with feeble and unconvincing statements of condemnation, and imposed sanctions. Interestingly, after Russia has appeared to have hacked into the Democratic National Committee during the 2016election, folks on the left rose up to denounce Russian aggression.

Where have they been?

We need to carefully assess our interests in the region and the threat to them posed by an aggressive Russia. Then we can articulate a strategy based on protecting these strategic interests. First, the U.S. needs to make clear that we stand behind NATO and in unison with our allies in Europe. This could be accomplished by following through on recent proposals to hold NATO exercises in the Baltic states and Poland, as well as by discussing reinstating the missile shield removed by President Obama. Second, we need to narrowly but clearly define the areas where there is alignment with Russian actions. While we do not agree with Russia’s support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, we are allied in seeking the extermination of ISIS.

I am hopeful President Trump will be able to refocus our policy toward Russia to protect our vital interests and assure peace and stability in the region.

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