Relations between the United States and Russia have reached another low point as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday Moscow was pulling out of a nuclear security treaty, and then issued a list of conditions in which he would reconsider.
The deal, which dates back to the year 2000, involves the disposal of plutonium stockpiles, which can be used for nuclear weapons. It could signal Russia’s intent to withdraw from other nuclear weapons treaties with the U.S.
On the surface, the conditions on which Russia would reconsider appear unpalatable: lifting economic sanctions related to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine; compensation for those sanctions; reducing NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. announced Monday it is shutting off talks with Russia over Syria because of violations of the ceasefire, including suspected Russian bombing of an aid convoy last week. Some fear the U.S. pullback from talks will give Russia a free hand to execute its military plans in Syria. Others say it may leave Russia with no exit strategy.
No matter how this plays out, finding a solution will most likely be left to the next president of the United States.
Is it a Threat or Desperation?
Karina Orlova – The American Interest
The U.S. announcement may have been the triggering event, but last week’s Dutch report on the MH17 report, which offered substantial proof tying Russia to the tragedy, made the likelihood of sanctions being renewed ever more likely. And sanctions relief is clearly what the plutonium gambit is all about.However, a dilemma of sorts still exists for policymakers—let’s call it the “rat dilemma”. One of the supposedly candid interviews with Putin which collectively make up his heavily-managed semi-autobiography First Person includes the following anecdote:
There, on that stair landing, I got a quick and lasting lesson in the meaning of the word cornered. There were hordes of rats in the front entryway. My friends and I used to chase them around with sticks. Once I spotted a huge rat and pursued it down the hall until I drove it into a corner. It had nowhere to run. Suddenly it lashed around and threw itself at me. I was surprised and frightened. Now the rat was chasing me. It jumped across the landing and down the stairs. Luckily, I was a little faster and managed to slam the door shut in its nose.
Many experts today cite the rat story, and keep asking themselves what exactly a cornered Putin is capable of.
WATCH: John Kerry explains why the U.S. broke off talks with Russia over cessation of hostilities in Syria.
Putin’s Ultimatum to the Next U.S. President
Leonid Bershidsky – Bloomberg View
Putin’s message is that Russia will start acting as an equal, whether or not the U.S. wants to treat it as one. It’s a reminder to the presidential candidates that pacifying Russia will have a price tag, and that Russia’s starting position in any negotiations will be arrogantly high. Since the outgoing U.S. administration is unlikely to step up military activity in Syria, Russia is doing its best to make sure President Bashar al-Assad’s troops win a decisive victory at Aleppo before the next U.S. president is inaugurated. The U.S. decision to withdraw from talks means little to Putin, who has been playing for time rather than talking anyway….
It’s hard to see how Barack Obama can respond seriously to Putin’s demands. The next U.S. president, though, will need to decide what to do with an intransigent Russia. One option is to ratchet up sanctions and wait for a weakening economy to undermine the Kremlin’s position, yet such an approach could have immediate and unpredictable consequences in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Let’s Get Putin’s Attention
Thomas Friedman – The New York Times
Putin’s relentless efforts to crush both the democratic and Islamist opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria; his rejection of any real power-sharing solution there; and his joining with Assad in mercilessly bombing civilians in Aleppo are not only horrific in and of themselves, but they also keep pushing more refugees into the European Union. This is fostering an anti-immigrant backlash in Europe that is spawning right-wing nationalist parties and fracturing the E.U.
Meanwhile, Russia’s hacking of America’s Democratic Party — and signs that Russian or other cyberwarriors have tried to break into American state voter registration systems — suggests that Putin or other cyberdisrupters are trying to undermine the legitimacy of our next national election.
Together, these actions pose a threat to the two pillars of global democracy and open markets — America and the E.U. — more than anything coming from ISIS or Al Qaeda.
Is Russia Really Winning in Syria and Ukraine?
Nicholas K. Gvosdek – The National Interest
There was a growing expectation that some sort of relaxation of European sanctions on Russia, particularly the financial restrictions, as well as the prohibitions on technology transfers for new energy projects, would be forthcoming…
Two developments have not only stopped this trend in its tracks, but are likely to reverse any diplomatic gains the Kremlin hoped it had achieved. The first was the release of the Dutch report assigning culpability for the missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine to Russia directly…
If the timing of the Dutch report wasn’t bad enough, the Russian-Syrian decision to pursue Grozny-style tactics to overwhelm the Syrian opposition in Aleppo…has further complicated matters. With European leaders now beginning to mutter the phrase “war crimes”….