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Be Careful What You Wish For: Russian Edition

- September 23, 2009


I closed my post last week on Obama’ “missile defense decision”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/09/why_obamas_decision_to_scrap_t_1.html by noting that:

bq. Care must be made to convince the Russians of the exact same thing that the American people need to be convinced of: this decision was not made to appease Moscow, but rather because it was seen to be in the best interest of US national security. The Russians should take comfort in the fact that the current administration is willing to listen to arguments about the value of particular policy decisions, but they should in no way take away from this an overinflated sense of Russian influence over US foreign policy.

Following Obama’s announcement, Russian Prime Minister Putin took to the airwaves to “praise the decision”:http://www.rferl.org/content/Putin_Says_US_Shield_Decision_Correct_Brave/1825747.html, leading Tatiana Parkhalina, an “analyst from the Center for European Security in Moscow”:http://www.rferl.org/content/Putin_Says_US_Shield_Decision_Correct_Brave/1825747.html to note that:

bq. A section of Russian decision-makers will try to use this initiative to say, ‘Look, Russia has demonstrated that it could behave as a strong and brave power — look at the result so we should press on like this where we need progress, with the U.S. and NATO.”

However, RFE/RL’s always excellent “Power Vertical blog”:http://www.rferl.org/archive/The_Power_Vertical/latest/884/884.html reports a somewhat ironic twist to the story. Somewhat lost in all the media’s attention to the idea that Obama had made a concession to Russia (see “here”:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204488304574426880110463194.html?mod=googlenews_wsj and “here”:http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/09/17/russias-response-to-us-missile-defense-shield-shift/) was the fact that, as Thomas Graham, Jr. put it in at the Washington Post:

bq. It is difficult to understand why it is a concession to put aside a missile defense system designed for an obsolete threat while at the same time going forward with a system designed to counter a real and emerging threat.

Herein lies the Russian conundrum, as noted by The Power Vertical’s “Brian Whitmore”:http://www.rferl.org/content/The_Missiles_Of_September/1827889.html

bq. [The interpretation of Obama’s decision as a step down} was indeed incorrect. But it was also this incorrect interpretation everybody — including the Russians — reacted to. And it will be very difficult for Moscow to walk back their lavish praise of Obama’s decision now without looking rather silly.

[Hat tip to “Uskowi on Iran”:http://uskowioniran.blogspot.com/2008/11/sejil-missile-launch.html for the photo]