Former U.S. ambassador Steven Pifer offers a preview
Following his reelection, U.S. President Barack Obama now faces the task of revitalizing U.S.-Russian relations. Ties between Washington and Moscow have seemed to stagnate somewhat since the "reset" of 2009-10 and the return to the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin. I spoke recently with Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Pifer is a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a former deputy assistant secretary of state with responsibility for Russia and Ukraine (2001-04). He is also a noted expert on arms-control issues.
Before we begin discussing U.S-Russia relations in President Barack Obama's second term, could you give us an overview of relations over the last four years?
I think the reset succeeded in the sense
that when Obama took office in 2009, U.S.-Russia relations were at their
lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Just go back to
the fall of 2008 and the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia conflict, when
you had a U.S.-Russia relationship that had nothing but difficult issues
and issues where there wasn't a lot of cooperation. And I think the
Obama administration made a calculation that improving that relationship
would be in the U.S. interest in order to secure Russian help on issues
that were important to the administration, such as pressuring Iran,
such as access to Afghanistan. And therefore it set about trying to
address some Russian concerns in order to secure Russian help on those
And in that sense I think it has been successful. You have seen the new START treaty. You've seen on Iran -- people sometimes forget [that] two years ago Russia supported the UN Security Council resolution that, among other things, imposed an arms embargo on Iran and thereafter Russia canceled the sale of the S-300, which is a sophisticated antiaircraft missile that it had [an] earlier contract to sell to Iran. And the Russians have been very helpful in providing access to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, which has been important when Pakistan cut off supply lines. So I think by any objective measure, the relationship today is better than it was in 2008, although it is certainly not a relationship that is without problems.