Welcome to the New Reset Order
Like the tsars of old, Vladimir Putin strode confidently into St. Andrew's Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace on Monday to take the oath of office for his third presidential term.
As white-gloved soldiers pulled open the massive, ornate golden doors for the ruler of Russia since 2000 -- who held a slightly different title but the same power the past four years -- one could imagine President Obama trotting down the red carpet on Putin's heels, trying to catch up, as the doors of the throne room shut behind Putin with a bang and Obama is left alone on the other side, knocking to be let in.
Consider it a poetic illustration of the New Reset Order.
In an epic snub as Obama congratulated Putin on his reascendance to the presidency, Putin informed Obama just 48 hours into his new term that he would be skipping the G-8 meeting at Camp David on May 18-19.
It's the first time since Russia's membership expanded the group of the world's top economies to eight that a Russian president won't attend.
Even better? The Moscow Times reports that, pre-snub, Putin requested the G-8 summit be moved to Camp David from Chicago -- and the White House, which denied the report, said "as you wish."
The reason the White House gave for the G-8 absence is that Putin is too busy finalizing his new cabinet. This, obviously, is a load of borscht. Putin has never stopped ruling since his first presidency, and shuffling his hand-picked technocrat placeholder president, Dmitry Medvedev, meant that the Kremlin has been continually stocked with his hand-picked loyalists.
In his stead, Putin said he'd send Obama's old burger-eating buddy and new Prime Minister Medvedev.
Today, White House press secretary Jay Carney brushed off Putin's pullout, saying they weren't "disappointed" by the decision as "President Putin was just sworn into office and is obviously forming a government, and the president absolutely understands that."
"It was not a surprise, and it does not at all feel like a snub," Carney said. "It was something we understood and understand. And again, the president will be meeting with President Putin in one month, which is not much time at all. And he looks forward to that meeting."
Medvedev was president when Obama came into office and declared that his administration would hit the reset button in relations with Russia. This even included a big cheesy reset button presented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- a gesture lost in translation in more ways than one, as the word above the button, "peregruzka," meant "overcharged," not "reset."
The kid-gloved "reset" from the Obama administration worked for Russia -- the Kremlin got White House cooperation in pushing through the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and critical support for its World Trade Organization membership bid. Shortly into his term, Obama dropped plans to deploy a ballistic-missile defense shield in Central Europe, saying he had something better in mind -- and conveniently taking a source of Kremlin irritation off the table.
It's safe to say -- with a red stamp of confirmation from the Kremlin this week -- that Obama got played.
But not to be outdone, Obama also played the Senate in his efforts to appease Russia, as he's now falling short on the 11th-hour promises he made to GOP lawmakers before Christmas 2010 to get that treaty ratified and out the door.
After extended wrangling with fence-sitters needed to get past the two-thirds threshold, Obama committed to spend an extra $14 billion to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the following decade.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was instrumental in extracting that vow in negotiations that yielded louder outcry from Moscow the longer they dragged on.
Obama was famously caught on an open mic in late March telling Medvedev that Putin needs to give him "space" on missile defense as "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." Medvedev, knowing his place in the real pecking order, dutifully responded that he would pass along the message -- which also got passed along to the entire Internet -- to Vladimir.
That set off the senator who'd worked so hard in late 2010 to get national security assurances from the White House in conjunction with the arms-reduction treaty.
"We know the president supported language in the New START Treaty to link missile defense to nuclear reductions. We know the administration is sharing information with Russia, including plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe," Kyl said.
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