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.
"We know the president has significantly reduced funding and curtailed development of the U.S. national missile defense system, undermining our ability to effectively intercept long-range ballistic missiles. And we know the president has doubled-down on efforts to reduce our nuclear arsenal while failing to honor his promises to modernize the aging nuclear weapons complex," Kyl continued.
"But what we don’t know is what President Obama has in mind for after the election, when he would gain some ‘flexibility’ in negotiating with the Russians," the senator said. "Perhaps the Russians, in whom President Obama recently confided, could shed some light on his missile defense plans for the American people who otherwise have been left in the dark by this president."
It's clear that Putin will eat that "flexibility" for lunch, but Obama still has the "flexibility" to keep his end of the bargain to the Senate.
Yet nearly 17 months later, crickets.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), tried once in May 2011 to nudge the administration with the New START Treaty Implementation Act, and introduced a revised version of the bill this March: the Maintaining the President's Commitment to Our Nuclear Deterrent and National Security Act of 2012.
That legislation came after Obama's FY 2013 budget, which left out the funds to implement modernization of the arsenal.
“The long-term health and credibility of our nuclear deterrent depends on this bill, as does our national security. During the Senate’s consideration of the New START Treaty, the president made many promises to achieve support for Senate ratification," Turner said. "With the president’s FY13 budget request, it is now apparent that those promises have been broken. This bill will correct that and ensure the promises are kept."
The bill would require construction of key new plutonium and uranium facilities, prevent asymmetries between the sizes of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, and codify the president’s promise of full funding for modernization of the nuclear stockpile. It also would refuse funding for implementing the results of the president’s ongoing nuclear employment strategy review to allow ample time for Congress to consider it.
Four of the measure's 10 co-sponsors sit on Turner's subcommittee.
"One of the key reasons the administration is failing to meet its promises is that our nuclear weapons enterprise is broken," Turner added, noting that not only the nuclear force needs to be modernized but the infrastructure supporting it.
Republicans in the Senate are equally irritated that the New START ratification promises have not been kept, and that's not limited to lawmakers who were in the upper chamber when the deal was forged.
A group of freshmen wrote Obama on April 26, asking when he was going to come through on his commitments.
“For those who voted in favor of New START, the commitment to nuclear modernization was deemed essential,” said the letter, led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “Those of us who came to the Senate after the New START was ratified, and who were already skeptical of the treaty’s merits, will watch closely to see how these commitments are carried out. A failure to honor past nuclear modernization commitments will impact our willingness to support New START implementation and any future treaties related to our nuclear weapons complex.”
Also signing on to the letter were Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
The White House did not respond to a PJM request about the letter or Obama's plans to fund the modernization.
The week before, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) called on Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) to hold an oversight hearing “to determine whether the administration has fully lived up to the expectations raised and commitments made in order to garner support” for the treaty.
“In the intervening months since this body provided its advice and consent, the administration has not requested the funding required to meet our nuclear modernization needs, the administration appears prepared to negotiate away pieces of our missile defense plans and there is no clearer path on progress in achieving the other conditions and declarations outlined in the Resolution of Ratification," Corker and Isakson wrote.
Obama will now meet Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Cabos, Mexico, on June 18-19. There, Russia will have ally China at hand.
But as the snub that the White House refuses to call a snub shows, Putin is ready to go mano-a-mano with an administration so eager for "reset" that it will sell out its own allies and make empty promises to lawmakers to push this perception of cooperation with a modern-day tsar.
It's the "flexibility" that Putin is eager to exploit as a withering weakness.