When George Bush looked him the eye, he caught a glimpse of his soul. When John McCain gave it try, he saw the three letters K-G-B. It's now Barrack Obama's turn to do better. Vladimir Putin and his Russia have consistently befuddled U.S. policy makers. The roller-coaster relationship between Russia and United States over the last 8 years is evidence of no guiding principles or strategy on the part of either side.
In 2000, two fresh faces came to power in Washington and Moscow. Both squandered opportunities to put their countries on firm footing for the future. Mr. Bush's unilateralism produced backlash on the world stage and plagued his presidency with poor approval ratings. In Russia, Mr. Putin's belligerence was met with applause and soaring approval. Yet corruption persists, media freedoms have been rolled back, and political opposition has been consistently persecuted. This is not the way of the future for Russia - just as unilateralism is not the way of the future for the United States.
So, in 2008 two fresh faces can once again be seen in Washington and Moscow. As America turns the page on the Bush presidency, it is time for the U.S. to also turn the page on its relationship with Vladimir Putin. There's a new president in Russia and even though his name is harder to pronounce for most Americans (ask Hillary Clinton), Dimitri Medvedev doesn’t appear near as problematic as Putin.
He is lawyer by training and it has shown in his policy objectives as president. He has appointed an anti-corruption tsar to fight what he calls "legal nihilism" which threatens Russia's economic growth. He has espoused respect for international law as the foremost aspect of Russian foreign policy. Though many never expected it, Medvedev has also stood up to Mr. Putin in spite of the latter's still considerable power. When Putin's loose lips sank the stock market in Russia in July, President Medvedev was quick to criticize the government's meddling in small and medium sized businesses. He went so far as to say government agencies were creating legal nightmares for businesses.
This is not intended to whitewash Medvedev's role in the invasion of Georgia. Power transitions in Russia have never been easy, but if the press and U.S. policy makers insist on treating Mr. Putin as the 'decider' then sadly, we will only have more of the same roller-coaster relationship.
Mr. Obama will have the chance to look Putin in the eyes without a doubt. If he is smart, that's all he will do. It's time for both Washington and Moscow to change course. The last time the United States hesitated on who to support, Russia experienced a flow of dictators. Now is no time to repeat that mistake of 1917. Obama and Medvedev, represent much more liberal visions for their countries than their predecessors. We face significant issues ranging from NATO expansion and missile defense, to energy policies and a nuclear Iran. These issues will not solve themselves simply because of new presidents. However, it’s time to close the book on the disappointments of the last 8 years.