Kommersant has reported that Washington will drop its public criticism of Russian human rights problems. According to the article, the United States would only discuss human rights with Russia in intergovernmental forums. This revelation, of course, comes as talks with Iran are underway and after Washington agreed to scrap its missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic. Secretary of State Clinton is in Moscow today and spoke about an agreement between Russia and the United States to co-operate on a range of issues including Afghanistan, Iran and arms reduction. She is also expected to announce a joint missile defense program between the US and Russia.
The Obama administration is backing up its rhetoric and actually engaging Russia on some of its own terms. Russia, for its part, has agreed to work with the United States on confronting Iran, but has remained skeptical of sanctions.
Co-operation between the United States and Russia is still in its infancy. The only real political exchange between Washington and Moscow was the trading of a non-existing missile defense program for non-existing sanctions. Regardless of the triviality of this agreement, it is still indicative of a much better relationship between the US and Russia than during the Bush years when relations steadily deteriorated.
Most importantly, the events of the past few weeks indicate that the Obama administration is willing to give Russia something that it has been seeking since the collapse of the Soviet Union: respect. By negotiating with Russia and yielding to a few of their requests, the US is telling the Kremlin that it is a significant geopolitical power. Secretary of State Clinton even said that the ties between Washington and Moscow were now based on "mutual respect".
The Obama administration is following through with its rhetoric on engaging the rest of the world and using diplomacy as a means of affecting its foreign policy objectives. Unfortunately, this may happen at the expense of Russia’s human rights record. Hopefully the Kremlin will warm up enough to the White House for some significant foreign policy actions to take place and make this trade worthwhile.