The End of 'Reset': Russian Orphans Get the Shaft

This Christmas, Santa Claus delivered what is likely the biggest lump of foreign policy coal that any U.S. president has ever received in his stocking: Barack Obama's "reset" policy with Russia collapsed almost as spectacularly as did the USSR.

Where to begin, where to begin?  Perhaps with the threats of World War III?

In the week leading up to Christmas, Russia threatened to break off diplomatic relations (Russian-language link) with the United States and launch unilateral attacks on U.S. warships sailing through international waters in the Black Sea.

These bloodthirsty statements from high-ranking officials in the Russian government came in response to further efforts by the U.S. to bolster its missile defense shield in Eastern Europe and to the enactment of the so-called Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russian government officials who participate in the abuse of basic human rights.

Sergei Magnitsky was a crusading anti-corruption attorney who was arrested and tortured to death in the dungeons of Vladimir Putin, apparently because his investigations were getting too close to Putin's inner circle.  Russia responded to the passage of the Magnitsky Act in shockingly neo-Soviet fashion: by having its parliament approve a law denying American parents access to Russian orphans.  When a petition was circulated on the White House website calling for Russian legislators who voted against their own country's orphans to be added to the Magnitsky blacklist, the Russian parliament called for escalation in the form of severing diplomatic relations.  The poll has already collected fifty thousand signatures, more than twice the number that forces Obama to respond.

Tellingly, a different kind of petition is circulating in Russia and has generated similar support:  one to rename the city of Volgograd after Josef Stalin, one of history's worst mass-murderers.

Seemingly just for spite, the Kremlin dropped all charges (Russian-language link) against the sole remaining suspect being investigated in connection with Magnitsky's murder.  In a press conference, Putin denied that Magnitsky was tortured at all and venomously attacked the U.S. as being guilty of far worse transgressions of human rights.

And there was more to the Kremlin's anti-adoption law than was widely reported.  It also contains draconian new restrictions on U.S.-funded NGOs, making it a crime for any organization that receives U.S. funding to participate in any Russian political activities.  It even imposed radical changes on the rights of Russian-U.S. dual citizens, barring them from any form of political leadership in NGOs.

Russia continues to provide aid and comfort to the vicious dictatorship in Syria, spurning the united worldwide efforts to pressure Russia's last ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad, to surrender power.  It continues to seek common cause with China, essentially in hopes of establishing a neo-Soviet Warsaw Pact. All around the world, from Cuba and Venezuela to North Korea, Russia actively seeks to frustrate American interests whenever and wherever it can.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one making the rounds on Twitter summed up the situation best: a Russian calendar put out on the KGB (now known as the FSB) showed the KGB's seal landing on that of the CIA, causing the latter to shatter and burst into flames.

And speaking of pictures, Russia is implementing savage new neo-Soviet restrictions on the American film industry.  It will require Russian theaters to show a quota of Russian-made films (regardless of their quality) and will impose crushing financial penalties on theaters that fail to comply.  It's clear that this is a first step towards pushing American popular culture out of Russian society, the same goal pursued by the USSR.

There is nothing surprising in any of this, of course.  Russians have chosen to hand unchecked power for life to Putin, a proud KGB spy who has spent his entire adult life learning how to hate and destroy America and the values it stands for.  Indeed, it would be surprising if Russia's policies were at all different from what they are.

What is surprising is Obama's policy towards Russia.  From his first moments in office, with no factual basis whatsoever, Obama has acted as if Russia were an entirely different country, one with which America can make productive deals.  In doing so, Obama has shown either his ignorance or his mendacity, and his policies of conciliation and appeasement have achieved nothing except to embolden Russian aggression and contempt.

When the U.S. Senate, controlled by Obama's own party, voted overwhelmingly to approve the Magnitsky Law despite Obama's opposition, the "reset" was formally laid in its grave.  Russia's frenzied, pathological response to the law's enactment shows the world only too clearly the real attitude Russians have towards the United States -- an attitude Obama has either recklessly ignored or mendaciously covered up for the past four years.

Both Russian democracy activists and the Russian public at large support the Magnitsky Law.  In other words, they want their own country to be sanctioned because they are terrified that otherwise, they may be next.  Obama's opposition to the law was contrary to American interests and the desires of the Russians, but it served Obama's personal narrative regarding his ability to transform enemies into friends.  Now, Obama's policy has collapsed for all the world to see, luckily for him just after having secured re-election.

But it is an indignity that American history will find it hard to live down.

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