On heels of spy case, Clinton in Russia’s backyard
Posted: Thursday, July 1, 2010 8:01 pm
WASHINGTON (AP) — On the heels of a sensational Russian spy scandal, Hillary Rodham Clinton is making her first visit as secretary of state to four post-Soviet states, each with a direct stake in the Obama administration’s campaign to “reset” relations with its former Cold War foe.
Clinton was headed to Ukraine today, to be followed by stops in the south Caucasus states of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia — all once part of the Soviet Union. She also is scheduled to visit Poland, a NATO ally whose ties to Moscow have been marked by tensions throughout history.
Clinton was delaying her departure slightly in order to bid farewell today to Sen. Robert C. Byrd in the Senate chamber, where he will lie in state before being flown to West Virginia for a memorial service.
Clinton’s trip was planned long before the Justice Department on Monday announced it had arrested 10 people fingered as covert intelligence agents of the Russian government. The case underscores lingering tensions with Russia at a time when the Obama administration is bragging about the diplomatic payoff from making a fresh start with Moscow 18 months ago.
Even trickier than the spy allegations, however, are the politics of U.S. relations with former Soviet republics like Georgia, which is still smarting from Russia’s armed invasion in August 2008.
The Obama administration is trying to strike a balance between pressing the Russians to withdraw their forces from the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and convincing the Georgian government that building up its military is not the right solution.
“We don’t think that arms sales and military equipment is the path to the situation in Georgia that we’re trying to get to,” said Philip Gordon, the State Department’s top Russia policy official. The best route for Georgia, he said, is to build a stronger, more prosperous democracy.
At the center of the Russia-Georgia tensions is an effort by Moscow to reassert its influence in the region, to preserve what President Dmitry Medvedev calls a Russian zone of “privileged interest.” The U.S. rejects the notion of a Russian sphere of influence.
In taking a friendlier approach to Russia, the Obama administration claims the payoff has been substantial. It cites the recently completed New START nuclear arms reduction treaty as well as Russia’s acceptance of a U.N. Security Council resolution on sanctions against Iran.
Published in The Messenger 7.1.10