As the G-20 meeting approaches, it has been announced that President Obama will have a 90 minute meeting on Monday with President Putin of Russia.
This private meeting can be a pivotal point in the Russian-American relations at a time of great social unrest in the Russian Federation. As such, Putin comes to the meeting needing a huge public relations victory that would play well back home. While the traditional anti-American and anti-European tones played well before, now that the opposition movements and the public have begun to question the official positions of the government, Obama has a rare opportunity to assert American foreign policy interests.
Here are the three policy decisions that Obama should use to make the meeting a success:
1) Commit to Reestablish American Anti-Ballistic Missiles in Eastern Europe
In the first days of the Obama administration, the pressure was on to draw concrete differences between the previous administration and the coming one. President Obama sought to stand by his promise to reach out to those previously ostracized by President George W. Bush in the hopes of building and bridging the divide. However, the move weakened the American hand in Russian and Middle Eastern affairs, not to mention the domestic politics of Russia. Now that there is direct evidence of Russian arm sales to the government of Syria, there is a renewed need for missile defense to protect Europe. Russia cannot be trusted to show good judgment on what they sell, not to mention the humanitarian crisis that Russia is directly responsible for. Our threat could force their hand and get them to cease their unconditional support for the Syrian government.
2) Commit to Allocating $150 Million of Civil Society Fund Moneys to Russian Groups
There is a Civil Society Fund for Russia that is in the budget. Obama should make it clear that his administration is committed to investing in civil society. Such investment should be directed toward fellowships and scholarships for graduate students, law students, and those from provincial universities to come and learn about democratic institutions. Most importantly this would create an urgent need for the administration to work with the members of Congress to approve the appropriation and bring about long-lasting change in Russia. This is for the long game and would undercut the ability of the Putin supporters to keep their hold of Russia. Additionally, it is hard to oppose scholarship appropriations.
3) Commit to Greater Natural Gas Exports to Europe and Support Gas Exploration
Fracking has reduced the price of natural gas in the United States to historic lows. As such, Obama should make clear our intention to license, zone, and subsidize the construction of Gas Liquefaction Plants in Pennsylvania and export the gas to Europe. Doing so will undercut the Russian monopoly and stranglehold on the European energy market.
For the first time in a long time, we can assert our foreign policy objectives and serve to support our human rights agenda through non-military means. Economic and ideological power will speak volumes and will bring the United States closer to investing in a Russia that can be a democratic partner with Europe and the U.S.