The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Is Russia Kicking Dirt in John Kerry's Face?

Sergey_Lavrov_17.03.2010

Here’s an early sign of how successful the Obama administration’s plan to get Russia on board vis-à-vis Syria: Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, told the press today that Moscow will send air defense missiles to Syria after all.

Moscow plans to deliver already contracted ground-to-air missile systems to Syria, Russian officials said Friday, pressing ahead with an arms transfer that U.S. officials say could significantly strengthen Damascus’s ability to ward off an attack. [...]

Russian state television, reporting on Mr. Lavrov’s trip, went beyond the official line: “After the S-300s are put into service, a repeat of the Libyan scenario—the imposition of a no-fly zone over the country—would be extremely difficult,” said the Vesti-24 channel.

Mitt Romney was wrong to suggest that Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical enemy, but nobody should confuse it for a friend. Putin has no interest in helping the Obama administration look powerful or successful. On the contrary, the Kremlin believes that undermining American prestige and credibility worldwide is a vital Russian interest.

That does not preclude carefully negotiated bargains on areas of common interest, but that “carefully negotiated” part is a lot harder than it looks — and more desperate you seem to get a deal, the uglier the deal you will get.

Even if Russia and the US can ultimately agree on a course in Syria—and that’s a very big if—Russia will still be strongly inclined to do everything in its power to trip up the US and hand it a diplomatic defeat.

It’s a big mistake to underestimate the anti-American paranoia and deep-seated resentment that animates the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is hungry to avoid the humiliating impasse resulting from a succession of policy mistakes that have gotten it so entangled in Syria, which may make the administration less skeptical than it should be about Russia’s intentions here.

At this point in its history Russia has been reduced to an opportunistic power looking for ways to insert itself into world politics; it would be unrealistic to expect the Kremlin to do anything but try to make the most of what it must see as a rare, heaven-sent chance to gain the upper hand over the US on a high profile issue.

Moscow is likely to read the US response to this provocation very carefully; if the administration swallows the missile sale without response, Russia won’t see this as demonstrating US “friendship” and “sincerity,” it will see this as a clear sign of weakness and desperation and will push harder. Iran will see this too and the mullahs will draw their conclusions. It’s likely that the Gulf Arabs and the Turks have already significantly downgraded their assessments of American focus and will based on this news. In Jerusalem, too, where the missile story first surfaced, they are assessing the reliability of their American ally.

Is alienating our regional allies worth a dubious deal with the Kremlin? We are likely to find out in the not too distant future. But Russia’s goal is not to help us get out of our diplomatic predicament; it is to make us pay the highest possible price for our blunders.

In the end, the lesson isn’t “don’t do business with Russia.” The lesson is “when doing business with Russia you need to understand the rules of the game.” The administration needs to do something sharp and swift that Russia will feel, or it can expect a continuing succession of nasty surprises.

[Image of Sergei Lavrov courtesy of Wikimedia]

Published on May 11, 2013 3:01 pm
  • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

    Why should Russia back the weak horse?
    If anyone would kick dirt in Kerry’s face, I’d cheer, just as I cheered when the Venezuelans stoned Nixon’s motorcade. Some foreigners have a better understanding of personalities than we natives dare exhibit. Kerry is nothing but a timeserver and never has been much more than that.

  • Pete

    “Is Russia Kicking Dirt in John Kerry’s Face?”

    Well, given that nobody respects a gigolo … nor a country that appoints one as Sec. of State, I’d say so.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nick.berio Nick Berio

      and also a douche bag. Oops did I say Douche Bag? I meant 3Xs Douche bag.

  • John Stephens

    Punks get punked.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Atanu-Maulik/100000528219784 Atanu Maulik

    Russians have been reduced to a state where they have to indulge in some nuisance to get noticed. So sad.

  • USNK2

    In 2009, Obama stopped the GM sale of Saab to a Russian oligarch, after Merkel had said ok
    That deserves a growlingbearsmackdown, so why not on Syria?

  • http://twitter.com/Thirdsyphon Thirdsyphon

    If Russia is openly, even boastfully providing lethal assistance to the Assad regime… then doesn’t the situation in Syria become, at a certain point, *Russia’s* problem? America’s reluctance to become similarly involved stems from our lack of interest in choosing sides between a bloodthirsty dictator and his radical Islamist opponents. By meddling so aggressively in Syria, Putin’s Russia has bought ownership of both the conflict and its unknowable but almost certainly tragic outcome.

    May he have the joy of it. Putin’s goal might have been to trap America in a quagmire, but the effective consequence of his actions has been to provide the U.S. with an easy way out of one.

    • timmaguire

      Good point. Those missiles are a diplomatic threat to us only if we have a clear interest in stopping the shipment. Do we?

    • iconoclast

      Arabs don’t like to bother Russia. The memory of Lebanon remains. Russia is still more of an Asian nation than a Western European nation, Peter the Great notwithstanding.

      • Heywood Johnson

        Being that they are in Asia, I think that definitely qualifies them as being an Asian nation instead of Western European nation. Great observation there rimpy.

        • iconoclast

          Geography isn’t your strong point, I see. Well, neither is logic. You aren’t even a very good troll.

          I suppose someone likes you-but it is difficult to imagine why. I am sure that the most common emotion people in the real world have towards you is contempt.

  • circleglider

    If Russia isn’t America’s biggest geopolitical enemy, then who is?

    Or does Via Media simply – and naively – reject any worldview that employs the word “enemy?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

      “If Russia isn’t America’s biggest geopolitical enemy, then who is?”
      The American Left, as exemplified by you-know-who.

    • Tom

      China.

      • circleglider

        China is certainly an economic competitor, but when did the U.S. last fight a proxy war with them?

        • Tom

          Technically, Vietnam. We also, as I recall, fought an actual war with them in Korea.
          In more present times, they’re vigorously making saber-rattling in East Asia and appear to be making a play for hegemony there.

          • bannedforselfcensorship

            Russian missiles can strike all of the US. Russia forces have actually been used recently against US allies…see Georgia. I’d put China ahead of Russia, too, but Russia is a close second.

    • timmaguire

      Russia’s glory days are over for the foreseeable future. The obvious candidate for “most dangerous adversary” status is China.

  • Boritz

    One nation is a second rate power with nukes and the other exports caviar.

  • Rich K

    We deserve this dressing down for electing these pathetic fools.

  • Bob Honiker

    Kerry is a pompous pretender, Teresa probably had to spend some big bucks to get him out of the house.

  • LizardLizard

    Yep. Guess Hillary’s “reset” of US-Russian relations was a bomb? Hmm. You mean, she wasn’t the best SOS ever? What? And Ketchup thought his buddy Assad was a reformer, remember. God help us and the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maxwell-Jump/100003240025333 Maxwell Jump

    “the anti-American paranoia and deep-seated resentment that animates RUSSIANS. ”

    There, fixed it for ya. Go read the comment section of any Russian media story dealing with anything that happens in the US. Chilling and scary!

  • Robert Speirs

    What does Russia do if (when?) the rebels win and behead Assad?

  • archarthur

    If Obama were smart he would announce that we will authorize natural gas drilling on federal land and use the revenue to subsidize a fleet of liquified natural gas ships used to ship gas to Northern Europe. This would gore GazProm, Putin’s cash cow.

    Second, he would fund $500 M for a black program to develop ECM and ECCM aimed at the S-300 missile system. Defense exports are the Russians’ only other major source of hard currency

  • OldmanRick

    Neither Russia nor China resemble anything close to friends to the US. In fact they together or individually are out to destroy the US.

  • shinynewtoken

    Is there an American who wouldn’t like to kick dirt in John Kerry’s face?

  • Laka

    Remember how John “A Stronger America” Kerry ran for President on a bizarre strength-through-weakness campaign. His idea was to immediately withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and somehow that would make us stronger.

    I never quite understood it, but evidently Putin understands it very well.

  • brendak

    “Is Russia Kicking Dirt in John Kerry’s Face?”

    The better question might be, “Who wouldn’t kick dirt in John Kerry’s face?”.

  • massjim

    I assume that as soon as Kerry’s name came up in relation to the Secretary os State job Russian intelligence researched everything, and I mean everything, there is to know about him. I also assume that they were less than impressed. Even dictatorships are less than impressed with those who consort with a countries enemies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.leslie.3998 Paul Leslie

    Putin sees Obama, Clinton, Kerry and the rest of the wannabe commie democrats as nothing more than useful idiots. He’s right – they’re ripe for the picking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.leslie.3998 Paul Leslie

    Putin is in commie heaven having commie wannabes like Obama, Clinton, Kerry, et. al. to play with as modern day “useful idiots.”