Resetting the U.S.-Russian Reset

A key Putin aide notes in an interview with The National Interest that "it takes two to tango."

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dmitry Peskov, deputy chief of staff and press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, conducted by Paul Saunders, associate publisher of The National Interest and executive director of the Center for the National Interest, Washington, D.C. The interview was conducted Wednesday morning, January 23, 2013.

Paul Saunders: Thank you very much for taking time to talk to us. The "reset" in the U.S.-Russia relationship was one of the first foreign policy initiatives during President Obama’s first term. We heard recently that senior State Department officials have said that the word "reset" should be retired because the relationship has moved in a new direction and it’s no longer necessary to have a reset. How do you see the future of the reset after President Obama’s reelection?

Dmitry Peskov: Well, as a matter of fact Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov would say that is a very popular idea here in Moscow [to retire the word “reset”] and that it is a process that cannot be endless. And if the reset lasts for too long, that means to make something different, a different operation to get the process going. So let’s hope together that this is not the case. Well, unfortunately the flow of our bilateral relationship, the flow of some steps from Washington, it shows a kind of an attitude that unfortunately cannot be treated in Moscow as a “reset” mood. So that’s why we are very sorry because we are looking forward to having a working relationship of close partnership with the United States, developing a mutual responsibility for global security, for global strategic security, for regional security and solving all the issues in that connection and originally by diplomatic and peaceful methods, taking into account each other’s relationship, but definitely it takes two to tango. I mean we cannot build a bilateral relationship of friendship and partnership on our own. Unfortunately we witnessed some steps that in no way can be treated as a “reset” attitude.

Saunders: Can I ask which steps you have in mind?

Peskov: Well, I mean the Magnitsky law, the way it was discussed, the whole attitude towards Magnitsky actually. The Magnitsky case was artificially politicized and then the way it was supported, the toughest version of this draft was supported by President Obama, which definitely does not contribute to the further development of our bilateral relationship or a sphere of mutual understanding and mutual trust.

Saunders: The Obama administration, as you know, opposed that legislation, although of course when it was approved by Congress President Obama signed it. In Russia of course there has been the Dima Yakovlev law passed by the state Duma and signed by President Putin, with one of the bigger impacts being its effects on adoptions to the United States, which many Americans and particularly people in Congress have seen as disproportionate. Is that something— the Yakovlev law in the Duma, which obviously President Putin signed—is that something he supported? Or did he oppose that law before it was passed by the Duma?

Peskov: Well, there was a reaction of Russian lawmakers to the Magnitsky law definitely and the fact that that the Magnitsky law was adopted was a trigger for Russian parliament members. And the initiative of Russian deputies was supported by the President and the law that passed through the Duma was signed by the president. Definitely there is a response. What do you say now? What you say now is that Russia has zero tolerance towards laws like Magnitsky. That it is inappropriate to use an artificially politicized issue to interfere in domestic affairs. To raise the fear that does not exist in reality. This is a subject of zero tolerance for us.

Saunders: The way that you were talking about the reset suggested that maybe you don’t see the U.S.-Russian relationship as a major priority for the Obama administration in dealing with Russia. There have been press reports that the U.S. national-security advisor was coming to Moscow, then that trip was delayed. There have been reports that President Obama might come to Moscow, but there have been other reports saying that President Obama may not come to Russia until the G-20 Summit and not make a special trip. Do you believe that the Obama administration sees its relationship with Russia as a foreign-policy priority?

Peskov: Well definitely, I repeat, we would like to have our relationship with the United States be as advanced as possible. We would like to ensure that the relationship is a genuine relationship of strategic importance, of global importance. We attach very great importance to this relationship. We hope for a reciprocal attitude from Washington in this respect because otherwise there will be no chance for this relationship if the interest comes only from the Russian side. And definitely the Russian side will not be able to lead without any reaction and with any steps of the kind that have been witnessed lately.