Critics of the Obama administration's "reset" with Russia have created a narrative that they repeat with striking consistency. In order to garner concessions from the Kremlin, they claim the administration has "neglect[ed] and even abandon[ed] other countries in region." What's more, President Barack Obama got practically nothing in return for these alleged betrayals. Perhaps his most-hyped accomplishment with Moscow, Russia's vote for tougher Iran sanctions, is comparable to a used rug.
The omnipresence of this narrative is matched by its complete disconnect from reality. In fact, the reset has provided a laundry list of deliverables, from an agreement that allows U.S. planes to fly over Russian territory on their way to Afghanistan, to Iran sanctions that are significantly more stringent than the prior three (if it's a used rug, then it must be a pricey Persian antique).
But the first charge -- that the improvement in U.S.-Russia relations has entailed throwing the United States' Eastern European NATO allies (Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states) and other partners in the region (read: Georgia and Ukraine) "under the bus" -- is equally if not more spurious.
The argument, advanced most prominently by Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, goes as follows: The Obama administration, in its rush to address global challenges that require Moscow's participation, has sacrificed its relationships with Russia's vulnerable neighbors, who did nothing to deserve it. Further, by doing deals with those evildoers in Moscow, Obama has given Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his henchmen the green light to implement their grand strategy of regional domination. You can almost hear the thud of the bus passing over the lifeless bodies of the presidents and prime ministers of various countries as a smug-faced Putin sits behind the wheel. Although it makes for compelling imagery (not to mention op-eds), this narrative is patently false.
It was not a surprise that the administration's stated intent to improve the moribund U.S. relationship with Russia occasioned some initial anxiety in the region. Elites there had grown accustomed to a zero-sum equation between the quality of U.S. ties with Russia and Washington's commitment to their countries. After all, George W. Bush had championed "New Europe" and pushed hard for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, while leading an administration that featured outspoken Russia critics.