What Reset Button?

The emergence of a Kremlin leader without a KGB background, combined with the uncertainty generated by the economic crisis, has inspired talk that when Barack Obama visits Moscow, will be coming to a country on the verge of a political thaw, or revived perestroika. But pushing the “re-set button” on US-Russia relations may be harder than Obama and his team ever imagined.

MOSCOW – The emergence of a Kremlin leader, President Dmitri Medvedev, without a KGB background, combined with the economic crisis, has inspired talk that when Barack Obama visits Moscow, America’s president will be seeing a country on the verge of a new political thaw, a revived perestroika . But pushing the “re-set button” on US-Russia relations may be harder than Obama and his team imagined.

Russian (or Soviet) leaders opt for perestroika or a thaw only when forced to do so by dire conditions that threaten the regime’s survival. An atmosphere of mortal fear, mutual suspicion, and hatred among the Communist elite was the catalyst for Nikita Khrushchev’s post-Stalin thaw. For Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980’s, the catalyst for his perestroika was the USSR’s growing economic paralysis.

For both men, the goal of clinging to power was a top priority. Changing the system and easing their grip on power was a risky move that could undermine their authority. But the risks of inertia seemed to be even higher. In the end, having opted for change, both were forced to leave their posts prematurely, against their will.

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