President Obama Promised Flexibility to Russia-Truth!

President Obama Promised Flexibility to Russia-Truth!

Summary of eRumor:
Amid rumors about Russian hackers meddling in U.S. elections, reports have gone viral from 2012 about President Obama pledging “more flexibility” to Russia.
The Truth:
It’s true that President Obama told then-Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate missile defense after the November 2012 election.
Despite those assurances, however, Obama was never able to negotiate a European missile defense deal that Russia approved of, and that has contributed to current tensions between the two nations.
A hot microphone captured the exchange between Obama and Russia’s former president in March 2012 after the leaders met about a U.S. missile defense system in Europe in South Korea, the New York Times reports:

Mr. Obama’s Republican adversaries seized on the comment, which followed a meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea, where both had struggled to find common ground amid strong objections in Russia to the American plans for a missile defense system based in Europe.

As a pool of television journalists gathered for a news conference on the leaders’ meeting, Mr. Obama leaned in to deliver private assurances to Mr. Medvedev. But speaking inadvertently into an open microphone, he offered a frank assessment of the difficulty of reaching a deal — on this or any other subject — in an election year.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Mr. Obama could be heard saying to Mr. Medvedev, according a reporter from ABC News, who was traveling with the president.

“Yeah, I understand,” the departing Russian president said. “I understand your message about space. Space for you … .”

Mr. Obama then elaborated in a portion of the exchange picked up by the cameras: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

“I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Mr. Medvedev said, referring to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who just won an election to succeed Mr. Medvedev.

A video clip of the exchange can be viewed here:
The flap was over the Obama administration’s “European Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) to missile defense in Europe to augment defense “against prospective longer-range ballistic missiles from Iran,” the Brookings Institution reports:

Initially, the Russians seemed to see the EPAA as less of a threat than the Bush administration plan that it replaced. The Russians agreed at the end of 2010 to explore a cooperative missile defense arrangement with NATO. In 2011, however, Russian officials attached priority to securing from Washington a “legal guarantee” that U.S. missile defenses would not be directed against Russian strategic ballistic missiles, accompanied by a series of constraints.

The Obama administration has offered a political assurance on this but could not agree to a legal guarantee. Republican support for missile defense and op- position to any treaty limits on it would mean that a treaty could not obtain the two-thirds majority necessary for Senate ratification. Moscow nevertheless has held to its insistence. The mix of motives that underlies the Russian approach to missile defense and possible cooperation with NATO is not entirely clear but likely includes: concern that later phases of the EPAA or subsequent developments will threaten Russian strategic ballistic missiles; Ministry of Defense reluctance in principle to engage in a cooperative effort; opposition to U.S. military infrastructure on the territory of countries that joined NATO in or after 1999; and a desire to drive wedges within NATO. Finally, Moscow may be in a holding pattern on missile defense, as it is on nuclear arms control issues, until it sees who wins the November U.S. presidential election.

Ultimately, the Obama administration couldn’t secure an agreement for the missile defense shield that satisfied Republicans in Congress and the Kremlin, and the deal stalled. In May 2016, however, the U.S. launched its European missile defense shield (under control of NATO) launched — with staunch opposition from Russia, CNN reports:

“From the very outset we kept saying that in the opinion of our experts the deployment of an anti-missile defense poses a threat to Russia,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Tass News Agency. “The question is not whether measures will be taken or not; measures are being taken to maintain Russia’s security at the necessary level.”

Russia believes the missile defense system breaches a 1987 agreement it signed with the U.S.

In October, at a meeting of the meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Russia, Russian President Vladimir accused the U.S. of “lying” about a “hypothetical Iranian threat, which never existed” and called the system “an attempt to destroy the strategic balance.”

The 2012 exchange between Obama and Medvedev was trudged up again after widespread reports that hackers working under the direction of Vladimir Putin leaked hacked emails to influence the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.
However, Obama was never able to negotiate a European missile defense deal that Russia agreed with, and that has contributed to current tensions between the two countries. While it’s true that Obama promised “more flexibility” to Russians in 2012, that never materialized in a deal Russia approved of.