Boehner Asserts Himself on Russia Policy

Posted October 25, 2011 at 12:47pm

Updated: 6:08 p.m.

Speaker John Boehner today warned that he will block Russia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization until that nation recognizes the “territorial integrity” of Georgia, accusing the White House of “leaning” on Georgia to drop its demands.

In a policy speech at the Heritage Foundation, the Ohio Republican harshly criticized President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with Russia, particularly when it comes to Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union.

Georgia and Russia have had difficult relations since the republic broke from the Soviet Union, and in 2008 the two nations engaged in a brief war over two breakaway territories, which have large Russian populations.

Boehner said he has heard “alarming reports that the administration is leaning on Georgia” to drop its insistence that Russia recognize its territorial claims and not insist that Russia return to the pre-2008 war borders.

“The administration should resolve this stalemate in a manner that respects the territorial integrity of Georgia. Then — and only then — will movement on the WTO question be worth considering,” Boehner said.

A White House official countered that the “administration remains unwavering in its commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

“We have made clear, both in private channels and in public statements, that the United States will not support Russia’s WTO accession until Russia and Georgia reach agreement on their outstanding trade-related issues,” the official added.

On the broader question of Obama’s reset policy, which has been criticized by Republicans generally, Boehner was equally harsh.

“When America leads, it gives optimism and hope. When America looks away, it causes confusion and uncertainty. Instead of downplaying Russia’s disregard for democratic values and human rights, we should call them on it. Publicly, forcefully, frequently,” Boehner said.

“The United States should insist Russia ‘reset’ its own policies. If those appeals require teeth, the House stands ready to provide them. … Articulating our values is no act of belligerence, and certainly nothing to be sorry for. It’s a duty, one we accept confidently and gratefully. And, I would add, it’s a president’s duty as well,” he said.