Obama's Campaign Promise to Russia

By Terence P. Jeffrey | February 21, 2018 | 4:48am EST
President Obama meets with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2012. (Screen grab)

It happened in the midst of America's 2012 election year.

Then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia for the third time that March. When he was inaugurated that May, he would replace his protege, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who, in turn, would succeed Putin as prime minister.

President Barack Obama, up for re-election in the United States that same year, phoned Putin to congratulate him on his election victory.

"President Obama called Russian President-elect and Prime Minister Putin to congratulate him on his recent victory in the Russian presidential election," said the White House "readout" of that call.

"President Obama and President-elect Putin agreed that the successful reset in relations should be built upon during the coming years," the White House said.

But a then-unanswered question puts this statement in context: Would American voters reset their own relations with Washington, D.C. — before Obama could further "reset" relations with Russia — by electing someone other than Obama in November 2012?

Would someone other than Obama be responsible for how U.S.-Russian relations "should be built upon" in the years after that election?

Less than three weeks after Obama placed his congratulatory call to Putin, he met with the lame-duck Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea, during an international summit on nuclear security.

Medvedev had made it clear before the summit that he objected to NATO's plan to deploy anti-missile defenses in Europe to protect against potential Iranian missile attacks.

When Obama whispered what he manifestly hoped would be a private statement to the Russian leader, it was picked up by what The New York Times would call an "open microphone."

The next day, the Times and many other newspapers published stories on the botched covert conversation between Obama and Medvedev. The Times story ran on page 14. It was headlined: "Microphone Catches a Candid Obama."


By use of the adjective "candid" to modify Obama, the Times seemed to be conceding there was also an "uncandid" Obama.

What did the "candid" Obama say in what he hoped would be a covert conversation?

"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," the Times reported.

"On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for him to give me space," Obama told Medvedev and (inadvertently) the entire world, the Times reported, attributing awareness of this part of the Obama-Medvedev conversation to "a reporter from ABC News, who was traveling with the president."

"Yeah, I understand," Medvedev said, according to the Times. "I understand your message about space. Space for you..."

The Times noted that the rest of the conversation was "picked up by the cameras."

"This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," Obama whispered to the Russian leader.

"I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," said Medvedev.

As Medvedev said these last words, according to videotape of the event, Obama reached out with his left hand and patted and gripped Medvedev's right forearm. Medvedev responded to the gesture by patting Obama's hand as it rested on his forearm and nodding his head in affirmation.

They were two comrades in agreement.

What did their conversation mean?

One conclusion is obvious: Obama wanted the Russian leader to know he would be more flexible in dealing with the Russians — that he would be able to give them more of what they wanted — if he was re-elected in his "last election" and never had to face American voters again.

Another conclusion is also obvious: Obama wanted Medvedev and Putin to know this, but not American voters.

For that to happen, he had to trust Medvedev and Putin not to reveal it.

Mitt Romney, who was then seeking the Republican presidential nomination, criticized Obama's botched covert conversation with Medvedev.

Russia "is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe," Romney opined on CNN, sounding like a 2018 Democrat.

"The idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he's not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming," Romney said.

Romney may not have been correct in asserting that Russia was our No. 1 geopolitical foe, but he was unquestionably right that it was wrong for Obama to join with the Russians in seeking to withhold something from American voters in an election year.

Imagine how liberals in the media and Congress would react if they uncovered a tape of Trump whispering with Vladimir Putin in a conversation similar to the one history shall always remember that Obama had with Medvedev.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of


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