Presidents Medvedev and Obama: More than just mood music?



Gazeta, Russia

Obama and Medvedev: Good Mood Music that Skirted the Central Issues


"It's not just the era of Russia's status as a superpower that has come to an end, but the era of American hegemony. Neither side has yet to fully recognize this. … But the revelation will inevitably come, and with it, perhaps, another lens through which Russia and America will look at one another."


By Fyodor Lukyanov*



Translated By Yekaterina Blinova


April 2, 2009


Russia - Gazeta - Original Article (Russian)

President Medvedev of Russia and Obama of the United States: A good start, but the hard bargaining is yet to come.


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The first meeting between Dimitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in London didn't bring a breakthrough in relations, but was, no doubt, a positive event. The confidence the meeting inspired wasn't due to the results achieved - there weren't and couldn't have been results achieved that quickly - but rather to the attitude of the two sides.


Both of them appear to be pragmatists who aspire to deal rationally with the difficult legacy of previous years. Vladimir Putin and George Bush Jr. were no longer capable of a new vision. Too many hopes turned to great disappointment. Their personal attitudes toward one another and the key issues on the table weighed too heavily on matters of state.


The London meeting offers hope that there will now be more common sense and accurate calculation between our two nations - and less emotion and exasperation.


The meeting showed that both sides understand the need to begin on issues where U.S.-Russia interests are either the same or at least compatible, and hence progress is more likely. Therefore, during the first stage, talks about future agreements on Afghanistan and START [Strategic Arms Reduction Talks] are center stage.


On strategic arms, a mutually acceptable solution is possible. The gradual reduction of capacity is of benefit to all. It will allow cuts in unwanted surpluses and establish an institutional dialogue with an acceptance of conditions that hasn't occurred between Russia and the United States in a very long time. Besides, talks on arms reduction are the only sphere in which both countries equal, which is an important psychological factor for Moscow.


An understanding on the Afghan transition is completely logical as well. There is no fundamental disagreement on Afghanistan and the “Taliban” movement lacks friends among the world's leading players. And Russia need not exert an extraordinary effort - only enough to offer feasible and, in fact, commercially-favorable cooperation.


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In the longer term, there is no clarity on the situation in Afghanistan because the goals of the operation are unclear. The original objective - a stroke of retribution for September 11 and destruction of the terrorist infrastructure - was already achieved in the fall of 2001. Since then, the Afghan campaign has remained on the periphery of American attention - which was focused on Iraq. Today the situation in Afghanistan threatens to spiral out of control and the conditions needed for a withdrawal of Western coalition forces have yet to be created. Judging by Washington's changing tone, this will become the goal: avoiding humiliation while preparing the ground for a pullout. Hence the trial balloons about “moderate” Taliban. And after a U.S. and NATO withdrawal, Afghanistan will mean new problems for Russia, but that is a matter for the future.


These two lines of reasoning are where the easy part of the journey ends; all further items on the agenda are bound to result in conflict.


The issue of a common defense against nuclear attack, mentioned by Obama, is very delicate, so its turn will come last - if the level of trust increases significantly. It's more likely to crown, not inaugurate, the process of “rebooting” relations.


The situation with Iran is extremely difficult. Moscow and Washington evaluate the level of threat differently - and hence the nature of the Teheran regime. In America as in Israel, the regime is suspected of irrationality and religious fanaticism. In Russia, Iranian bombs and rockets evoke much less concern, but rather draw attention to Iran's calculated desire to become a regional power. Since in any of its incarnations, Iran will remain an important neighbor of Russia - and not the United States - Moscow is trying to seize the moment to establish beneficial relations with Teheran - both commercially and geopolitically.


From left to right: Obama, Berlusconi and Medvedev are

all smiles at taking of the 'family photo' at G20 Summit.


But this isn't the main problem. Putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy is most likely impossible. Theoretically, one can imagine a dramatic shift in Washington's policies, much like its reconciliation with China in the early 1970s. But the likelihood is low - a theocratic regime is a far more difficult partner than a communist one.


Since Teheran's acquisition of nuclear status will be followed by the uncontrolled collapse of the non-proliferation regime, the United States considers this an existential threat. So the question of a military solution will inevitably come before the Obama Administration, and in a far more practical dimension than it did for Bush-Cheney. This will create a new situation, and in this, the consequences for Russia are difficult to calculate.


Any compromise on the former Soviet space is virtually out of the question. Washington will never recognize Moscow's right to a sphere of influence, since this goes against the spirit of American politics. The Kremlin, for its part, will never give up on its claims.


From Russia's perspective, if it doesn't possess a special status on the territory of the former Soviet Union, it will be unable to protect its vital interests in the spheres of security and economy.


Nonetheless, some improvement can be expected. The involvement of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, as well as the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system in Central Europe, are much lower on Obama's list of priorities than they were on Bush's. They will not be removed from the agenda, but they aren't the issues regarded as most relevant. Washington will try to “sell” this to Moscow as a concession and for a time will be able to use these issues to bargain with - so as not to interfere with progress in other areas.



Of course, Obama won't be able to start U.S. policy in the region with a clean slate, and America's desire for a strategic presence in the region has been discounted by no one. But the current president, unlike Bush, isn't bound by personal obligation to [Georgia President] Mikhail Saakashvili or [Ukraine President] Viktor Yushchenko.


There is a common problem that makes cooperation difficult - the asymmetry of relations. The United States is much more important to Russia than vice versa, and this isn't going to change, since the capabilities of the two powers aren't comparable.



And even in objective asymmetry, there is a subjective bias. Over the past nearly two decades, Washington has gotten used to belittling Moscow's significance, viewing it as less important than it really is. Moscow, on the other hand, tends to exaggerate the role of Washington, completely demonizing it. Obama's administration, it seems, understands the need to get rid of this bias and look at Russia with greater realism. At least the United States is displaying more tact than it has up to now.    



The question that cannot be answered today, but will certainly arise in a few years: In the 21st century, what are Russia and the United States to one another? For now, relations between Moscow and Washington remain, in essence, a residue of the Cold War. The problems discussed are either legacies of that period or consequences of its conclusion. But this will not always be the case, as a dramatically changing global situation erases the old agenda.


It's not just the era of Russia's status as a superpower that has come to an end, but the era of American hegemony. Neither side has yet to fully recognize this.


But the revelation will inevitably come, and with it, perhaps, another lens through which Russia and America will look at one another.


*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief Editor for Russian in Global Affairs











































[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US April 5, 8:09pm]