Gazeta, Russia

Medvedev and Obama: 'Resetting' U.S.-Russia Ties Won't Come Easy


"On Moscow's part, too, there's a desire to break the deadlock, but Russia doesn't feel it bears any blame for creating it. A common opinion is that Americans have made a pile of mistakes, so now the ball will be in their court for a long time to come."


By Fyodor Lukyanov*



Translated By Yekaterina Blinova


July 3, 2009


Russia - Gazeta - Original Article (Russian)

Secretary of State Clinton makes a peace offering to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in Geneva, Mar. 6. The gift - a button marked 'reset' in English, was meant to convey a new beginning. Unfortunately, the Russian word on the button, 'peregruzka,' means 'overload.'


BBC NEWS VIDEO: Presidents Obama and Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations' stockpiles of nuclear weapons, July 6, 00:02:29WindowsVideo

It's difficult to recall the kind of buzz in Russian-American relations that's taking place on the eve of Barack Obama’s visit. It has been a long time since there has been any good news between Russia and the United States, and there's a demand for something positive. But are the parties ready for real cooperation, or will things be limited to the image-effect of the first summit?


During informal conversation, many American officials agree that Washington bears a significant share of responsibility for the stalemate in relations with Russia. The ideological and emotional approach so characteristic of the previous administration has been exchanged for a sober assessment of a number of disagreements.


The United States understands the need to improve the atmosphere. Moreover, Obama Administration, which desperately needs a success in the international arena, is looking in Russia's direction.


On Moscow’s part, too, there's a desire to break the deadlock, but Russia doesn't feel it bears any blame for creating it. A common opinion is that Americans have made a pile of mistakes, so now the ball will be in their court for a long time to come. Moscow doesn't believe it needs to change anything, but is more than ready to respond more constructively to U.S. proposals. Russian representatives acknowledge that that the climate of negotiations has changed for the better, and so two angry monologues have given way to a difficult dialogue. 


Russia is interested in the success of the summit, and in signing of a new strategic arms reduction treaty by the end of the year. Moscow has long called for this - but without receiving any reciprocal interest from the Bush Administration. 


A failure would become a symbol that Russians and Americans have forgotten how to cooperate. Now the political will exists at the highest levels on both sides.


However, the more detailed and technical the discussions of strategic stability become - so too are the political and psychological difficulties that emerge. At the root of the problem is the fact that compared to Soviet times, the imbalance between the parties is too great in terms of their strategic facilities and potential (not nuclear potential, but rather nuclear and non-nuclear potential combined).



[Novosti, Russia]


There is one global question (agreement on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty - START I) and one regional question (the situation in Afghanistan) on which the positions of Moscow and Washington are compatible. On everything else, the perspectives and world views are radically different. This is why at this stage, success is possible, but in all likelihood later, there will be a pause, and the partied won't know how to overcome it.


On global issues - terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, economic imbalances - the goals and objectives converge at the level of pronouncements. But practical cooperation, in essence, never takes place, and attempts proceed uncover all shapes and sizes of mutual misunderstanding. For instance, America simply doesn't notice Russia’s desire to participate in the rebuilding of the global financial system - which, as the crisis has shown, Russia is highly dependent upon - since its economic weight is too meager.


The list of regional priorities is very different. For the United States, in addition to Afghanistan, there is Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, North Korea. Russia doesn't deny the importance of the American list, but in response it offers its own: everything having to do with the near-periphery - Ukraine, Moldova, the Caucasus [including Georgia] and Central Asia.


Compared to Bush, the Obama Administration has reduced its activity in the post-Soviet space, which cannot but make Russia happy. However, this isn't due to a U.S. reevaluation of the course, but rather a realistic appraisal of current capabilities.


No American administration would agree with Moscow’s desire to have special rights to its neighboring territories. And Russia will not relinquish these aspirations. Both positions are based on fundamental beliefs regarding their own interests.


In both Moscow and Washington, there is a failure to understand that the entire regional palette must be viewed as a unified whole, which would provide more room to maneuver in each situation. This would be much more appropriate in terms of methodology. Indeed, if we incorporate all the existing strands we obtain one concrete whole - ensuring the stability in Eurasia after the disappearance of the USSR and the termination of the [Cold War] ideological confrontation.


Different ways of thinking about history is one obstacle to a meeting of minds. In general, the American approach is that an unsuccessful page can be turned begun anew. Hence the notion of a “reset.”



Washington is annoyed by Moscow’s fixation on both the recent and more distant past, which always gets introduced into the ongoing dialogue. But Russia, like Europe in general, sees the political process as one of continuity and succession.  



Russians appeal to the resentment and frustration of the past 20 years and don't believe that American politics can change in both form and content. In order to prove the opposite to Moscow, one needs strong arguments. For Americans, it is equally as obvious that to Obama - completely unlike Bush and even Clinton - this is an axiom. And Russian mistrust is perceived as obstinence - if not a desire to strengthen its bargaining position. 


The difference in political systems also plays a role. In Russia, most important decisions are made without transparency and behind the curtains. But if consensus is reached, a mechanism for implementation is established. In the United States, the head of state acts in an open environment that involves many factors and pressure groups, and therefore implementing decisions requires serious effort. However, the political capital of any U.S. administration is limited, so it will always carefully decide how much of it can be spent on Russia.


On the eve of the summit, specialists in Russian-American relations are once again discussing what the basis of these relations should be - values or interests. And on both sides of the ocean, the argument is dictated exclusively by domestic political considerations, which in terms of foreign policy - have no meaning.



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Michael Lind in his book The American Way of Strategy, which was published three years ago, proves that, “the sole objective of American foreign policy is to create conditions conducive to the individualistic American way of life [translated quote].” In order to do that, in the international arena the United States applies the approach it believes to be most effective at the moment - pragmatic (realistic) or ideological (liberal-internationalism). Their synthesis comprises the essence of the “American way of strategy.” Interests and values are two different tools for achieving the same goal, the purpose of which, at the end of the day, is pure selfishness.



The main problem is that Russia and United States don't see a truly promising, future-oriented agenda. It isn't clear which of their mutual interests will prove most important in the global, multi-polar world of the 21st century.


There is probably no way to resume communications other than to resolve the questions inherited from the last century. But much more important is to go beyond the framework of well-worn issues and to try and understand what awaits Moscow and Washington beyond the next twist of history.


*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief Editor for the magazine Russian in Global Affairs










































[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US July 6, 5:55am]