[The Independent, U.K.]



Gazeta, Russia

Obama in Russia: Symbolism Between Unequal Partners


"The first visit to Moscow of President Barack Hussein Obama was saturated to the limit with symbolic events. Because essentially, the Russia and United States of today have nothing to talk about. In terms of global politics, the two countries are in different leagues."




Translated By Yekaterina Blinova


July 7, 2009


Russia - Gazeta - Original Article (Russian)

President Obama delivers a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow, laying out what he hopes will be a new relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Unfortunately, the Russian government prevented it from being seen in translated form on all but one minor TV network.


RUSSIA TODAY: President Obama's speech to the New Economic School in Moscow, July 7, 00:31:50RealVideo

The nearly three days that the most popular political leader in the world has been spending in Moscow are practically a continuous theater of facial expressions and gestures - a game of political symbols. The program includes meetings with the president of Russia and the opposition - parliamentary as well as non-parliamentary (but brought together, in order to dilute, so to say, Nemtsov with Zyuganov [two leaders on the extreme left and right]) But traditionally, all U.S. presidents meet with the government and opposition in the course of such visits. Although it must be said that George Bush didn't do so while in Russia, which pleased his “friend" Vladimir to no end.


The visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a symbolic act recognizing the decisive role of the Soviet Union (which in the U.S. was then called “Russia”) in the victory over Hitler's Germany, as well as a gesture that the Russian authorities could then interpret as the personal contribution of Comrade Obama to the fight against, “falsifications of history to the detriment of Russia.”


The president and first lady are ushered over to the Tomb of the

Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall in Moscow, June 6.

[click here or click photo for jumbo slide show]


Routine meetings between the business circles of the two countries were held - although American business is now hardly concerned with Russia; and Russian business, with its gigantic debt to Western creditors, is hardly interested in America.



A special symbolic subtext of Barack Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom he called during pre-visit interviews “a strong leader,” but who he accused of being a politician who has, “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new." As a comparison, Medvedev's American colleague called him a “progressive person.” Therefore, he almost straightforwardly made it clear which of the two Russian leaders he prefers. Of course, Obama is meeting with Putin as a symbol of power in Russia, clearly demonstrating that his administration considers the current Russian prime minister an extremely influential figure, and doesn't consider Medvedev the only negotiating partner.


One can, of course, calculate that Obama will spend seven or eight hours face to face with Medvedev, and only an hour and a half with Putin. But protocol doesn't oblige the American president to meet with the Russian prime minister at all. If, however, Obama didn't met with Putin, it would be a very important sign to the signal-hungry Russian political elite. The U.S. administration would thus be openly demonstrating that it was placing all its bets on Medvedev as the fully-fledged Russian leader, which would have significantly helped Russia's head of state strengthen his position in the eyes of the domestic bureaucracy. But Obama’s breakfast with Putin automatically became Washington’s recognition of our tandemocracy. So far, the Obama administration is operating on the assumption that Russia is ruled by two leaders.


It was a breakfast of fruit, caviar, pheasant dumplings and

tea prepared in the traditional Russian style, as President

Obama met Prime Minister Putin, at Putin's residence just

outside Moscow on Tuesday morning.

[click here or click photo for jumbo slide show]


When we talk of the substantive part of the visit, we refer only to the signing of the treaty to reduce offensive nuclear weapons. That's the only issue that really governs relations between the two countries, and it's tied to a specific deadline: the START I [The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] expires on December 5, 2009. And come hell or high water, to hinder a new and uncontrolled nuclear arms race, the two great nuclear powers (this is practically the only area where Russia and the United States are equal) must sign a new treaty. But for now, despite the relatively optimistic statements issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry, it's too early to tell whether Obama and Medvedev are ready, during the current visit, to complete their historic mission in this sphere: making good on approving START II [they did not].   



In everything else, Russian-American relations, even without the anti-American hysteria that was consciously cultivated by the Russian government throughout the 2000s - is one of unequal powers not especially interested in one another. Although on the eve of his visit, Barack Obama was politically correctly in promising to build a relationship with Russia an equal footing in terms of influence on global processes, America doesn't recognize Russia as an equal. For the United States, it is far more important to build a relationship with China, since it is a country that has far more economic and political potential and hence a claim on the role of a global superpower. Russia exceeds China in terms of its foreign policy ambitions, but its actual capacity to influence the global agenda is greatly exaggerated by the Russian government.




[Novosti, Russia]


Of course, all this does nothing to diminish the meaning of Barack Obama’s first visit to Moscow. After all, the president of the world's top power is obliged to communicate with the leaders of any country with the number of nuclear weapons and ambitions that Russia has. And even the words of Dmitriy Medvedev about the deterioration of Russian-American relations in an era when Presidents Putin and Bush had excellent personal relations doesn't exclude the importance of good relations between the current presidents of the two countries. After all, against the backdrop of today's ties between the U.S. and Russia, the personal contact of their leaders is almost the central mitigating factor.


But Russia should be aware that in the prevailing world order, it doesn't have the objective capacity to be an equal partner of the United States - and the United States is hardly able or willing to establish it as such in the future. So for now, we can speak of equality in only symbolic terms.



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US July 8, 1:36am]