Putin, Obama plan powwow during G20 summit

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Reuters/Jim Young)
President Vladimir Putin and United States President Barack Obama will hold a full-scale meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

­"The Russian and US presidents are scheduled to meet in Los Cabos (Mexico) as part of the G20 summit,” Russian Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov told reporters on Tuesday. “It was agreed that it will be a full-scale meeting, with even some important documents to be adopted.”

The G20 will be held in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, from June 18-19.

Ushakov hinted at the possibility of the two leaders issuing a “joint presidential statement on further cooperation between our countries."

The meeting announcement should dispel rumors of a bilateral rift between the two nations that began when Putin canceled his attendance at NATO’s Chicago summit earlier this month, followed soon after by a similar announcement by the American leader.

Obama will not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok in September as it will be held concurrently with the US Democratic Party Convention. Americans will head to the polls on November 4 to vote on whether or not to give Obama another four years in the White House.

Concerning the nuts and bolts substance of the meeting, the Russian president has expressed his readiness to pay more attention to the US-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission, which has 20 working groups, Ushakov said.

The presidential aide revealed that the number of bilateral working groups is set to increase.

"Currently, two more groups are about to be formed: on military technical cooperation, which in the old days was out of the question, and on cyber security," he said.

"[Putin] is determined to actively pursue a stable, smooth, constructive relationship" with our US partners, he said. "It is important that the same determination is shared by the White House."

Ushakov said Moscow does not want to lose the “positivity” achieved between former President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama in recent years.

“We understand that the atmosphere has become more favorable, and we want to further build our cooperation in the same fashion," he said.

Putin has said on several occasions that the priority in the US-Russian relationship is to broaden trade and investment relations, the aide added.

"The more solid the bilateral economic foundation, the stronger 'the safety net' for the entire structure of bilateral relations,” Ushakov said. “It could protect them against shifts in the political situation particularly noticeable in pre-election periods."

Meanwhile, Ushakov said there has also been a positive trend in joint efforts in Afghanistan.

"We have good cooperation developing on Afghanistan: about 2,400 US flights have been carried out since September 2009, transporting over 250,000 troops and more than 52,000 tonnes of cargo. Thirty-eight thousand NATO containers went on our railways and so on," the aide said.

Despite the high optimism, however, there are some ominous clouds on the horizon that could dampen the relationship. For example, if the United States adopts a new anti-Russian law, Moscow would be forced to take retaliatory measures, warned Ushakov.

"If the new anti-Russian law (Magnitsky Act) is passed…this law should be met with a tit-for-tat response," the Kremlin official told reporters.

US Congress has drafted a bill that would place sanctions against the persons allegedly responsible for the death of lawyer Sergey Magnitsky. The initiator of the bill, entitled "Sergey Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act," is Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin.

Ushakov also expressed the hope that the US “anti-Soviet [Jackson-Vanik] amendment does not turn into an anti-Russian law."

The aide believes the Jackson-Vanik amendment that is still in effect "would be more disadvantageous for the Americans, as their companies may find themselves in a losing situation on the Russian market, compared with competitors from Europe and Asia."

"We have become accustomed to the Jackson-Vanik amendment, we know how to deal with it," Ushakov said.

On the thorny subject of a US missile defense shield in Europe, Russia does not rule out the possibility that a breakthrough on the issue will occur after the November elections, he told reporters.

"I do not rule out that some impulse will be given to the talks over this theme (European missile defense) after the American elections; it will be easier to talk then," Ushakov said.

The Kremlin aide then offered a few pointers to US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who has been on the receiving end of Kremlin criticism following some rather undiplomatic utterances.

McFaul should try to be “more diplomatic,” said Ushakov, who previously served as Russian ambassador to the United States.

“Ambassadors should operate on a positive basis, because even without ambassadors there are plenty of all sorts of actors trying to spoil the atmosphere of the bilateral relationship," he continued.

Last week, for example, McFaul said at a meeting with students of the Higher School of Economics that Russia bribed Kyrgyzstan in order to close a US air base in the Central Asian country.

The Foreign Ministry said it was “extremely perplexed” by the US ambassador’s remarks.

Ushakov said such remarks go against the spirit of bilateral cooperation.

The Russian and US leaders aim to maintain the most constructive cooperation, and the ambassadors should act precisely in this spirit, "without bringing discord into the work of their own leaders," he said.

"I noticed that McFaul has been fairly self-critical and after each of his public escapades he would admit, 'Sorry guys, yes, I made a mess here.' But words are not like a bird – once they're out, you cannot catch them," the presidential aide said.

"I tried to be more diplomatic, and he should still be diplomatic."

Robert Bridge, RT