California dreaming? Putin pushes peace on Fort Ross anniversary

President Vladimir Putin took the opportunity - at a time when bilateral relations between the two former Cold War powers are showing signs of strain - to send a message of peace and friendship to the United States on a very historic occasion.

The Russian leader extended his congratulations on the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross State Historic Park, a former Russian settlement in the US state of California, which today serves as a reminder of the historical ties between Russians and Americans.

"The first Russian settlement on the Pacific coast of California paved the way for the exploration of vast territories, for the development of trade, farming and crafts,” Putin said in his telegram. “But what is more important, it brought peoples of the two continents closer together and helped establish friendly, fruitful contacts.”

The Russian president, remarking that this historical chapter of Russia-US cooperation “can scarcely be overestimated,” said he hoped that this special occasion “will become a symbol of spiritual ties, friendship and trust between our two countries and peoples."

Founded by Ivan Kuskov of the Russian-American Company in 1808, Fort Ross (originally known as Rumyantsev Fort), marks the southernmost boundary of Russian settlements in North America. The park, situated in California’s Sonoma County, attracts thousands of visitors annually with its Russian-style wooden architecture and scenic vistas.

Today, the park seems an ideal place for Russian and American diplomats – Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul are among the delegates in attendance – to begin a serious conversation on the state of bilateral relations, which are facing perhaps their chilliest moment since the Cold War.

The greatest setback to the Russia-US reset, announced amid great fanfare between former President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama in 2009, is the US missile defense system planned for – but not limited to – Eastern Europe.

Although NATO originally pledged to cooperate with Russia on the project, to date that has not happened. This has forced Moscow, which views the system as a threat to its national security, to warn of the possibility of another arms race unless an agreement is reached.

The most recent ratcheting up of rhetoric over the issue came on Thursday, when Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told a NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation that the “missile defense concept is global and mobile, and it creates unpredictability.”

He said Moscow is “awaiting explanations from NATO and Washington concerning the real purpose [of the system]."

Meanwhile, at the very same time that the missile defense debate is heating up, Moscow and Washington remain at odds over how to resolve the Syrian crisis, which is pitting anti-government militants against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia is calling for the belligerents in the conflict to comply with the Kofi Annan peace plan, which demands that both sides agree to a ceasefire followed by negotiations. Western countries, however, following Washington’s lead, are throwing their support behind the Syrian opposition, which is said to be made up of unstable forces, including terrorist groups.

Last week, Turkish fighter jets forced a Syrian passenger jet, traveling from Moscow to Damascus, to land at the airport in the Turkish capital Ankara. The provocation came days after a Syrian mortar shell killed five civilians in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.

Since Turkey is a NATO member, the United States jumped to Ankara’s defense. As it turned out, however, no Russian weapons were on board the plane.

In light of this evidence of man-made geopolitical warming, the Fort Ross anniversary celebrations should serve as a reminder that there are more things that unite Russians and Americans than separate them.

Robert Bridge, RT

The first Russian settlement in California, Fort Ross. (Image from flickr.com user@Vlad Butsky)
The first Russian settlement in California, Fort Ross. (Image from flickr.com user@Vlad Butsky)