ROAR: Russia - US summit's hidden agenda

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Which topics are Russian and US leaders not going to discuss in Moscow and why? Will the summit be a success or a failure, Russian analysts ask.

The success of the Russia-US summit will depend on the willingness of the leaders of the two countries to find compromises on topical problems, while setting aside for a while the issues that still divide Moscow and Washington.

Russia is interested in the success of the summit and the conclusion of a new treaty on strategic arms by the end of the year, Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine writes on the website. “Moscow has long urged this, but did not see any interest in this from the Bush administration,” he added.

“The failure [of the talks] would be symbolic – that would mean that Russians and Americans have absolutely lost their ability to come to an agreement,” Lukyanov said. “Now there is a political will at the highest level on both sides.”

He also asks if the two sides are prepared for real cooperation or if “everything will be limited by the image effect from the first summit.”

Russia and the USA may not achieve any tangible results during the Obama visit and will have to “conceal” this fact behind the words about improving relations, some observers believe. Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the “Polity” foundation told Komsomolskaya Pravda daily that the visit is “unlikely to change anything in our relations.”

He said that the two sides do not have a “big, serious” agenda. “We determine the success of policies in different ways, for example, on the former-USSR space,” the expert stressed. “However, Obama is certainly better than [George] Bush or [John] McCain.”

The same source has also criticized Obama for saying that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin keeps “one foot in the old ways of doing business”. “There is a tradition [in the U.S.] to interfere in our internal and international affairs for some good reason or without it,” Komsomolskaya Pravda writes. “It seems that the U.S. has not fully abandoned this practice.”

Russia is in favor of cooperation with the U.S., “but only if it means real cooperation and not the banal fulfillment of instructions from Washington”, the paper says.

Another Russian daily, the liberal Nezavisimaya Gazeta stresses that “many in Moscow” could agree with Obama, but they doubt that “the U.S. president’s personal criticism directed against one of the participants in Russia’s power tandem” was well-timed.

Aleksandr Pikaev, Head of Department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “Obama’s statement reminds us of the worst of the 1990s, when American advisers worked at Staraya Ploshad [the presidential administration], removed portraits of Karl Marx there and imposed a painful path of transition to a market economy.” “This statement considerably complicates Obama’s visit,” the expert said.

This topic, however, is unlikely to be discussed at the talks in Moscow. Aleksandr Khramchikhin, head of the Department of Analysis at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, told RT Online such topics as the North Korean nuclear problem could be also abandoned.

“Neither Russia nor the U.S. are able at the moment to achieve results by pressing Pyongyang,” Khramchikhin said. “The same is true about Iran,” he added, saying that the issue of Iran’s nuclear program “was exaggerated” by the previous administration.

The Obama administration could not possibly change its position without losing face, Khramchikhin believes. He added that, first of all, Iran poses a threat to Israel. Recently the relations between Israel and the U.S. have deteriorated slightly, despite the two countries being long-term allies, the expert said.

He also stressed that he thinks that everything is possible during the talks, and nobody can predict their results. However, much is determined by the fact that the Americans “simply have a stronger position,” Khramchikhin believes.

“Russia has no levers to press America; no levers in any issues,” the expert said. “Strictly speaking, Americans may take the liberty of doing nothing, but their superiority will still be increasing,” he added.

The questions that will top the agenda of the talks are strategic offensive arms reduction and the US missile shield in Europe. However, if the two sides are not prepared to find a compromise, they will have to find way of smoothing over a possible setback.

Khramchikhin said the missile defense system in Europe is an absolutely useless project. The US administration understands this, but does not want to abandon it without getting something in exchange for it. So, in a sense, this topic may turn out to be a subject of some hard bargaining, the expert said.

As for the question of strategic arms reduction, it has become topical not only because the current treaty expires at the end of this year. “Obama wants breakthroughs in all fields”, Khramchikhin said, adding that “there have been no great achievements so far”.

The US president declared this aim – maximum overall disarmament – to reduce nuclear arms as much as possible, Khramchikhin said. He explained this by the fact that Americans consider these kinds of weapons obsolete and they could do without them.

“However, such weapons in other countries, except for Britain and France, are a real threat to Americans,” the expert said. “So, they want to destroy them, or at least, to decrease other countries’ arsenals as much as possible.”

“The ideal option for Russia, which is absolutely unrealistic, is to decrease not only warheads, but also carriers, and having the problem of missile defense in Europe taken into consideration,” Khramchikhin believes.

“It is unclear if Russia wants to raise a question about sea-launched cruise missiles, which is important, but there were no signs that it has been raised so far,” the expert said.

Among other topics that the two sides may “forget”, so as not to lose face, is the problem of Georgia and Ukraine wanting to join NATO. “One should not forget that the question is decided by consensus in the alliance,” Khramchikhin said. “Many, especially in Russia, think mistakenly that NATO and the USA are the same thing.”

For his part, Lukyanov stresses that the goals and tasks of the two countries coincide “at the level of declarations,” however “there are a number of misunderstandings.” The expert says that Moscow accepts the U.S. regional priorities such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East and North Korea, but underlines its own regional agenda regarding Ukraine, Moldova, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

“Moscow and Washington do not have an understanding of the fact that all the regional [problems] should be considered in a single context, so more space for maneuver emerges in every concrete case,” Lukyanov said.

“The main problem is that Russia and the USA do not see any prospective agenda directed at the future,” he added. “It is unclear which mutual interests will prove to be the most important in the world of the 21st Century with multiple power centers.”

Sergey Borisov, RT