Russian-US relations: Looking ahead to 2012

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, on November 12, 2011 (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)
The year 2011 was a rocky one for Russian-US relations, in which the early hopes of a reset have been overshadowed by a series of setbacks. President Dmitry Medvedev is calling on his US counterpart to help make 2012 a better year.

Medvedev offered season’s greetings to US President Barack Obama for the Christmas and New Year holidays, the Kremlin press service reported on Friday.

"We have a rich agenda ahead of us, which we discussed in Deauville and Honolulu,” the President says in his address. “The main thing…is to build constructive and mutually respectful bilateral dialogue, intensify out joint efforts to strengthen the positive dynamics in Russian-US relations, give new impetuses to the intensification of trade and economic interaction, and the realization of modernization projects without looking back at the political situation.”

The relationship between Medvedev and Obama got off to a promising start last year when both presidents signed the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague. The treaty, which limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 – a reduction of nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty – entered into force in February, 2011. The Russian-US honeymoon, however, was destined to be a brief one.

Even before signing New START, Medvedev let it be known that Russia reserved the right to abrogate the agreement if progress was not made on the controversial issue of US missile defense in Europe. Thus far, the United States refuses to cooperate on the long-term project with Russia, which has called the system sitting on its doorstep a potential threat to national security.

In November, Medvedev said Russia’s new ballistic missiles “will be equipped with advanced missile defense penetration systems and new highly effective warheads” while warning that tactical missiles would be deployed to the western territory of Kaliningrad. Despite the potential for the situation to turn into another arms race, the US and NATO seem willing to sacrifice Russia’s expertise and possibly friendship in order to confront an enemy – usually described as Iran – that may never have the capacity or stratagem to pose a threat to Europe.

It was certainly with the question of missile defense in mind that Medvedev said in his holiday address to Obama: “I am confident that being consistently guided by the principles of trust, equality and respect for each other, we will be able also in the future to find the best solutions to the most complex and sensitive issues affecting the basic interests of our states and that are of particular importance to global security and stability."

The issues aggravating Russia-US relations, however, go beyond matters of missile defense. There is also the question on how to handle global hotspots, which erupted with a vengeance in 2011.

Most of the public protests associated with the so-called Arab Spring were handled internally. Egypt and Tunisia, for example, both experienced a change of leadership, while other countries, like Algeria, Iraq and Jordan experienced major unrest. The wave of violence that erupted in Libya, however, attracted special attention from the international community.

This led to the United Nations passing Resolution 1973, which was enacted to “protect civilians.” On March 19, NATO members began a systematic bombing campaign of Libya, which Russia eventually criticized for “overstepping the limits of the resolution.” A report on human rights violations put out this week by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs points to numerous instances of innocent civilians killed by NATO bombing campaigns.

Russia, and other nations, was also highly critical over the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was assassinated on October 20 by his captors near his hometown of Sirte.

Finally, Russia-US relations took another beating following Russia’s parliamentary elections in December, which brought Russians out on to the streets to protest the results of the ballot.

Following the protests, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of igniting them, claiming that she "gave a signal" to Russia's opposition leaders by describing the election as rigged. "They heard this signal and with the support of the US State Department began their active work," said Putin.

Even before Russia’s Election Commission could examine the results, Clinton accused the elections of being “neither free nor fair.”

Dmitry Medvedev said the protests that followed the December 4 parliamentary elections were evidence of the development of Russia's democracy.

“People are changing and becoming more proactive in expressing their positions and making new demands to the authorities – this is a good sign. It means our democracy is becoming more mature,” Medvedev said in his final state-of-the-nation address before he steps down next year.

“Russia needs a democracy, not chaos,” he added.

Hopefully, Moscow and Washington will avoid an extra chaos in their relations in the New Year. After all, the peace and security of the planet certainly depends on it.

Robert Bridge, RT