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31 Mar, 2009 10:30

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, Mar. 31

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, Mar. 31

This Tuesday ROAR presents forecasts for the April 1 Russian-American Presidential meeting.

MOSKOVSKIY KOMSOMOLETS publishes an article titled ‘No fools on Fool’s Day’ which says that there is no space for practical jokes in the tight schedule of the Russia-US presidential meeting, even with the agreed date of the meeting falling on April Fool’s Day.

The paper says the pre-planned 30 minutes of the meeting (which may last somewhat longer in reality) is a short period of time for the two leaders to develop any sort of relationship, but that is their occupational hazard: meetings are short and rare, as friendships are maintained by telephone and letters.

The first meeting is the most important from the point of view of any further relations, says the paper, and adds that eight years ago one American president, under similar circumstances of a first meeting, ‘looked in the eyes of the Russian president and saw his soul there’. It is well known that the relationship started off well, but never went far enough beyond that, while the relationship between the two nations deteriorated and went all the way down to historical lows in just eight years.

The paper says, however, that despite the multiple ambitions of Russia and the US which often put the two countries on a collision course with each other, it is possible to find a compromise, especially when the global economic crisis prescribes greater unity as the best means of recovery.

The paper quotes experts who say that a whole range of problems can be preliminarily discussed at the meeting in order to make clear the expectations of the two countries and find common interest. The problems range from missile defense to the war in Afghanistan and relations with Iran, while the most important among them being nuclear disarmament. Dr. Sergey Rogov, the director of the Institute of the USA and Canada in Moscow, says that if the two nuclear superpowers fail to sign a new Russia-US treaty on nuclear disarmament that may cause the collapse of the whole process of non-proliferation.

The paper also quotes German expert Dr. Alexander Rahr, who says that the conversation of the two presidents at their first meeting should be very open and sincere because in the Obama team there are people who are staunchly opposed to building a close relationship with Russia, and their pressure on President Obama is getting heavier every day.

Rahr also says that an unexpected turn, such as launching a major program of bilateral cooperation in ecology, may be sufficient to give a good impulse to better relations in other spheres and override the people on both sides who have been busy building their careers on the anti-Russian and anti-American sentiments.

In NOVOE VREMYA – THE NEW TIMES Director of the Moscow Carnegie Center Dmitry Trenin writes that the current ‘warming’ in Russia-US relations came without an effort on the part of either side, it was born by the global economic crisis and the coincidence between its beginning and the electoral campaign in the US, so he asks the question: will this new détente, given to us free of charge, be picked up by the two leaders at their April 1 meeting to become part of the two countries’ national strategies?

The writer says that Moscow’s main goal at the first round of highest-level talks is to ensure non-expansion of military blocs, to stop the eastward march by NATO. That is the main reason behind President Medvedev’s initiative on the new architecture of Euro-Atlantic security. The writer also says that the recognition by the US of Russia’s special rights in the post-Soviet space is also definitely on the agenda, as well as the further nuclear disarmament, nuclear energy cooperation and the status of Russia as America’s trading partner.

For the US, says the author, there is no way to back out of its promises of NATO membership given to Ukraine and Georgia, so in this matter the only compromise to be reached is the indefinite postponement of such membership, which looks quite feasible against the background of near constant political instability in both candidate countries.

He adds that if the US agrees and a wider agreement on European security is later signed, in exchange for that Russia would have to be ready to join the US in earnest in its pressure on Iran, including the full versions of various sanctions (if, for instance, Russia joins the sanctions in part and continues supplying nuclear materials for the Iranian power station, that would nullify the effect of all the US sanctions).

However, continues Trenin, in that case Russia will definitely count on an equal-partner status with the US (No offers of junior partnerships please, thank you!). In the issue of post-Soviet space, just like in other issues, nothing comes too easily for both sides. The writer says that the US cannot afford to ‘give away’ the area to Russia as its sphere of national interest because that would mean the start of a new division of Europe.

What can be done is step down the priority status given to, say, Georgia and Ukraine by the previous US administration. Trenin thinks that such a step would solve the problem, if only temporarily. Anyway, he says Georgia and Ukraine, together with their problems and aspirations, are definitely outside the sphere of concrete steps planned for the first presidential term of Barack Obama.

Negotiations on further nuclear disarmament are obviously better off as grounds for building closer bilateral relations: they are a status symbol for Russia (a reminder to the world that there are only two nuclear superpowers in existence), a necessity for the world (as base for further non-proliferation efforts) and a boon for the US (for economic as well as strategic and political reasons: cutting down expenses while yielding little in strategic potential). Trenin says that both countries so far lack a ‘big strategy’ for the current historical period, but a new disarmament treaty is anyway due this year, so starting with it would be quite logical.

However, he says, the US and Russia are walking on thin ice when they talk of new détente. There is deeply rooted mutual distrust which has grown deeper in the past eight years. There are forces in both countries that oppose any attempt at closer relations. Finally, Russia’s and America’s national interests are often in confrontation with each other while our fundamental strategies are going their separate ways, far apart, sometimes colliding.

The US, says the writer, pursues world leadership while Russia wants to build a multi-polar system in which Russia itself, one of the ‘poles’, and the US , another of them, enjoy equal status of ‘conventional great powers’. That doesn’t mean that cooperation between the two is impossible, says the writer, it only means that Russia–US relations are not in need of ‘a great leap forward’ of any kind, but of a ‘long winding road’ to be walked together.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT