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25 May, 2009 09:24

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 25

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 25

This Monday ROAR presents opinions on the perspectives of Russia-U.S. relations.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA offers, in a Russian translation, an article by E. Wayne Merry, a former U.S. State department official, now a senior associate at the American Foreign policy council in Washington. The article is titled ‘A ‘reset’ is not enough’ and deals with American and Russian views and attitudes in Russia-U.S. relations which, in the author’s opinion, may cause problems for the ‘reset’ initiated by the Barack Obama administration.

The writer says that ‘reset’ is a disorienting term: for many, especially for the Clinton-era veterans in the Obama team, it may mean a return to the relations which existed in the Yeltsin epoch. Nothing could be more wrong, says the author: ‘Moscow views that period as emblematic of Russian weakness and exploitation by the West, and especially by the United States.’

The author says that the neo-Liberal plans Washington had for Moscow in the early 1990s failed to attract the support of the Russian population and the elite. Looking down on Russia, humiliating it and neglecting its interests didn’t add any attraction to the direction America was trying to suggest for Russia. Two consecutive Washington administrations forgot about one important fact of life: Russia may be weak but it will not remain so for very long, and when it is stronger, it will remember everything, good and bad.

Apart from that, Merry says that Russia may be expecting from Barack Obama’s presidency a possible drastic change in one of the regions or countries Russia has close relations with – something akin to Sadat’s Egypt – in, for example, Iran.

Therefore, E. Wayne Merry suggests a set of new rules of engagement for Washington, so it may avoid repeating the mistakes of the previous 16 years:

One, minimize deliberate challenges to Russian interests and know that none will come for free. If [the US] push NATO, [Russia] will push back. When we sponsored an independent Kosovo, Moscow declared it would do the same in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Reciprocity is real.

Two, accept the failure of the neo-liberal agenda in Russia. American concepts of what Russia should become are simply not welcome among Russians. It’s their country, not ours.

Three, don’t expect much in areas where Russia has little real influence, such as in North Korea, the Middle East and even Iran.

Four, establish a pattern of substantive cooperation on Afghanistan and arms control, each containing major challenges.

Merry says that Russia is much closer to the U.S. in the understanding of Afghanistan as a problem than any other European nation. Russia knows the benefits and threats of Central Asia like no one else. But operating in the area, even with Russian help, the U.S. must always have in mind that ‘Central Asia is Russia’s hinterland (and China’s) and not ours.’

Another most important matter, says the author, is the different understanding of nuclear disarmament by Russia and the U.S. (and the different benefits to be had from it). For the U.S, nuclear weapons are part of a wide arsenal of strategic arms, including conventional high-precision weapons, while for Russia the nukes are the only strategic defense. That is why ‘When American leaders call for the elimination of nuclear arms, Russian leaders see a world made safe for U.S. non-nuclear military supremacy. When this is combined with anti-ballistic missile deployments, the Russians construct a scenario of a potential U.S. disarming strike against them.

The Russians practice the U.S. Cold War principle – only capabilities, and not intentions, count in national security.’

In its conclusion, the article says that not ‘reset’ but a good ‘upgrade’ is needed in Russia-U.S. relations to move them further and make the two nations closer to each other. A simple ‘reset’ is no protection against ‘freezes’ and system crashes, says the author.

KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA writes that while Russian conventional forces are undergoing painful reforms, it is not wise to initiate any radical changes in Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

The nukes continue to play the role of the main guarantor of Russia’s security, and with the overwhelming advantage of the U.S. and NATO in conventional forces Russia cannot afford not to link up its objections against missile defense in Europe and NATO’s eastward expansion with the process of further nuclear disarmament. That may become the main problem in the current Russia-U.S. negotiations as the American side insists on discussing these issues separately.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT