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6 May, 2009 14:11

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 6

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 6

This Wednesday ROAR presents a report from the Russia Forum 2009.

The paper says that this year various events concerning Russia-U.S. relations, from lectures and seminars to such annual gatherings as the World Russia Forum, attract more participants than ever because of the ongoing process of normalization in Russia-U.S. relations. This process, continues the paper, is usually called by the name given to it by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 'reset.'

Badmouthing or tough criticism of Russia have become bad manners in Washington, says the paper. Even those analysts who prefer to speak of Russia’s ‘shortcomings’ as a democracy now choose their words more carefully.

The World Russia Forum is by definition a forum of optimists, who are trying to find positive signs even in negative trends, says the paper. The article is even titled: ‘A Forum of Optimists.’ However, the forum’s topic (America and Russia: new leadership, challenges, chances) didn’t allow its organizers to steer it clear of the main problems existing in relations between the two countries.

Particularly, many speakers touched on last summer’s conflict in the Caucasus, and the U.S. reaction to it. Some urged the new U.S. administration to avoid provoking Russia as the previous one often did, for instance, by recognizing Kosovo’s independence, and transporting humanitarian aid to Georgia on men of war instead of cargo vessels.

The former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, now Deputy Secretary of State for Russian affairs, William Burns, said that the key problem in relations today is Russia’s recognition of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That is something the Western world finds hard to live with. However, says the paper, immediately after this remark, the diplomat said that the U.S. respects the tight links Russia has with neighboring states, and expressed hope for the success of the Geneva negotiations on Georgia.

Burns also said that at the moment, Russian – American relations are acquiring more and more features of cooperation and competition simultaneously. Russia, he continued, is a very important country for U.S. foreign policy: Russia is another nuclear superpower, Russia is a source of fossil fuel energy, Russia is a bridge between Europe and Asia, Russia plays a very important diplomatic role in negotiations with North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan.

The former Ambassador in Moscow also said that the fate of the world depends on Russia-U.S. relations, and that the current process brings hope about their future. He said that his 27-year career in diplomacy may have destroyed some illusions, but not hope.

Russian academic and Director of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, Sergey Rogov, spoke on one of the most popular topics at the Forum: Russia-U.S. nuclear disarmament. He argued with some American colleagues who consider president Barack Obama’s idea of cutting nuclear warheads down to 1000 units to each side feasible and realizable today. Rogov said that doing it today would require a total change in the defense philosophy of both countries, to say nothing of the fact that apart from the 95% of the world’s nuclear arsenal controlled by Russia and the U.S., there still remain 5% belonging to other countries, and excessive limitation of Russian and American nuclear forces may attach unnecessary additional significance to these 5%. For now, said the Russian academic, a ‘ceiling’ of 1500 warheads looks much more attractive and realistic.

Despite the overall atmosphere of optimism, untiringly promoted and upheld at the Forum by the American participants, Sergey Rogov issued a very moderate estimate of the current state of the ‘reset’ process. He is quoted by the paper as saying: ‘We are all expecting something good to happen in U.S. – Russia relations. But there hasn’t been a breakthrough so far.’

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.