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29 Jul, 2009 23:12

Mixed messages from US on Russia

The Obama administration has announced that it does not rule out Russia’s participation in the NATO alliance, raising questions as to whether there are mixed attitudes to Russia within the president’s office.

On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told US lawmakers that if Russia “meets the criteria and can contribute to common security” the possibility that it may join NATO “shouldn't be excluded”.

Political analyst Viktoria Panova commented that ”The views, the approaches and the positions of the two sides are still too different, so it is not really viable to talk about Russia joining NATO.”

Russia objects to the alliance’s expansion to the East, which includes countries on its border. The Obama administration says that it wants to convince the country that NATO is not a threat.

Philip Gordon has also noted that the administration welcomes the resumption of the work of the Russia-NATO Council. He said that the office does not support suspension of this work in times of crisis, as happened after the war in the Caucasus last August.

Three weeks have passed since Obama's visit to Moscow, where he talked about wanting to see a 'strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia'.

But on the heels of Obama's warmer message, Biden claims Russia's economy is 'withering', and this will force Moscow to make concessions to the West on a wide range of national security issues, including nuclear arms reduction.

“Russia has to make some very difficult, calculated decisions,” Mr Biden said. “They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

That contrasted to other statements by American officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“We view Russia as a great power,” Mrs Clinton said on NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Every country faces challenges. We have our challenges, Russia has their challenges. There are certain issues that Russia has to deal with on its own.”

So the U.S. Secretary of State was quick to offer reassurances about the reset, which Moscow has accepted.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “We consider abnormal the attempts to drag us back to the past as Vice President Joe Biden tried to do. His words look like the rhetoric copied directly from George W. Bush’s administration.”

Meanwhile, American lawmakers asked Gordon to explain the various voices of the administration heard towards Russia. They were referring to the abrupt statements by US Vice-President Joseph Biden in his interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Gordon, in turn, said that the administration sticks to one line in relations with Russia and reminded the group that it was Biden who first spoke of a “reset” in Russia-US relations.

“This looks more like propagandistic or PR steps because nobody seriously considers the possibility of Russia’s accession to NATO," commented political expert Dmitry Polikanov. “Obama just tried to make a good gesture, a gesture of good will to mitigate the consequences of previous statements of his Vice-President.”

Unlikely as it may seem that Russia may join NATO, these White House comments are the latest in mixed messages coming from the US administration, but experts say it shows America is trying hard to ensure the reset button remains on.