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Opinion

Why Russia is warming to the West

Stepping out of Putin's shadow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has made bold moves recently that tighten ties with Washington. Senate ratification of the new START treaty would give Obama a chance to complete the US-Russian 'reset.'

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The 'reset' is working

In other words, the Russian “reset” that President Obama called for when he took office appears to be working. After a delay last year, the reset now appears to be booting up new East-West collaboration.

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Accompanying these Medvedev moves is the fading of speculation about a possible third presidential term for Vladimir Putin in 2012 as a proverbial “Franklin Delano Putin,” as one Russian commentator put it. The Russian Constitution prohibits a “consecutive” presidential third term. Yet in two years, Putin will have completed a four-year time interval following his second presidential term, which ended in 2008 when he became prime minister.

Earlier this year, Putin, who is far less pro-Western than Medvedev, vaguely hinted at a presidential run in 2012. This set off a flurry of rumors and jokes: namely, that little “Mitya” (Medvedev) was the lackey of the macho “Vovochka” (Putin). If Putin chose to run, Medvedev would “obediently” withdraw as United Russia party candidate.

However, all belittling comments about Medvedev disappeared when he decided to fire the once-powerful Yury Luzhkov as mayor of Moscow in September. The bumptious, long-serving municipal boss of the Russian capital had published attacks against the president. That was intolerable. Mr. Luzhkov, a protege of Putin’s, was also accused of corruption. Here he was being abruptly replaced by the amiable Sergei Sobyanin, a former chief of staff to Putin and Medvedev.

The Kremlin’s new, westward orientation, like the turning of one of the two heads of the symbolic Russian eagle, does not mean that two-thirds of Asian Russia that lies geographically east of the Urals are now of lesser importance. For years, Russia has been supporting trade deals between itself and its “strategic partner,” China. Several important trade deals involving oil, natural-gas pipelines, and other resources have been concluded between China and former Central Asian Soviet republics like Kazakhstan. Moscow even sells advanced (but not state-of-the-art) military aircraft to the Chinese.

Anxiety over China

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