Obama's visit to Russia stirs hope for a renewed partnership
Since President Obama took office, twice as many Russians report 'positive attitudes' toward the US. But skepticism continues to dominate ties between Washington and the Kremlin.
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After Obama arrived in Washington some Russian experts had hoped that the accumulated East-West ill will would turn out to be an artifact of the former George W. Bush administration's unilateralism and inattention to Russia following 9/11. But that's been replaced by a realization that the geopolitical differences between Russia and the US are deep and abiding and that progress will probably have to be measured in tiny increments rather than major breakthroughs.Skip to next paragraph
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Arms reductions plans up in the air
One of the biggest disappointments is the complications around a new nuclear arms deal to replace the two-decade old START accord, which imposed ceilings of 6,000 strategic warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles on each side. The two leaders are expected to sign a framework deal, that might bring those totals down to around 1,500 warheads on 1,100 missiles, but that will fall far short of Obama's aim of achieving zero nuclear weapons.
In recent weeks, Russian conservatives have mounted a media attack in opposition to even those modest goals, citing Russia's disproportionate reliance on its nuclear deterrent for security, and continued US determination to install anti-missile defenses in eastern Europe.
"Russia is not inclined to go very far in cutting down its nuclear weapons because of our relative weakness – and NATO's massive superiority – in conventional forces," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "And we need to worry about US development of anti-missile systems, which could upset any balance of offensive weapons at some point in the future."
The White House has said it is "reviewing" plans to station missile interceptors in Poland, with associated radars in the Czech Republic. But Obama's special assistant on Russian affairs, Mike McFaul, suggested in a conference call with journalists last week that the US is in no mood to compromise on that, or with Russia's demands that Washington withdraw its backing for Ukraine and Georgia's eventual NATO membership.
"We're not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense," Mr. McFaul said.
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