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Despite forecasts, cold front lingers over US-Russia relations

The two nuclear powers continue to bicker over NATO war games, nuclear weapons, and fighter jets in Kyrgyzstan.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 22, 2009

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev look on during their meeting ahead of the G20 summit in London on April 1.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

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Moscow

It's been less than a month since presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev dramatically pressed the "reset button" in US-Russian relations, symbolically calling a halt to several years of chilly ties.

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But the roadblocks are already proliferating.

Three flashing amber lights in the past few days have signaled profound differences between Moscow and Washington, and suggest that warm smiles and handshakes at summit meetings might not be enough to bring the two nations together. Although the emerging problems aren't insurmountable, experts say that they may be a small indication of things to come as Russian and US negotiators attempt to find a common language after several years of shouting past each other.

"I couldn't understand why some observers were recently talking about a 'full reset' of relations between us; that's just asking to be disappointed," says Dmitri Suslov, an expert with the independent Council on Foreign and Defense Policies in Moscow. "I prefer to speak about a pause in the growth of dangerous tendencies. Now, after the honeymoon, we're coming back to hard realities."

Some recent "go slow" signs:

• Moscow this week angrily canceled one of its first scheduled meetings with NATO, just weeks after the Western alliance decided at a summit meeting to resume the dialogue that had been frozen in the wake of Russia's war with neighboring Georgia last summer. The reason, according to Moscow's ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, is the West's refusal to call off "provocative" 19-nation war games to be held in eastern Georgia next month under the auspices of NATO's Partnership for Peace.

"The recent cooling in our relations with NATO exposes clear problems in our dialogue," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a BBC interview Tuesday. "We do not understand this tendency – still there, still not understood by us – to try to downplay the norms of international law [and] the role of the UN Security Council."

• In a speech in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, Mr. Medvedev cautiously dissented from Mr. Obama's resounding goal of building a nuclear weapons-free world, saying that Russia would rather concentrate on solving immediate issues, such as cementing a new strategic-weapons accord with the US, and would put several conditions upon further cooperation with Washington in the crusade to ban nuclear arms.

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