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.
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Those conditions would include, he said, banning weapons in space, major efforts to cut conventional forces, and guarantees that nuclear weapons would be destroyed rather than just stockpiled. He also insisted that cuts in offensive weapons would be pointless if the Obama administration went ahead with Pentagon plans to build a globe-girdling missile-defense shield.Skip to next paragraph
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"We are very concerned about the prospects of a unilateral deployment of antimissile systems ... which complicates nuclear disarmament," Medvedev said.
• The ink is barely dry on the Kyrgyz president's decree ordering the US to vacate its airbase at Manas, a vital link in NATO's supply line to Afghanistan. The move is widely believed to have been motivated by the announcement of more than $2 billion in Russian aid to the impoverished central Asian state. This week, the Kremlin also announced that it will beef up Russia's military presence at Kant, including fighter planes, just a few miles from the soon-to-be-defunct US installation.
If it sounds like nothing much has changed from the acrimonious Bush years, experts say that's because, well, nothing much has actually changed. At least not yet.
"We're at the beginning of a long and difficult process, and we shall have to navigate many obstacles along the way," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma's international affairs committee. "Lots of people on both sides are still sunk in a cold war mentality."
Mr. Klimov says that each of the recent glitches suggests opportunities for progress, as long as both sides recognize the other's interests. "We must have better understanding, which means we must speak frankly," he says. "We need to develop the conversation."
Take this week's tempest over NATO ties.
"The sight of NATO-led war games in Georgia, which so recently attacked and killed Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, is an affront to the Russian public," says Dmitri Trenin, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The Kremlin had to react, and so it did. But now we can move on; both sides still want to develop the relationship."
As for nuclear disarmament, everyone agrees that it's a good thing, but the US must recognize that Russia relies more on its strategic nuclear deterrent for defense than the US does, says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, an independent Moscow-based foreign policy journal.
"To reduce is one thing, but there is a certain level below which Russia cannot allow itself to go," he says. "But Medvedev's conditions are not an obstacle – they can also be seen as a practical starting point for moving toward the goal."
Experts say everyone must get accustomed to a Russia that asserts its hegemony more forcefully, something that could cause future friction over everything from gas pipelines to military bases. But it doesn't mean there can't be targeted cooperation in areas of mutual concern such as Afghanistan.
"It's a complicated, evolving relationship; you can't just sweep the pre-history under a carpet. But you can deal with it," says Mr. Lukyanov. "Nobody really thought that pressing the 'reset button' would produce a blank slate, did they?"