At UN, few signs of Russia warming to Obama, but nuclear cooperation may improve
Russian President Medvedev made few new concessions in response to the canceling of Russia's Eastern European missile-shield plan. But new ways to cooperate on threats like Iran's nuclear program and instability in Afghanistan are emerging.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may have just been handed major US concessions on top of international priorities, but there were few signs of reciprocity in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly or in his brief tête-à-tête with Barack Obama on Wednesday.Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, it's hard to see how Mr. Medvedev's words and actions in New York yesterday would have been much different if the US had stuck to its plan to install antimissile defenses in Eastern Europe last week, or if NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union were still on the table. Both the missile defense system and NATO plans (apparently) were shelved. Last week, NATO's new Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called instead for a new era of cooperation between the Western military alliance and Russia, which ought to have been music to Moscow's ears.
But while Medvedev provided little in the way of new concessions in return for these diplomatic gains, analysts say the groundwork has in fact been laid for closer cooperation between Russia and the US. Medvedev welcomed the missile defense change as a "constructive step in the right direction" and suggested that Russia might be amenable to supporting tough sanctions against Iran.
To be sure, Russian officials struck some sour notes this week, with one of their diplomats suggesting that Washington's cancellation of the planned antimissile deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic was not a genuine concession to Moscow, but instead more evidence that the US does not understand Russia.
"It shows to us that the US continues to be a rather difficult negotiating partner, a partner who is loaded in many ways by a cold-war mentality," Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told journalists this week. "By doing that they are undermining the value of the decision in our eyes."
Russian game changers
However, some Russian experts say that while there's been no dramatic change in US-Russian relations, the ground is slowly shifting. They argue that practical opportunities are now opening up that could be game changers.
"You need to look at the long term, and not be obsessed with the minor day-to-day quarrels that go on," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow, who has been a regular participant in a group of experts (headed by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and ex-Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov) that's been quietly trying to map out a route to a strategic partnership for the past two years.
"We see a big and dangerous gap between the potential for cooperation between Moscow and Washington, and the reality," he says. "The problem is to bridge that gap, by doing things jointly, in ways that increase mutual confidence and improve the atmosphere."