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G-20 could help US, Russia "reset" ties

Afghanistan and arms control are two areas where the countries could find common ground.

By Correspondent / March 31, 2009


Among the many great expectations being loaded onto this week's G-20 summit in London is the hope that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, will decisively push the “reset” button to reverse the nearly decade-long downward spiral in Washington-Moscow ties.

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But some Russian foreign policy experts warn that the relationship is more deeply vexed by geopolitical differences and fraught with cross-cultural misunderstandings than most people realize, and attempts to make hasty progress could crash.

They say if the two presidents want to come away from their brief first encounter with anything positive, they should begin with the issues where common interests are most obvious, or the two “As”: arms control and Afghanistan.

"We have just been through a long period of miscommunication and crossed signals. To create movement toward better relations the leaders need to focus on things that hold out the prospect of rapid success," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal.

Arms control is a no-brainer, he says, because both sides have a strong desire to find a replacement for the soon-to-expire START accord. Establishments in Russia and the US have fond institutional memories of cold war-era détente between the two nuclear superpowers, and many of the very people who helped shape those strategic accords have lately stepped back into the limelight. (For a discussion of arms control prospects see here.)

Over the past month, several such shades of goodwill past have visited Moscow, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and George Shultz, all of whom played key roles in ending the cold war.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who is credited with peacefully dismantling Communism, recently met Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in Washington where, he later told journalists, everyone expressed a strong desire to get the US-Russian relationship back on track.

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