NOT EXACTLY STATE SECRETARY

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US UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE WILLIAM BURNS’ VISIT TO MOSCOW BECAME A FAILURE

US Under Secretary of State Burns visited Moscow. American specialists warn that the future shape of the US-Russian relations will mostly depend on Moscow’s behavior in international affairs.


US Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Moscow yesterday, the first senior official of the US Administration to do so after the war in Georgia. David Sifkin of the US Embassy had mentioned that Burns’ itinerary in Moscow was to be pressing. It was. Ex-ambassador Burns met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Yuri Ushakov of the government apparat, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. According to Sifkin, the new round of the ABM defense system talks slated for December was to become one of the issues of the discussion.

Observers noticed that the Russian authorities demonstratively avoided the leaving US Administration of late with a clear intent to postpone everything until after Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some commentators therefore took Burns’ visit to Moscow as an indication that the Kremlin finally abandoned its hard line with regard to the going US Administration. Whether they were correct to assume so or not is immaterial, but sources in the Kremlin declared the negotiations a failure right upon their conclusion. “Their reasoning is simple. The current US Administration is going out of its way to make this course of events (deployment of the ABM defense system in Europe – Kommersant) the only option, one without any alternatives at all, to rule out any discussion, and frame the next US President and heap on him the responsibility for what his predecessors conceived and put into motion,” RIA-Novosti quoted a senior Kremlin official. The official pronounced the latest American ABM defense offers “insufficient”.

Ushakov was quoted as saying that “neither side wants this pause (interregnum inevitable when a new US Administration is to be installed – Kommersant) to be absolutely empty”. He promised Russian-US strategic arms reduction talks and negotiations over economic issues in the near future already. Ushakov never acknowledged the next round of the ABM defense system talks slated for December. He merely advanced the opinion that Burns was a career diplomat who just might be offered a place in the next US Administration.

Official Moscow clearly expects Obama to be more tractable in the matter of the American ballistic missile defense system. Stephen Sestanovich, an expert of the International Relations Council who advised ex-State Secretary Madeline Albright at one point, meanwhile commented that “… both Obama and McCain support the idea of a missile shield against Iran but question its technical feasibility.” “The ballistic missile defense system will probably be developed only if and when the Iranian threat becomes undeniable,” Sestanovich said. “Should the Russian military continue hollering about how a few interceptor missiles pose a deadly threat to Russia, considerably fewer people will heed it then.”

In any event, President Dmitry Medvedev will have no chance to discuss the matter with his would-be American counterpart come weekend. Lavrov had said once that an informal meeting between the presidents during the informal G20 summit in Washington was quite probable, but Obama chose otherwise. The latest reports indicate that he decided to refrain from meetings with his future opposite numbers. That he decided not to go to Washington for the duration of the summit at all, in fact.

Sources in the Kremlin meantime confirm that Medvedev will attend bilateral meetings with US President George W. Bush, Chairman Hu Jintao of China, Gordon Brown of Great Britain, and Angela Merkel of Germany. As for a meeting with Obama, it seems that he and Medvedev agreed to meet soon when they talked over the phone last Saturday but the meeting would apparently take place after the summit.

Heritage Foundation Vice President Kim Holmes (once foreign political advisor to presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani) told this correspondent that the shape of the US-Russian relations after Obama’s inauguration greatly depended on Moscow’s behavior. “The impression is that a confrontation with the United States is precisely what the Russian authorities want,” Holmes commented. “It makes Vladimir Putin so popular in the country, Russia looks strong, and Europeans develop a healthy fear of Russia… Anyway, it is wrong to keep saying that the United States is finished and that it is the time of Russia and China now while trying to remain on the G8. Granted that it is not a Cold War yet, neither is it partnership anymore.”

By and large, American political scientists are convinced that the warmth the presidents of Russia and the United States constantly demonstrated at every opportunity is history now. Obama is a reticent man, no point to expect him to become fast friends with Medvedev in no time at all. “Bush’s policy was anything but rational. On the one hand, he invited Putin to Kennebankport and called him a friend. On the other, the United States promoted Georgia’s membership in NATO which Russia bitterly objected to,” Holmes said. “If we have problems with Russia, there is no need to pretend otherwise. Bush should have said to Putin that “We are no longer friends, you know. We dislike what you’ve been doing” or something like that instead of pretending to know Putin’s heart.”

Now that McCain lost the election to Obama, the issue of Russia’s expulsion from the G8 is unlikely to be brought up again but American analysts suspect that the G8 will never be the same now, after the war in Georgia and economic crisis. “I cannot imagine Russia expelled from the G8… What I can imagine is that the G8 itself will collapse. I’d say that it will give way to a broader group of the largest economies. This group may even include a smaller group of democracies, one without Russia,” Sestanovich assumed.

The group Sestanovich spoke about already exists. It is the so called G20 meeting in Washington one of these days, i.e. the G8 together with Argentine, Brazil, Mexico, South African Republic, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China, India, South Korea, Indonesia, and Australia plus the European Union. The erstwhile G7 may will exist within its framework and Obama is unlikely to want Russia in it.

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