TAMING OF THE STATES

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BARACK OBAMA PLEDGES TO REEVALUATE RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

President-elect Obama: The new US Administration will reevaluate and better relations between Washington and Moscow..


Interviewed by NBC last Sunday, president-elect Barack Obama mentioned would-be US Administration’s plans to “reevaluate” relations with the Kremlin. Without saying exactly how the White House intended to accomplish it, Obama said, “We want to cooperate with them (with the Russians – Kommersant) wherever we can.” Cooperation against nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism were listed as spheres of close interaction with the Kremlin. Obama said that he wanted to meet with Russian leaders and that he was trying to find a slot for this meeting in his schedule. US president-elect also mentioned what he thought might complicate restoration of the American-Russian relations. According to Obama, rapid economic growth and abundance of energy resources made Russia overly assertive. “It is necessary to make it clear that Russia’s actions with regard to neighbors shouldn’t be aggressive,” he said.

Obama’s statement was made six days after the reconciliatory gesture from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Last week, Medvedev formulated a list of instructions to the government, Security Council, and presidential administration concerning implementation of the presidential message to the Federal Assembly on November 5 pertaining international relations. All these structures are expected to come up with suggestions “on advancement of the Russian-American relations in the light of the presidential election in the United States.” Insiders said Medvedev was expecting from the Foreign Ministry and Security Council “practical steps” in terms of restoration of relations with Washington. “The president set no deadlines,” a source said. “There is a tacit understanding, however, that it should be done by January 20, the day of Obama’s inauguration.”

Official Moscow expects the new US President and his advisors to be more considerate in discussion of matters like NATO’s eastward expansion, installation of elements of the US ballistic missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, and offensive arms reduction. Nobody expects a compromise on these and a score of other issues with George W. Bush’s Administration anymore. No wonder Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying that nobody expected any breakthroughs from the Russian-American strategic dialogue team scheduled to meet in Moscow later this month (in mid-December).

The strategic dialogue team in the meanwhile is slated to discuss disarmament and American ballistic missile defense capacity. Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood (American chairman of the strategic dialogue team) said in early November that official Washington had cabled to Moscow new proposals concerning access to future objects of the ballistic missile system in East Europe and nuclear weapons reduction initiatives.

Officials who arrange a meeting between Rood and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (Russian chairman of the strategic dialogue team) say that American proposals and initiatives were found wanting. “As matters stand, the American position with regard to arms reduction did not change at all. We cannot accept their thesis that the planned reduction is only to be applied to tactically deployed warheads. Neither do they want to reduce delivery means or even discuss conventional strategic means,” a senior Russian diplomat complained. “Same logic is applied to the matter of the ballistic missile defense capacity. They are telling us to relax and never take it for encroachment on our interests because they in their turn do not dramatize flights of our strategic bombers or naval sorties to Latin America…”

According to the diplomat, Russia will keep insisting on reduction of strategic offensive arms including non-deployed warheads. When the American plans to develop ballistic missile defense system in East Europe are finally on the floor, Moscow will suggest joint Russian-American evaluation of the missile threat and decision-making. On the other hand, the Russian Foreign Ministry does not really expect the consultations to be a success.

Moscow counts on the would-be US Administration. Official in charge of relations with both Americas and disarmament matters, Ryabkov said a month ago that the Russian authorities were waiting to start working with Obama’s team. “Considering the signals we received from Obama’s men, we hope they will be easier to deal with,” Ryabkov told Kommersant.

Obama’s statements yesterday were critical but even they did not spoil the optimism displayed by Moscow. “It takes the will to improve the relations between us, and this will exists at this point,” Russian Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said. “Should Obama… choose cooperation with us, he will find Moscow sympathetic. A confrontation is not what we want.”

The Kremlin also hopes that Obama’s would-be US Administration will notice and appreciate the global initiative of a new European-Atlantic security treaty suggested by Medvedev. Last week, it was official Washington (i.e. the going US Administration) that raised objections to Moscow’s idea of an OSCE summit in 2009 to discuss the initiative. “This US Administration is critical. It claims that Russia alone is dissatisfied with the status quo,” a Foreign Minister official commented. “That is why we advise everyone to take a pause and refrain from making important decisions in the security sphere – like acceptance of new members in NATO or installation of ballistic missile defense systems in Europe.”

Moscow intends to bring these matters up after Obama’s inauguration.

“We’d better give them time to form and install a new US Administration,” Rogozin said. “Considering the budding trust between our presidents, the White House just might change its mind on some matters, say, ballistic missile defense systems.”

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