The first bilateral meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States may take place in April.

What information is available to Kommersant indicates that the new US President Barack Obama may visit Moscow in April. His State Secretary Hillary Clinton may turn up in Russia in March with a piece of news calculated to make the Kremlin happy. Obama’s Administration has already decided to reduce ABM development expenses.

A source close to the US Department of State said Obama’s first visit to Russia might take place in April. It will become a part of the US president’s first European tour. Obama will come to London on April 2 to attend the G20 summit. He will meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev there. NATO summit dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Alliance will become Obama’s next stop. This event will take place in Strasbourg and Kiel on the French-German border on April 3-4. Insiders say that it is from there that Air Force One may fly to Moscow (just like George W. Bush did last year when he visited Sochi right after the NATO summit in Bucharest).

Medvedev’s presidential administration said no official request for a meeting between the presidents had come from Washington yet. If Obama did turn up in Moscow on the other hand, it would show that the new US Administration regarded Russia as a prime partner which would certainly facilitate improvement of the Russian-American relations. In any event, the Russian presidential administration planned for a meeting between Medvedev and Obama at the G20 summit in London. Obama’s coming to Moscow afterwards will remove the necessity to arrange a bilateral meeting in the British capital.

Clinton may visit Russia even before her patron. Sources assume that she may turn up in Moscow in March. Her visit will probably precede Obama’s first tour of European capitals. Moreover, Clinton is scheduled to attend her first conference of NATO foreign ministers also in March.

Sources in the US Department of State meanwhile expect Clinton to concentrate on formation of her team throughout February. Its key members are already known. William Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (he was Ambassador to Russia not long ago) will retain his position. The Russian division will be run by Philip Gordon, the head of the European department of the National Security Council in Bill Clinton’s Administration, and Dennis Ross, a career diplomat who was with the US Department of State during George Bush’s presidency and represented Clinton in the Middle East afterwards. Russian policy of the new US Administration will be coordinated by Michael McFall, formerly Director of Programs of the Moscow Carnegie Center. McFall advised Obama on Russia during his campaign. He will handle Russian affairs in the National Security Council now.

Speaking before the US Congress that confirmed her nomination a short while ago, Clinton said work on a new document to replace the START-1 treaty would become one of the high priorities of the US Administration. START-1 expires on December 5, 2009. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood began consultations over a new document last December. The Russian Foreign Ministry said then that the talks over a new treaty might stimulate the rapprochement between Moscow and Washington and that its signing would become the first joint project for Medvedev and Obama. Observers unanimously agree that START-1 will be one of the major items on the agendas of Clinton and Obama in Moscow.

Ryabkov said last December that the START-1 talks would almost inevitably be tied in with installation of the ballistic missile defense system in Europe. “Reaching an agreement over the ballistic missile defense system is particularly difficult. The Americans’ plans on that score convince us that these matters should be considered together.” Stand of the new US Administration’s on the matter may actually make Moscow happy.

Senatorial Armed Forces Committee confirmed the new Pentagon top brass last week. Judging by what was said there, new upper echelons of the US Defense Department are considerably more skeptical with regard to ballistic missile defense system than their predecessors were. William J. Lynn, the future Senior Undersecretary of Defense, called the Pentagon’s current budget ($180 billion) “inexcusably swollen”. He said that budget of the ballistic missile defense system was a prime candidate for a sequester and added that the US Missile Defense Agency must learn to play by the financial rules applied to everyone else within the US Defense Department. Michelle Flournoy, would-be US Undersecretary of Defense for Political Affairs, was of a similar frame of mind. She told Senators that the Pentagon would proceed with the ballistic missile defense program only if it were absolutely convinced of its effectiveness. As a matter of fact, this is what Democrats in the US Senate have been saying for years. Criticizing Bush’s Administration for its obsession with development of the ballistic missile defense system in Europe, they kept pointing out that its effectiveness had to be proved yet.

Along with START-1 and ballistic missile defense, the new US Administration will have one other high priority in connection with Russia. Addressing Clinton at the hearing that was to confirm her as the US State Secretary, Senator Richard Lugar told her to pay close attention to the matter of energy security. “Prime Minister Putin ordered suspension of gas deliveries this month, and that became a hard blow at our allies. This conflict is a fresh example of how energy dependance may restrict our foreign policy,” Lugar said. It should be added that Lugar wields a lot of clout with Obama. It was Lugar who took Obama on his first trip to Moscow four years ago when the Senatorial International Affairs Committee Lugar chaired then sent a delegation to Russia.

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