Russian-US relations: is confrontation finally giving way to cooperation?

Prague and Washington imply that they may re-examine their options and scrap the plans to install an element of the ballistic missile defense system in the Czech Republic. Supporters of US President Barack Obama appear to be determined to drop the project because deterioration of relations with Russia is really the last thing the United States need nowadays.

Statements on the possible abandonment of the plans in question were made before TV cameras in the course of debates dedicated to recent protests in Prague. Protesters had appealed to Obama to abstain from construction of a radar in Brdy. “The global financial crisis offers the United States an excuse to postpone the project or abandon it for good,” Jiri Dientsbier of the Czech senate foreign affairs committee said. Once a dissenter and foreign minister in Vaclav Havel’s government of Czechoslovakia, Dientsbier said ballistic missile defense system in East Europe could only be developed by the United States and Russia together.

Also present at the debates, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and former advisor to the US presidents Zbigniew Brzezinski all but agreed with Dientsbier. Not surprisingly, it made headlines. Schwarzenberg allowed for the possibility of establishment of cooperation with Russia on the matter. Brzezinski in his turn plainly announced that construction of a radar in the Czech Republic was no priority for the United States at this point. Effectiveness of the East European ballistic missile defense system was still questionable, he reminded.

“It was to be expected,” Vasily Zharkov of the Political Philosophy Center shrugged. “Obama’s Administration curtails the East European project, step by step.” Zharkov emphasized that it was Brzezinski who had been chosen to air Washington’s new stand on the matter, a man without an official position in the New US Administration but commanding vast respect and wielding enormous influence even so. “We may even hear before very long that nobody really needs the killer missile base in Poland either. Nobody but President Lech Kaczynski, that is.”

Abandonment of the plans to develop a ballistic missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland will enable Obama to shed Bush’s legacy and begin relations with Moscow from scratch. Besides, Washington needs Russia and assistance from it in a by far more pressing matter, namely that of Afghanistan. Deterioration of the situation in Pakistan results in a breakdown of supply lines to the American contingent in Afghanistan. An alternative transit route via Russia is therefore a must, or the Americans will find themselves cut off. What information is available at this point indicates that Moscow has no objections to aiding the counter-terrorism coalition as long as the counter-terrorism coalition meets it halfway, of course. Abandonment of the plans to install elements of the ballistic missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland may become one such gesture on the part of the new US Administration.