Russian and American presidents are meeting at the G-20 summit

President Dmitri Medvedev and President Barack Obama are meeting in London today. Their talks will cover military cargo transit to Afghanistan, missile defense, NATO expansion, and a range of other issues. Their next meeting is likely to take place in Russia.

At the G-20 summit in London today, President Dmitri Medvedev will hold talks with four world leaders: the president of the United States, the prime ministers of Britain and Australia, and the president of China. His first full-format talks with President Barack Obama are expected to be the most substantive and interesting of these meetings.

Russia, whose economic initiatives haven’t drawn much enthusiasm from other G-20 participants, intends to make use of the London forum to further its own foreign policy objectives.

President Medvedev will meet with the Australian prime minister today. According to presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko, a “fair degree of trust has been established between them.” No agreements are scheduled to be signed at this meeting. It may be regarded as a warm-up for a more significant event: the first full-scale talks between presidents Medvedev and Obama.

Russia has made comprehensive preparations for this long-awaited meeting. And although Prikhodko said that this will only be a getting-acquainted meeting, Moscow has several goals in mind; it may achieve them, given that “Washington intends to improve relations.”

According to our sources, by the end of today Medvedev and Obama may sign (or at least agree to sign) the first joint agreement on American military cargo transit to Afghanistan across Russian territory. The USA used to use the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan for that purpose, until Kyrgyzstan announced in February that this key transport node would be shut down. These plans are a serious problem for Washington, as it plans to expand its military contingent in Afghanistan. Russia, which spent several years encouraging Kyrgyzstan to expel the Americans from Manas, has now offered the USA assistance in organizing transit.

Today, according to our sources, Medvedev may propose moving from words to action. “We are not averse to discussing American cargo transit. We are prepared to sign a separate agreement on that topic,” said a Kremlin administration source who is working on preparations for the Russian-American meeting. The source told us that Russia is not only prepared to permit US cargo and personnel transit, but has also considered how to ensure transit reliability. As well as air routes, Russia is prepared to offer the USA ground transport, possibly provided by Russian Railways (RZD).

If the Americans are satisfied with these proposals, almost all US transit to Afghanistan would go through Russia. This would make it pointless for the USA to seek alternative partners in Central Asia; it would also make Washington dependent on Moscow with regard to Afghanistan.

Other important topics in today’s Obama-Medvedev talks will include missile defense and further NATO expansion. Medvedev will attempt to persuade Obama to abandon the idea of deploying US missile defense system elements in Europe. Another touchy issue is NATO expansion, especially NATO’s plans for Georgia and Ukraine. A source in the Kremlin administration described the objectives of integrating Ukraine and Georgia into NATO as “Bush’s baggage” – which could drag Russian-US relations back into the past unless it is discarded.

To all appearances, the Kremlin believes that the two presidents will be able to make some progress on problem issues. In the lead-up to the talks, Prikhodko said that the presidents are likely to sign two joint statements. One is a general statement on Russian-American relations; the other concerns START I.

Finally, Obama and Medvedev will discuss and announce a date for their next meeting, which should take place in Russia. According to some reports, Obama may come to Moscow before the G8 summit in Italy, scheduled for early July.

Medvedev won’t confine himself to sorting out relations with the USA. The Kremlin also expects a “reset button” to be pressed in relations with Britain; these relations have deteriorated since 2006, following spy scandals and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London. In a recent BBC interview, Medvedev implied that Moscow is ready for reconciliation with London; he even allowed for the possibility of the British Council resuming full operations in Russia.

Finally, Medvedev will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The Chinese leader will come to Russia this summer to attend summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), scheduled to take place on June 15-16 in Yekaterinburg.