Russian-American human rights and ABM negotiations are under way.

The Russian-American negotiations under way in Moscow are supposed to show the reload presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama initiated and put into motion proceeding without a hitch. The Russian and American delegations discussed some sensitive issues yesterday: the shape Russian civil society is in and ballistic missile defense. His negotiations with Vladislav Surkov of the Presidential Administration over, Michael McFall who advises the US President on Russia and Eurasia said that the reload was bound to touch on human rights too. Washington was going to abandon criticism of "sovereign democracy" in public, he said. What information is available to Kommersant meanwhile indicates that US State Secretary Hillary Clinton is going to suggest joint development of the ballistic missile defense system.

In theory, Clinton is the leader and the star of the American delegation currently in Moscow. She is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev later today. And yet, the Russian-American talks began yesterday and the information available to this newspaper indicates that some new and startling ideas of Obama’s Administration were aired at the talks already.

The meeting between Surkov and McFall became undeniably the central event of the negotiations yesterday. Surkov and McFall co-chair the working group for civil society within the framework of the Medvedev-Obama presidential commission set up this July. McFall said he had acquainted Surkov with Washington’s new approach to the problem of human rights in Russia at the meeting. “We decided that we need a reload in this sphere too, a reload and abandonment of the previous attitude that complicated the Russian-American partnership.” McFall implied that the United States was through with its penchant for teaching Russia democracy (something that never failed to exasperate Moscow) and that it was going to concentrate on practical matters now, like work directly with non-governmental organizations.

By and large, it means abandonment of the policy promoted by previous US Administration that never missed a chance to criticize Russia in public for the human rights situation.

Russia was criticized for the war in Chechnya in Bill Clinton’s days and for curtailment of democratic freedoms under Vladimir Putin’s regime in the days of George W. Bush. Barack Obama’s Administration, he seems determined to try the approach the US President outlined in his speech before the UN General Assembly. “Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect,” he said.

According to McFall, the Americans suggested making the working group truly governmental i.e. consisting exclusively of government officials. Surkov did not mind, McFall said. “Civil society institutions in our two countries will establish their own dialogue. That’s a two-way process. America assists in installation of civil society in Russia by aiding its non-governmental organizations whereas there exist Russian non-governmental organizations in the United States that handle the problems of our civil society Andranik Migranjan’s Institute of Democracy and Cooperation – Kommersant. And that’s nice.”

McFall added that the White House was willing to continue financing non-governmental organizations in Russia. Asked if he felt at ease having Surkov as his counterpart, McFall announced that the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission was not the only channel of the dialogue between the United States and Russian civil society. (Ella Pamfilova of the Presidential Council for Human Rights said that human rights activists who had never gotten an invitation to the Surkov-McFall meeting were going to meet with Clinton later today.)

Both Washington and Moscow expect a breakthrough in the ABM talks. Negotiations took place yesterday between the delegations headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. “American experts gave a thorough account of what US Administration’s new approach to the problem stands for,” Andrei Nesterenko of the Foreign Ministry said. “The US president merely indicated abandonment of the plans to develop the third position area in Europe which we welcomed, of course. He also gave a sketchy account of some contours of the future system but we’ve never been given details or specs so far. Ryabkov will make a report to the foreign minister and the matter will be elevated to a higher level after that.”

The Russian leadership is apparently in for a nice surprise. According to McFall, the American delegation came to Moscow with the offer to a develop ballistic missile defense system together. “This is what the presidents’ meeting was really about. The system should be developed together with Russia,” he said. Nesterenko in his turn repeated that Russia was prepared to participate in development of a collective missile shield with the United States and NATO and that its proposal to use Armavir and Gabala radars together was standing.

McFall in the meantime said that he perceived no serious difficulties that would compromise joint development of a ballistic missile defense system. He said that Alexander Vershbow’s words concerning elements of the missile shield in Ukraine had been misinterpreted. “Ukraine has never been discussed in this context,” he said and proceeded to hail the progress Russia and the United States had made in the Iranian matter. “It was probably the worst irritant in the relations between us only recently. These days, however, Russia is considerably more cooperative.”

According to McFall, state borders of Georgia was the only matter with the potential to complicate the American-Russian relations. He admitted, however, that Washington expected no breakthroughs in the matter in the foreseeable future and therefore was prepared to let it go for the time being so as not to compromise the improving relations with Moscow.