The Russians had big plans for US president Barack Obama's visit to Moscow as a dramatic turning-point in their relations with the United States. They began preparing for it as far back as April, after the two presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev first met in London.
These days, any Kremlin rancor against Washington has nothing to do with ideology but is rather a contest over what is seen as American infringements of Russian interests and spheres of influence.
In a perfect world, the Russians would like nothing better at this point than to become the junior partner of the US in global questions, with the stipulation that their exclusive zones of interest in the CIS countries are respected.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's special correspondent lists the issues on which Obama's Russian hosts expected progress during his visit:
- Mutual closure of the Georgian question and South Ossetian self-determination.
- A discussion of US plans for the post-crisis reorganization of global economic and financial structures.
- Discussion of the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia and the coordination of interests.
- Discussions on the Iranian question.
- Further reductions of strategic armaments and nuclear non-proliferation hindered in Russia's view by the US ant-missile defense system are planned in East Europe.
A new disarmament treaty only got as far as an optimistic heading (as reported in the previous article). The Russians say that the Obama administration is itself divided on this issue. Therefore, the Obama-Medvedev document has more political than practical value.
They ascribe symbolic value to the agreement to renew military cooperation, which was signed in the presence of the US and Russian presidents by the chief of the Russian Joint Staffs Gen. Nicolay Makarov and the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen.
The Georgia war interrupted this cooperation, including small-scale joint maneuvers and exchanges of delegations, when Washington declared that business as usual was no longer possible with Moscow.
The impasse over the installation of the US missile shield remained after Obama's talks with President Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin.
The only concrete achievement of the Obama visit was the agreement for the transit of American military personnel and cargoes across Russian territory to Afghanistan. The accord gave Moscow the right to inspect these cargoes, although this right is unlikely to be exercised except in a serious crisis in relations.
Since the beginning of spring, “non-lethal” cargoes have been ferried through the Latvian port of Liepaja by rail through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as far as the Afghan city of Hajraton on the Uzbek-Afghani border.
Political grounding laid, much more work needed on ties
Around 40 cargoes of American containers have used this route so far, creating a bottleneck at Hajraton railway station which is not equipped to handle a large volume of freight traffic.
The Russians also lifted their restrictions on the transit of American supplies through Kirghizstan and the use of its former air base at Manas as a logistical center.
This base was closed to the Americans last year by a Kirghiz law passed after Moscow advanced its government a grant of $150 million and further $300 million in credit.
Moscow's help on the Iranian question was predicated on American concession on its planned anti-missile missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Russian leaders suggested they could be more helpful on the Middle East conflict.
They believe the relations they have set up with the radical Palestinian Hamas, the Lebanese Hizballah and Syria's Assad regime would serve the Obama administration's policy of dialogue, provided the two groups and Damascus distanced themselves from Tehran. They say this process has already begun for Hamas.
The sales of Russian weapons to Iran, firstly the N-300PMU-1 air defense systems, were raised, but no practical steps agreed.
Russian sources appreciated the visiting US president tactfully avoiding criticism of their government on matters of civil and human rights. It was also noted that the Obama administration had retained in key posts representatives of the Carnegie Center in Moscow during the Bush term. They are the assistant secretary of state and former US START negotiator Rose Gottemoeller and Obama’s adviser on Russia Michael McFaul.
In all, it may be said that in practical terms, the Obama visit to Moscow had no visible achievements, barring the agreement on transit to Afghanistan. But it did create the necessary political background for the further development of Russian-American interaction and cooperation.