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  New trends in the relationship between the United States and Russia

Stanislovas Stasiulis
2009 09 21

During the presidency of B.Clinton and B.Yeltcin the relationship between the United States and Russia slightly improved after the end of the Cold War. Both, B.Clinton, and B.Yeltcin referred to Russia as a new democratic country seeking to become part of the Western world.

The rise to power of G.Bush and V.Putin marked a new phase in the relationship between the two states. G.Bush did not consider relations with Russia a priority of the American foreign policy.  He supported development of NATO in Eastern and Central Europe and did not avoid involvement into ideological disputes with Moscow. In his turn V.Putin didn’t consider the West as a political model.

What changes would bring the era of new leaders of the White House and the Kremlin: B.Obama and D.Medvedev?

Their meetings in London and Moscow demonstrate that both countries seek friendly and pragmatic co-operation.  The new president of the United States, differently from G.Bush, is not involved in the discussions about the lack of democracy in Russia.

Such B.Obama‘s behavior was positively evaluated in Moscow. During his visit to Moscow the countries agreed on the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), and on the amount of nuclear warheads and their strategic carriers. During the visit, the presidential B.Obama and D.Medvedev‘s commission was established. It would embrace several working groups for economics, energy, environmental protection, security, health and struggle against terrorism.

In Moscow D.Medvedev promised B.Obama that the United States could fly weapons and personnel to Afghanistan via the territory of Russia (it is anticipated to perform up to 4500 flights per year).  However, situation concerning Iran is more complicated, since Russia has to decide on whether it is going to further pursue friendly relations with Iran or agrees with sanctions and firm policy of the United States regarding Iran.

Evaluation of results of the U.S. President’s visit to Moscow is twofold. Some consider this visit as a positive sign, whereas the others believe that it did not bring any substantial changes in the relationship between the U.S.and Russia.  Presumably, the latter opinion is more reasonable.  The U.S. plans to deploy elements of anti-missile defense (AMD) system in Poland and Czech Republic, and its policy toward Ukraine and Georgia still remain the object of disputes between Washington and Moscow.

Concerning the first issue, the agreement could be reached soon, moreover that the U.S. democrats are skeptical toward deployment of AMD system in Central Europe. On the other hand, the U.S.president did not say a firm NO. He presented two possibilities: 1) Russia contributes to the firm U.S. policy toward Iran; if this policy is justified, establishment of the AMD shield in Central Europe would lose its relevance; 2) rejection of the current project and establishment of a new involving three parties: the U.S., Europe and Russia (in this case a possibility of deployment of AMD shield in other location (it could be Azerbaijan) could be considered.

Most likely disagreements regarding Ukraine and Georgia would be long-lasting.  Russia seeks to further dominate in its „near abroad“, whereas the United States reassured that it would support each country seeking independent policy. Although Ukraine and Georgia would hardly be invited to NATO in the near future, during the visit in Kiev and Tbilisi, the U.S. Vice President J.Biden supported the will of these countries to become members of the Alliance.

Such an ambiguity of the U.S.policy received wide response. Twenty two politicians and public figures of Central and Eastern European countries (among them V.Adamkus, the former president of Lithuania), wrote an open letter to the U.S.president, calling for the extension of co-operation not only with Russia but also with all countries of the Region. In the letter they apprehended that America‘s pragmatism in the relations with Russia could have negative after-affect to its neighbors.  A.Ilarionov, a former advisor to the Russian president, expressed a similar position in the weekly „The Economist“: „the danger is that Russia could interpret the doubts of the U.S. concerning Ukraine and Georgia as „a freedom to act“, and this could arise new conflicts in these states“.

B.Obama tries to be careful toward Russia, but J.Biden’s position is different. He said to „The Wall Street Journal“ that Russia‘s economy is withering and this would force the country match the Western position in various fields, including the loss of influence in former USSR republics.  This statement was criticized in the Kremlin and Washington. The questions arouse: who forms the U.S. foreign policy and how the U.S. is going to „reload“ relations with Russia? It is still not clear: was J.Biden‘s speech a confirmation to former USSR countries that the U.S. will proceed to be their ally? or was it a warning to Moscow that Washington is going to respond to any aggression against neighbors?

Nonetheless, the key disagreements between the U.S.and Russia remain, although meetings of B.Obama and D.Medvedev in London and Moscow demonstrated that countries could do a lot together in many spheres.

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