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Russia, U.S. eager to reset relations, but can they? | Top Russian news and analysis online | 'RIA Novosti' newswire
Atec August 13 2009 19:41:46
While Moscow is preparing to welcome U.S. President Barack Obama in early July, it is important to determine the essence of the U.. >>

While Moscow is preparing to welcome U.S. President Barack Obama in early July, it is important to determine the essence of the U.S. policy of resetting relations with Russia. So far, the phrase has expressed a mood and a political desire, rather than a clearly defined policy.
Both the Kremlin and the White House sense that they must change something in their relations. The U.S. administration thinks that the country’s priorities, such as Iran’s nuclear program, imply a review of relations with Russia, and that Iran is more important to the United States than Georgia or South Ossetia. The Kremlin has also grown tired of the rhetorical and other tugs of war with the United States. Whatever approach the two countries make, they must not overlook several important issues.
First, Russia and the U.S. cannot begin from scratch. The “need to restart our cooperation” expressed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in his article in The Washington Post on March 31, which President Obama supports one way or another, is a highly attractive idea. More than that, it has a future, provided it is supported by the ruling elites. But turning a new page will be extremely difficult. The United States will not forget Georgia and Ukraine, and neither will Russia blot out the events there. There are avid supporters of NATO’s eastward expansion in the U.S., and lastly, the two countries will be unable to forget about the U.S. ballistic missile defense plans for Poland and the Czech Republic. In short, there is a certain political heritage, which cannot be removed from the framework of bilateral relations. It requires full attention.
Second, Russia should try to understand the reasoning of its U.S. partners, and not expect immediate change in their positions. The situation in the United States is very difficult now, and changing his country’s policy will be more difficult for President Obama than for President Medvedev. Russia’s policy of the 1990'S was of the reactive type, with Moscow mostly reacting to U.S. actions. Therefore, we cannot speak about foreign policy parity with the U.S. therefore it is the US which can make our dialogue more practical.
This dialogue will be limited if the Obama administration fails – or refuses – to change the guidelines of the foreign policy it inherited from President George W. Bush. Even if Moscow makes the first step, as Vladimir Putin did in 2007 and 2008, Russia’s foreign policy will still stumble against the attitudes that have taken deep root in the United States.
The idea of resetting relations has come across strong opposition in the United States. It will be very difficult to overcome this because a hostile attitude to Russia, which grew dramatically during the Cold War, is still in the bones of  the country’s policy, as a virus living in the body of American politics, it reminds of itself at every new stage in bilateral relations.
Many people in America, including President Obama, no longer think that the U.S. can be the world’s only master. Respected analysts admit that the “unipolar moment” in the world’s history is over, and the U.S. must admit that the world has become multipolar. However, the psychological and political inertia of unipolarity is extremely powerful in the United States. Many Americans still proudly say, “We are the strongest, the most democratic country, and therefore have the moral right to do what others may not do.” This ingrained ideology is the main reason for the American political class’s negative attitude to resetting relations with Russia.
There is also a third issue, something which is not seriously considered in the United States: the Russian public also has an opinion. During the Soviet era, it was easier to reach an agreement, because the Soviet public’s attitude to the government’s decisions was known in advance. But still the Soviet authorities had to use the propaganda machine to explain to the people why détente was the right choice and why it would benefit the Soviet Union.
Public opinion in modern Russia is much stronger and more mature. The Russian authorities, just as their American counterparts, cannot act freely without first explaining to the people the precise reason for making this or that political move. The United States must admit that it will not achieve anything in relations with Russia by explaining its stand without subsequently acting on its words, while continuing to pursue a policy that is perceived negatively in Russia. It can attain positive results and progress only if it takes practical steps towards Russia.
These three issues are crucial for taking an optimistic view of the future, which is like a glass that is either half-full or half-empty. Today we see Obama holding a carafe with some nice liquid in it, something he presumably wants to pour into the glass. However, he has not yet poured a single drop into it. The United States has not yet made any practical move.
On June 4 in Cairo, President Obama called for a “new beginning” in relations between the United States and the Muslim world. He also outlined the guidelines of a new Middle East policy. Hopefully, the vague contours of the idea of resetting Russian-American relations will become clearer during the Moscow summit.

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