Daniel Korski

Obama’s bear-hug

Obama's bear-hug
Text settings

Presidents Obama, and Medvedev (and Prime Minister Putin) seem to be having a good summit. Nuclear talks look like they have gone well, there has been mention of expanding NATO's transit for its Afghan mission through Russia, and the mood - crucial at any summit - has been reasonably good. Nobody stared into any one else's soul, but the leaders nonetheless agreed, as Bush and Putin did a few years ago, that the US and Russia can do business.

But is a rapprochement between the US and Russia really possible? Dmitri Trenin, of Carnegie Russia, says the West and Russia share many threats. But he also says that anti-Westernism is an "obsession" on the part of Russia's elite. You need to look no further than Russia's recently updated National Security Strategy to see this strategic schizophrenia. It talks about threats such as demographic change and economic dislocation but then attacks NATO and the US.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian ring-master, seems fed up with the West. Though hatred of NATO continues, Russia may be be spreading its animus from the US/NATO to the EU and other "Western" forums. Putin's order for Russia to withdraw its application to join WTO could be followed by Russia leaving the Council of Europe.

As long as the oil price recovers, it is hard to see this agressive foreign policy change. But, at the same time, Obama is right to see how far the US can push Russia towards mutually beneficial goals. START talks, after all, began a year after the 1968 Soviet crackdown in Prague. Russia wants to be respected and only the US can give it the great power "cred" Moscow so desperately desires. Obama is right to offer it - in return for progress on nuclear arms reductions, support for NATO's Afghan mission, and joint approach to Iran.