Focus on U.S. Russian relations
"What to look for?" In U.S. and Russian foreign relations small gains could make a difference. A small missed translation could have helped break the ice during Secretary of State Clinton's visit to Geneva where she met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russian media teased our Secretary because of her gift to Lavrov. According to the BBC News article,
Hillary Clinton gave Sergei Lavrov a mock "reset" button, symbolising US hopes to mend frayed ties with Moscow.
But he said the word the Americans chose, "peregruzka", meant "overloaded" or "overcharged", rather than "reset". Daily newspaper Kommersant declared on its front page: "Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton push the wrong button."
. . . Despite the embarrassment, the two made light of the moment in front of the cameras and pushed the button together to signify a shared hope for better relations. At a joint news conference after two hours of talks, both joked about the error.
"We reached an agreement on how 'reset' is spelled in both Russian and English - we have no differences between us any more," Mr Lavrov said through an interpreter.
Mrs Clinton put it this way: "The minister corrected our word choice. But in a way, the word that was on the button turns out to be also true. We are resetting, and because we are resetting, the minister and I have an 'overload' of work."
"Necessity pushed U.S. and Russia Closer," is another BBC headline. The story is a good analysis of why it is in both countries' interests to get along better. Reasons include the fact that the Obama administration wants things to be better. We need the railroad supply route through Russia to Afghanistan. Russia does not want a U.S. failure in Afghanistan. (Russia and Germany are discussing using the supply route, as well, according to RIA Novosti). And Russia wants the U.S. to scrap its planned missile defense system in Central Europe, and may be willing to apply pressure to Iran to scrap its long range missile program. In addition the economic recession had hit the Eurozone and Russia very hard, so they have a lot on their plate, just a we do.
The Russian paper, Pravda, reported on March 4 that "USA may keep its airbase in Kyrgyzstan after Obama's letter to Russia's Medvedev." To quote:
Media outlets published numerous reports about the secret letter, which President Obama supposedly sent to his Russian counterpart. In the letter (if the reports are true, of course), Obama particularly set out a hope that Moscow would not encourage the exclusion of US servicemen from Kyrgyzstan. The US administration tends to believe that the former Soviet republic made the decision under the pressure of the Kremlin, although the latter repeatedly affirmed that it was a sovereign decision of Kyrgyzstan.
If Obama sent the secret letter to Medvedev indeed, it may mean that Russia (and Kyrgyzstan) took US hopes into consideration.
RIA Novosti (3/3/09) also reported that President Medvedev denied an Iran-Missile shield tradeoff with the U.S. And The Asia Times published a very interesting analysis of Russia's rejuvenation of its sphere of influence in Central Asia, headlined, "Russia's 'virtual cold war' in Central Asia." It regards the Feb. 3 meeting in Moscow of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) forming a CSTO rapid reaction force the,
Russian President Dimitri Medvedev claimed will not be less capable than its NATO counterpart.
It seems clear that there is much to gain for both nations by cooperating. All it will take is toughness, intelligent strategy and being able to reach out. The Obama administration has shown the capacity to do that in other areas. Why not with Russia?
(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)