Friday, July 10th, 2009 | TV and text
Each week, Real Pundits editors Paul Owen, Arnold Vis and Daniel Washburn discuss the political news of the week. This week its the Obama’s visit to Russia.
Obama in Russia
Before Barack Obama’s meeting with Dmitry Medvedev on July 6, the New York Times called for progress between the US and Russia on the following issues: US flights over Russian airspace to supply forces in Afghanistan, a reduction in nuclear arsenals on both sides, and an agreement on the US missile defence programme, a hangover from the Bush presidency.
On the first two items, the two leaders made a surprising amount of progress. They agreed in principle to cut their nuclear arsenals – which the Times calculated as amounting to 20,000 weapons – by a quarter, while American planes will now fly through Russian airspace unmolested.
But on the third point there was much less agreement. Obama surprised many upon taking office by proceeding with the “star wars” project, which some see as a costly waste of resources that has never been proved to work. He presents it, as Bush did, as a bulwark against Iran. Russia sees it as a threat to its own defence, and one based in its own backyard of eastern Europe.
Looming over the talks is the decline of Russia from its status as a great power the equal of the USA. It took Britain decades to recover from such a decline – perhaps it still has not. Vladimir Putin, the prime minister who was Medvedev’s predecessor and may one day return to the presidency, won the support of the Russian people by vowing to undo what he saw as an embarrassing fall from grace under Boris Yeltsin. But Russia is not the Soviet Union, and even the Soviet Union of its latter period was merely the outline of a great power, its image sustained almost solely by its devastating military strength – which is where we came in. Russia’s goals must now be smaller, and its foreign adventures less ambitious, for it to fulfil its real task: to increase the living standards of its people. Its GDP is $2.225 trillion to the US’s $14.29 trillion, while its economy is still heavily dependent upon industry. Its democracy and the freedom of its media both still leave much to be desired.
When Medvedev was elected, he gave signs of understanding this task, nodding towards issues such as media freedom and democracy, and Obama seems understandably keener to deal with him rather than the cold-eyed Putin. Yet if Putin remains the power behind the throne, and may be back on the throne before long, Obama needs to develop a way of dealing with him – and what to do about Iran now his “hand of friendship” has been rebuffed may be the first test.
In terms of concrete results of this summit the deal on overflight rights to Afghanistan through Russian airspace is a bit of good news for the U.S.
The deal of reductions of nuclear arms is especially good for Russia because most of the nukes they are going to phase out under this agreement were about to become too old and obsolete anyway.
Having said that there does not seem to be any real “resetting” of the U.S.- Russian relationship on the horizon, and dealing with Russia might present a stern test of Obama’s philosophy of engagement.
An example was his speech to graduates at the New Economic School in Moscow.
The speech contained some of the hallmarks that makes Obama particularly effective at speeches like these: genuine interest and appreciation of a the host country’s national history and pride, use of his own personal story to sell America’s virtues and an outreach to civil society. For a glowing first person account of a member of the Russian opposition who met with Obama in Moscow have a look at this article
However, some of the points he made in his remarks about the U.S. involvement in Eastern Europe will not have convinced his audience.
On the defensive weapons he plans to deploy in Eastern Europe, he said: “And I’ve made it clear that this system is directed at preventing a potential attack from Iran. It has nothing to do with Russia.”
That’s quite frankly not going to fly in Russia, as the Cold War may be over but Russia is still very suspicious of what it considers American meddling in their sphere of influence.
The Russians will simply not buy Obama’s notion that relations are between them are “no longer a zero sum game”, even if the messenger has a friendly face.
Russia’s behaviour seems mostly guided by national pride and a desire to once again be considered a super power and for this reason I’d say the prospects of genuinely constructive U.S. -Russian cooperation for the foreseeable future are bleak.
The issue of Iran looms large and while Russia will not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, they will also not want the U.S. to take aggressive action and possibly invade Iran.
|T-shirt designs:||T-shirt designs:||T-shirt designs:||Many more designs available at our Real Pundits Store.|
No comments yet.
Leave a comment
NEW Real Pundits clothing sale.
- Ace of Spades
- America Blog
- AmSpec Blog
- Barack Obama
- Belgravia Dispatch
- Ben Smith’s politico blog
- Blog Catalog
- Blog Hub
- Brody File
- Campaign Matters
- Deadpaninc Blogspot
- Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong
- James Wolcott
- John McCain
- Marc Ambinder
- Matthew Yglesias
- Neal Boortz
- Open Left
- Professor Bainbridge
- Swing State Project
- Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The American Scene
- The Corner NRO