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Moscow Skeptical of Quick Progress with U.S.

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  • Moscow Skeptical of Quick Progress with U.S.


    Friendly words ahead of President Barack Obama's first meeting next week with Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev mask deep policy differences and rapid progress is unlikely, Moscow-based experts said.

    Moscow skeptical of quick progress with U.S
    Tue Mar 24, 2009 11:57am EDT

    By Conor Sweeney - Analysis

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Friendly words ahead of President Barack Obama's first meeting next week with Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev mask deep policy differences and rapid progress is unlikely, Moscow-based experts said.

    Hopes of a breakthrough were raised by Washington's offer to "press the reset button" on deadlocked relations with Moscow after Obama's election, and by Medvedev's positive response.

    "I can't say that after a few days we will have a new epoch," said Russian lawmaker Andrei Klimov, an expert on international relations with the ruling United Russia party. "In reality, it's a long way away."

    Washington wants Russia's help in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, reining in North Korea's missile program, allowing supplies through its territory to NATO forces in Afghanistan and fighting the global financial crisis.

    Before talks with former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and a delegation of U.S. elder statesmen on March 20, Medvedev said Moscow was counting on a reset in relations, adding: "I hope that it will happen."

    Analysts said that comment masked the fact that the Kremlin's agenda is very different to the White House's.

    "Russia doesn't want to join your Atlantic system of values and doesn't want to participate in rules of a game shaped by others," Tatiana Parkhalina, the director of the Moscow-based Center for European Security told Reuters.

    "For the Kremlin, the post-Soviet space is our back yard and the West should not come in," Parkhalina said.

    Amongst the key disagreements are U.S. plans to install elements of a anti-missile system in Europe, NATO's expansion into ex-Soviet states, Russia's role in last year's Georgia war and assessments of the threat from Iran's nuclear projects.

    Klimov said the general view in Moscow was that with this long list of disagreements, the best that could be expected was good personal chemistry between the two leaders, who meet in London on April 1 on the eve of a G20 summit in London.

    "There are too many questions without final solutions," he added.

    Even if Moscow and Washington sincerely want to start afresh on topics like the anti-missile system or Iran, it will take more than a good rapport between the leaders, said Nikolai Zlobin of the Washington-based World Security Institute.


    "It's a political and intellectual dead end for both sides about how to reset relations, they don't know how to, the agenda is the same and the conflicts stay the same," Zlobin said.

    Whatever progress Obama might make with Medvedev, he will still have to win over Russia's powerful prime minister Vladimir Putin, who still dominates the country's political scene.

    "Putin is still the man who controls foreign policy and feels very bitter toward the U.S.," Zlobin said. "He has no personal relations with Obama and possibly they will never meet."

    Before his election, Obama spoke of the need to engage with Russia but balanced his call for cooperation with words some interpreted as criticism of Russia's democratic standards.

    "You can't be a 21st century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th century dictatorship," Obama said on September 26 in Oxford, Mississippi.

    Moscow has no intention of taking lectures on its democratic standards, Parkhalina says, and instead wants an acceptance of its sphere of influence across ex-Soviet Central Asia, the South Caucasus and Ukraine -- something Washington rejects.

    One area where both sides do share a common agenda is on negotiations to limit strategic nuclear missiles. The current treaty regulating these weapons, known as START, expires in December and Russia shares Washington's interest in a new pact.

    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last week that Moscow hoped for progress at the Obama-Medvedev meeting on long-range missile talks but also said Russia would link the issue to Washington's anti-missile plans.

    Zlobin believes that any temporary warmth will quickly give way to well-worn rows between the two sides.

    "Russia feels again like the U.S. is trying to use it but doesn't care about Russia itself," he said. "The feeling in the Kremlin is: 'They want to use us, so why should we help them?'"

    Most of the Russian elite want the West to view Russia as a partner, said Igor Filippov, Deputy Dean for International Relations of the History Faculty at Moscow State University.

    "There is an assumption in the West that basically, Russia is always evil, wrong and dangerous but can perhaps be coerced into behaving more or less properly, like a naughty child or a wild beast," Filippov said.

    "To a Russian politician this is ridiculous and insulting."

    (Editing by Mark Trevelyan)