Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, July 06, 2009

Moscow Nights

Despite the enormous amount of domestic news that could be reported, the day's headlines were consumed with Barack Obama's visit to the Kremlin. Today he met with President Medvedyev - tomorrow, Prime Minister Putin. So far, it is a qualified success. An agreement has been reached that should allow for a follow-on treaty to the START treaty for about a 30% reduction in nuclear missiles and warheads. More remarkably, Russia has decided to be downright magnanimous when it comes to opening its airspace to US troop flights to Afghanistan. Apparently the expectation was that they might permit some supply shipments, not open up the skies to troops and do so basically free of charge. Compare this to France's behavior at times and you see thisis not a small thing. Obama and Medvedyev had significant discussions about missile defense and Iran. One gets the sense that Obama communicated to him that the issue for us is mostly Iran, not Russia, and that if Russia can help us deal with Iran, well, we have a deficit anyway. Nobody will cop to this of course, but it looks like we will probably stall on missile defense if Russia helps out with Iran.

What does all this mean? I would have told you fifteen years ago that what Russia's leaders want more than anything else is respect. They want to be astride the world stage as the old Soviet leaders were. They don't want to be treated as the losers in the Cold War. They don't want to be publicly reprimanded like schoolchildren for backsliding on democracy, even if they deserve it. Well, Russia got some of this today. It will get more tomorrow. Perhaps Barack Obama figured out what so few people ever do in such negotiations - that stuff is free. In return, Russia gets to make "gestures of friendship" rather than "concessions."

This is good for strategic cooperation on big things. The problem of the "near abroad" - what Russia calls its newly independent neighbors - remains. There is a lot of unfinished business from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. I am hopeful that Russia will not engage in a repeat of the Georgia war stunt if it begins to realize other ways to get the respect it craves. It may continue to behave badly, of course, but I suspect we will not see some of the fearmongering on all sides we saw last summer.

I am also hopeful about Obama's rhetoric about Medvedyev turning the page somewhat from Putin. This is unlikely to be true in that Putin still calls most of the shots, but it is a convenient excuse for Putin to alter his policies without having to admit to doing so. Just as President Obama can break from Bush without making it look like the USA is giving concessions to the Russians.

All in all, this was probably the most important US-Russian meeting in a dozen years. Both sides are taking the opportunity to replace some areas of confrontation with cooperation.


Raised By Republicans said...

I think there are two fundamental problems with US-Russia relations, neither of which have been addressed in this summit. First, Russia's leaders want oil and gas prices to be high and we want them to be low. Second, Russia's leaders do not respect the sovereignty of their "near abroad" neighbors.

That said, I do think the cooperation in Central Asia is possible and beneficial to both. Russia's government doesn't want a series of fail states from Indus to the Aral Sea any more than we do. And Russia cannot afford to do anything about it themselves and even if they had the money their conventional military forces are in such a sorry state that they would need years to get ready. Much easier for them to just let us pay all the costs.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I don't think the lack of respect for the sovereignty of the "near abroad" is really a big problem for the US. It's not nice, but it's just not a big deal for us.

As for oil and gas, I see the issue but not so much. I mean, we get along famously with Saudis. The US under Bush pursued policies to raise oil prices (that's my read - they certainly did go up), because part of the US economy (Tex/Louisiana) depends on big oil. It's not that major a disagreement.

Russia doesn't want US help in central asia, btw. They want it in South Asia. Central Asia is part of the near abroad, and they consider it their domain. Hence the pressure on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to kick us out, but permission to go to Afghanistan (and Pakistan).

Raised By Republicans said...

It depends on how you define the "near abroad." If you define it as any country that was once part of the USSR or Tsarist Russian Empire, then yes, it's a huge problem for the US. Several of those countries are EU member states now and Russia has shown some tendency to want to push them around (especially the Baltic Countries).

But if the "near abroad" means only the Caucusus and the "stans" then, I can see your point about a minimum of conflict.

RE: Oil, it really depends who in America you ask. For several states (TX, LA, AK, and a few others), high oil prices are the greatest thing they can think of. But for the rest of us and our overall economy, high oil prices lead to recessions. That's part of the reason the Bush family is so bad for America.

Yeah, we get a long great with the Saudis --- Who was it again that flew those planes? Who paid their bills? Who finances the madrasas in Pakistan? The relationship between the Saudi monarchy and the US is complicated at best and exploitive (they exploiting us) at worst.

Pombat said...

It also depends how you define "problem for the US". If "problem" means something that directly affects your personal lives, then yeah fine, let Russia mess with the 'stans etc. If "problem" means something that is morally abhorrent to you - like people being killed for no reason - then it doesn't matter which states Russia wants to "mess with".

Raised By Republicans said...

A fair point, Pombat.

The Law Talking Guy said...

As Neville Chamberlain said of Czechoslovaks - they are a far away people of whom we know nothing. =)

Raised By Republicans said...

And look how well that turned out.

Pombat said...

No need to get defensive LTG.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I wasn't being defensive. What could you have thought I meant, Pombat? I was obviously making a humorous comment in acknowledging that my argument, that the "near abroad" means little, bears some similarity to Chamberlain's much maligned views. It was a tip of the hat to you, not being defensive. Maybe if I had quoted Stalin in support of my position you might have gotten the joke.

Now, of course, I'm being defensive, but that's for a different reason.