A Thawing of US-Russian Relations

On the sidelines of the G20 summit in London, another very important, first time meeting took place: between the presidents of the United States and Russia.

The talks between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev focused on some key strategic issues, the foremost being the restarting of a reduction in nuclear arsenals of the two states. Other vital discussions centred round the possibility of increased Russian cooperation in Afghanistan and in thwarting the Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as well as the proposed Missile Defence system in Eastern Europe.

The US-Russian relations had, over the last few years, reached a record low since the Cold War, with tensions mounting between the two over what the Russians perceive as growing US interference and military presence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

The key irritants for Russia have been the US support to Georgia last summer, the European based US ballistic missile defence system and NATO’s enlargement on its borders. On the other hand, the US concerns focus on Russia’s ambivalent attitude towards Iran as well, as its pressure tactics on regional states to create obstacles for Washington. A case in point is what is believed to be Russian pressure on Kyrgyzstan to forcibly shut down a vital US military base in the region.

President Obama has been pressing for increased cooperation with Russia on two vital strategic issues, namely Iran and Afghanistan. The meeting between the two has yielded a positive outcome, in at least breaking the ice and re-establishing high-leveldialogue over strategic issues. A mutual agreement on restarting the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), for mutual reduction of nuclear weapons, is expected to be a good starting point, with both sides agreeing to restart the process of disarmament and work towards signing a deal to the effect, when the current treaty expires in December this year.

There are indications that the US may be driving a bargain with Moscow over the missile defence system in exchange for Russian support to prevent Iran’s acquisition of what is commonly believed to be a military nuclear programme. Though Russia’s position on Iran affirms its belief that Tehran has a right to pursue a civilian nuclear programme, it did cede some concession to the US, calling on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and allow for more international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The precedent set at the London meeting is expected to set the ball rolling in cooperation on strategic issues, despite differences in other areas that, in future, may be dealt with under improved circumstances of deeper trust and mutual understanding of each others’ respective concerns.

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