A little over 40 per cent of Russians consider Russian-US relations strained or hostile, down slightly from 2004 when 46 per cent said they considered the US to be Russias adversary. United States President Barack Obamas world PR campaign is working, despite the issues dividing the two countries, from Star Wars missiles in Poland and US plans for cyber warfare, to NATOs love-affair with Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan to name just a few of Russias neighbours.
So Russia's agreement, announced at Obamas summit in Moscow 6-8 July, to ferry primarily US troops and arms through Russian land and air space to Afghanistan to accelerate the slaughter there without any reciprocation on other outstanding issues comes as a bit of a surprise. Obama faces a reservoir of resentment among Russians who believe that the US has rarely followed through on its occasional peace gestures. At this point, there is a little bit of hope and a lot of distrust, said talk show host Vladimir Pozner on Channel One.
If the object is to stem the flood of opium, there is lots of evidence that the current Afghan government and the US occupiers themselves actually benefit from this lucrative business, and that the only conceivable endgame which the US can salvage there a secular military dictatorship propped up by the US will never deal with this albeit serious problem for Russia. True, Russia also fears the catalysing effect of a Taliban victory on its Muslim Central Asian neighbours. It apparently wants any kind of secular government in Afghanistan, come hell or high water.
But the humiliation of so directly supporting the US military campaign in Afghanistan after the earlier US-sponsored campaign there which destroyed the Soviet Union and led to the deaths of 15,000 Soviet soldiers is surely not lost on the Kremlin. And to drop this plum in Washingtons lap as it continues to insist that Ukraine and Georgia will soon join NATO and that Poland will have its missiles looks too good to be true from the US perspective. Maybe the Kremlin is deriving some satisfaction from abetting the US in what it sees as a losing battle in Afghanistan, letting the Taliban give US troops some of the medicine inflicted on Soviet troops in yesteryear?
In addition to his meetings with President Dmitri Medvedev, Obama met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, though he publically scolded him prior to the summit. Its important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, Putin understands that the old Cold War approach to US-Russian relations is outdated ... I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new, and to the extent that we can provide him and the Russian people a clear sense that the US is not seeking an antagonistic relationship but wants co-operation on nuclear non-proliferation, fighting terrorism, energy issues, that well end up having a stronger partner overall.
This is diplo-speak for Take us or leave us. Special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian affairs on the National Security Council Michael McFaul made the point less nicely when he said, We dont need the Russians. This taunting of Putin was formalised by a US suggestion to establish a Biden-Putin working group to renegotiation the START treaty which expires in December, named after the Gore-Chernomyrdin task force that negotiated the 1991 treaty when Al Gore was VP and Viktor Chernomyrdin was Russian PM. That suggestion was immediately brushed aside. I am not a vice president, said Putin coldly.
Obama also visited Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. None of the three presidents gave any ground on the missile bases, including Gorbachev, who told talk-show host Pozner the missile bases are aimed at creating a situation that makes it possible for NATO to be first to launch a nuclear strike while staying under its own shield. There is a need for a common European security, which was written at a conference in Paris in 1990. The USSR was preparing its answer to Reagan's 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative, Gorbachev said. I did not agree then and do not agree now with the opinions that it is a bluff and that one should not pay attention to it.
The Obama camp may not be as united on the missile issue as the Russians are. Obama acknowledged Russian sensitivities in a Novaya Gazeta interview but made clear he would not link arms-control talks to missile defence. Grasping at straws, Medvedev said, The current administration is prepared for discussions. I think we are smart enough to find a reasonable solution here. Really, to get this problem solved, one must not necessarily cross out the decisions made earlier.