|Page (1) of 1 - 03/08/12||email article||print page|
Analysis: Putin ties with US not all gloomy after hostile presidential campaign
MOSCOW (AP) ' Now that his return to the Kremlin is secure, Vladimir Putin may tone down the anti-Americanism that was a big part of his presidential campaign, but he seems certain to stand his ground in disputes with the United States.
Yet while the bitter division over Syria threatens to bury the "reset" that has been one of the foreign policy achievements of the Obama administration, the future of the relationship is not entirely gloomy. The impending entry of Russia into the World Trade Organization opens the way to greater cooperation through investment and trade.
The issues defining U.S.-Russia relations:
SYRIA STANDOFF: No sooner was Sunday's election over than the West began pressing for some sign that Russia would soften its position on Syria, hoping that Putin's protection of Syrian President Bashar Assad had only been necessary to win votes. But Russia immediately made clear that it remained firmly opposed to international intervention. Putin is suspicious of U.S. ambitions in the region, seeing Washington as intent on advancing its own economic interests. Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East and a major customer for Russian arms. Putin also has deep disdain for protest movements in general. Whether in Syria, Egypt, Ukraine, Georgia or Russia itself, he has accused the U.S. of having had a hand in inciting the opposition.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov goes to the United Nations for discussions on Syria on Monday. Don't look for any significant compromise. Putin won't accept a replay of what happened in Libya after Russia abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote that gave a green light to the NATO campaign.
MISSILE DEFENSE: Relations with NATO have soured over plans for a U.S.-led missile shield in Europe, which Russia fears will one day grow powerful enough to intercept Russian missiles, thus undermining its nuclear deterrent. Moscow has demanded that the system be run jointly or that the U.S. provide firm guarantees that it will never be directed against Russia. Both demands have been rebuffed. The next chapter in this saga may play out when Putin meets President Barack Obama and other world leaders at the Group of Eight summit at Camp David in May. Tensions are palpable: Most of the G-8 leaders will head directly to Chicago for a NATO summit, but Putin has not yet said whether he will go.
WHY WASHINGTON NEEDS MOSCOW: At the top of the list are Iran and Afghanistan. The West needs Russia's cooperation in efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, especially now as a new round of talks with Iran has just been announced. Russia has alternated criticism of Iran's uranium enrichment program with firm opposition to tougher U.N. sanctions. Washington and NATO also need Russia's help in delivering military supplies for Afghanistan. After Pakistan shut its border in November, the best overland supply routes go through Russia. This all may explain Washington's tempered criticism of Putin over what observers said was an unfair election.
IT'S THE ECONOMY STUPID: Putin understands that he must revitalize Russia's economy, still heavily dependent on exports of oil and gas, and modernize its Soviet-era industry. For this he needs to persuade more Western companies to do business in Russia, where worries about corruption and a weak court system have kept many investors away. One of the biggest achievements of the reset with Washington was the agreement late last year allowing Russia to join the World Trade Organization after nearly two decades of trying. Obama this week defended the agreement, expected to be finalized in the coming months, by saying it will open up opportunities for American companies by "creating a level, rules-based playing field in the growing Russian market." In joining the WTO, Russia has agreed to abide by its rules for global trade.
Since both Obama and Putin have an interest in seeing economic ties grow, the best chance for the United States and Russia to improve their relations may lie in business and trade.
Lynn Berry has been covering Russia since 1995.