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Obama: Resetting Relations with Russia

  • Peter Fedynsky

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds a "reset" button given to him by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds a "reset" button given to him by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

During the President Barack Obama's first year in office, his administration sought to reset America's relationship with Russia that had become strained under President George W. Bush

In March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a gift meant to underscore the Obama administration's commitment to reset relations with Russia. It was a button with "reset," supposedly translated into Russian.

HILLARY CLINTON: "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?"

SERGEI LAVROV: "You got it wrong. It should be 'perezagruzka.' This says 'peregruzka,' which means 'overcharged.'"

Despite the mistranslation, independent Russian political analyst Alexander Konovalov welcomes better ties. He says the Bush administration seemed to ignore Russia because of its relatively small economy and aging nuclear arsenal.

"The main difference of the Obama administration is that it realizes [the previous administration's] purely mathematical approach was incorrect," he said. "Russia's significance in the world is actually much greater. America needs Russia, just as Russia needs the United States."

Konovalov says both countries can cooperate in the war against terror, drug trafficking, Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, and nuclear non-proliferation in general.

In July, President Obama visited Moscow and signed a preliminary agreement to reduce the world's two biggest nuclear arsenals by as much as one-third.

"We've taken important steps forward to increase nuclear security and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. This starts with the reduction of our own nuclear arsenals," said President Obama.

Both countries are working on a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December. The White House and Kremlin say agreement can be reached soon.

Russia has welcomed President Obama's decision to cancel plans for a controversial Central European missile defense system. And in a concession to the United States, Moscow has allowed use of its territory to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said last month his country will develop new missile technology that raised concerns in Washington.

"When we draft and sign the agreement, we will still handle the issue of developing our strategic offensive forces. Without them, it is impossible to defend our country," said Medvedev.

Alexander Konovalov says U.S.-Russian relations clearly improved over the past year, but not enough to provide any true satisfaction.

"The road ahead is considerably longer than the one we covered during the past year. What is needed above all is a completely new level of trust," he added.

Much of that mistrust is focused on former Soviet republics. The Obama administration rejects Russian claims of special privileges in those republics and the Kremlin opposes any NATO expansion that would include Georgia and Ukraine.

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