News / Europe

Relations Between Washington and Moscow on the Mend

President Barack Obama meets with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan, 14 Nov 2010
President Barack Obama meets with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan, 14 Nov 2010

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Most experts agree that relations between the United States and Moscow are better now than they've been for several years.

President Barack Obama has made better relations with Russia a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Soon after he was sworn in as president two years ago, he vowed to "reset" relations with Moscow that were strained during the last few years of the Bush administration. Many experts say relations between the two countries are certainly on a better footing.

Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni takes a more cautious approach, saying relations between the two countries have to be managed carefully.

"Russia is going to be a significant power. I think [the Russians] are resurgent in some ways. They are looking for their place in the world," said Zinni.  "They are still blistered from the loss of influence in Eastern Europe and even in the southern parts of their borders that they blame us for. I think it's a relationship that needs a lot of work."

For his part, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft says Moscow and Washington are beginning to work together.

"And it's going to be a long, slow process, because there is still a lot of suspicion and they don't do things the way we like," said Scowcroft.  "And they have an innate hostility to us. We don't think that anybody lost the Cold War, but they certainly do. So they are still suffering from the fact that we came out of it well and their whole way of life was destroyed. So we've got a long way to go, but I think we're on the right track."

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger sees Russia playing a much greater role internationally.

"The Russians right now are in the process of trying to become more aggressive on the world scene," said Eagleburger.  "And you have to understand as well that Moscow now, Russia now, is not in any position equal to that of the former Soviet Union. It is much weaker, much less influential on the world scene. And some of that influence on the world scene and a stronger economic and political position in the world is what Russia is driving hard for. And that has and will continue to make for some differences between the two of us."

Experts say both sides bridged differences as they agreed last year to a new treaty reducing strategic/long-range nuclear weapons.

Brent Scowcroft says Senate ratification of the treaty was essential in keeping the momentum going in the Washington/Moscow relationship.

"It was critical to this 'reset' because had we rejected that treaty, we would have been rejecting a closer relationship with Russia," added Scowcroft.  "Now all the treaty really does is open the door to further progress between the two on nuclear arms control, should we decide to go that way. The U.S. and Russia still possess 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Making the nuclear balance more stable, making progress whether you are a fan of zero nuclear weapons or not, making progress so that nuclear weapons are never used, is very important."

Experts say the next logical step would be for Washington and Moscow to focus their attention on reducing short-range/tactical nuclear weapons.

Analysts say another example of better relations between Russia and the United States is that Moscow toughened its position on Iran. It cancelled the delivery to Tehran of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, a deal dating back to 2007. Russia also voted in favor of a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing new, tougher sanctions on Tehran, although the text was apparently watered down by Russia and China.

Once again, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni.

"The more we can get the Security Council to be united in how we handle Iran, the better it is," noted retired Marine Corps General Zinni.  "And obviously, the two parties that we are most concerned with are Russia and China, showing Iran that there is international cooperation and an international sense of what their behavior should be. Getting Russia to participate in that is critically important. I would like to see China more cooperative in that sense too."

Looking ahead, many experts say Washington and Moscow should build on the progress made in 2010.  Possible new arms control talks and Russia's application to become a member of the World Trade Organization are two key issues facing Washington and Moscow in the months ahead.

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