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Analysis: For Putin, US 'Reset' Revisited

Russian President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev, center, watch Victory Day Parade, Moscow, May 9, 2012.
Russian President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev, center, watch Victory Day Parade, Moscow, May 9, 2012.

MOSCOW - Russia Wednesday marked the 67th anniversary of the end of World War II, and this year’s Soviet-style military parade on Red Square was held under the watchful eye of President Vladimir Putin, back in the Kremlin for a third term.

Addressing the newly inaugurated president as "Comrade Commander-in-Chief," Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov declared the troops amassed on Red Square ready for the parade.

Putin, flanked by his handpicked predecessor and newly confirmed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, then watched as more than 14,000 troops and military hardware passed by.

In a brief speech, the president said the lessons of the Second World War remain relevant.

He said only strict adherence to international norms and respect for national sovereignty can guarantee that tragedies of past wars will not be repeated. He also asserted the country's moral right to defend its international position because, in his words, Russia took Nazism’s main blow upon itself, [then] crushed the enemy and brought about the liberation of the peoples of the world.

In one of his first acts following his inauguration Monday, Putin signed a decree stating that U.S.-Russian relations must be based on “equality, non-interference in internal affairs and respect for mutual interests." He also called for "firm guarantees" that a planned NATO missile shield would not be aimed against Russia.

But what does Putin’s return to power mean for the "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations announced by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama in early 2009?

Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center said the reset has had "undoubted achievements," including a new strategic arms reduction treaty and an agreement allowing supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan to transit Russia.

But, she said, with Putin back in the Kremlin it is unlikely the U.S.-Russian relationship will move from cooperation on a limited number of specific issues towards a "constructive partnership."

"[Putin] has a sense that he shares with a majority in Russia that America would take advantage of Russia at every opportunity, that America is there to weaken Russia, do harm to Russia, take it for granted," she said. "And I don't think with Putin in power this distrust can be overcome."

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, also said Putin strongly distrusts the United States, but added that his foreign policy, across the board, is likely to be "conservative."

"Putin sees the world as an extremely dangerous, unpredictable, chaotic and uncontrollable place, in which any action can have incomprehensible and uncontrollable consequences," he said, indicating that he thinks caution will be the Russian president’s watchword.

Pavel Baev, a research professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, said a mounting showdown between the government and Russian opposition could exacerbate tensions with the United States and other Western countries.

"This sort of development objectively puts Putin on the course of a kind of self-isolation [and] greater tension with the West, because, for the West, opposition forces in Russia [are] something very sympathetic," he said. "For Putin, it is a mortal enemy with which he can fight -- with which he will fight -- tooth and nail. Putin will have to use every instrument at his disposal, including presenting the whole thing as a plot by the West and the United States in particular."

Tuesday the U.S. State Department said it was troubled by images of Russian riot police mistreating protestors during Sunday’s large anti-government demonstration and by the subsequent arrests of opposition activists. The State Department said it is also concerned by reports of violence perpetrated against law enforcement by a small group of protesters.

U.S. and Russian leaders are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit that U.S. President Barack Obama will host at his presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, later this month.