Clinton and Lavrov 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Five months have passed since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly pushed the "perezagruzka" (reset) button in Geneva, yet tangible results of this gimmick have yet to be seen. The same holds true in the wake of President Obama's visit to Moscow in July; although the two sides reached agreements on a variety of topics, including weapons reductions and the transfer of American military equipment via Russia, there was no real breakthrough in US-Russia relations.
It is worth noting that while the American media covered every aspect of the visit, the Russian media featured only a few obligatory official reviews, sparing the viewers political analysis. Obama's rhetoric didn't excite the Russians, nor did he affect Russian politicians who still see the US as seriously opposing Russian interests.
DESPITE OBAMA'S skirting around human rights and Russia's relations with Georgia and Ukraine, he failed to establish a friendly, reciprocal relationship with Medvedev. As a result, no progress was reached on the touchiest of topics: the US anti-missile defense system will remain in Eastern Europe, much to the chagrin of the Russians, and Medvedev didn't offer a compromise on the Iranian nuclear program, which is clearly an American priority.
The rhetoric over the last months has shifted away from "perezagruzka" as both sides assume the same positions occupied during George W. Bush's term in office. During his July visit to Ukraine and Georgia, US Vice President Joe Biden accused Russia of violating these countries' sovereignty - hardly a friendly statement to Russian ears.
This should come as no surprise and, in fact, fits the emerging historical pattern. Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, the "friends," didn't succeed at improving relations; at the end of Clinton's terms, relations were still lukewarm. The Russians felt the US had abused Russia's weakness to increase American influence in former Soviet countries. This repeated itself during the Putin-Bush administrations. Despite Bush looking Putin in the eyes and the two leaders fishing together, their rhetoric cooled and both leaders began referring to a new cold war.
This explains why Obama's proposal to "rethink the situation in the world" was met with little enthusiasm in Moscow. This isn't without context: over the last 3-4 years America's image in the Russian media has been far from rosy. America has been portrayed as supporting anti-Russia forces in Ukraine, financing and arming Georgia as it fought Russia and trying to establish itself as a player in Middle Asia - a region that greatly interests Russia. Obama's visit did not alleviate any of these fears.
Analysis reveals that unless a major policy shift occurs (either the US shuts down its anti-missile defense system or the Russians stop supporting Iran), no real change can be expected in the US-Russia relationship. While each country waits for the other to take the first step, neither country is ready to take that step itself.
DESPITE THEIR differences, both Russia and the US have an active interest in brokering a Middle East peace deal. Two years ago Russia sponsored the first Moscow Conference, which focused solely on Israel-Arab relations. Hoping to sponsor another conference this autumn, the current debate is whether Hamas, Hizbullah and Fatah will each be represented or rather a joint delegation will represent all Palestinians. Israel has thus refused to participate if Hamas and Hizbullah delegates are present.
Although no date has been set, Moscow has set its hopes on this conference - it could indicate Russia's return to the center of world affairs. At the same time, the Americans have also been working towards Middle East peace - but their modus operandi has been thus far to pressure both sides in the conflict. Despite America and Russia's many differences, and cold war history notwithstanding, the Middle East seems to be one area where each country will allow the other to proceed without interference.
The writer is is an associate fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies and a research fellow in the Cummings Center for Russian and East European Studies at Tel Aviv University. The article was first published by the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, at the Shalem Center, at www.adelsoninstitute.org