The past week saw a significant animation in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Moscow received Under Secretary of State William Burns, National Security Council Director of Russian Affairs Michael McFall, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Patrick Moon.
Presumably, the U.S.-Russian relationship agenda is multidimensional – nuclear disarmament, missile defense issues, cooperation on Afghanistan. It looks like the sides have decided to define the outlines of an anti-corruption agreement viewed as the first document to be signed by the Obama Administration and the Kremlin.
All this activity is no cause for euphoria, though. The question remains unchanged – how effective would the ongoing talks turn out to be or would they just go through the motions of a rapprochement? Bureaucrats on both sides are well-versed in the art of window dressing designed to screen the existing differences, which in fact only deepens contradictions.
The parties’ positions on the issues that are the agreed subjects of negotiations are yet unclear. In addition, there is an impression that neither Russia, nor the U.S. has developed a clear-cut stance on an array of issues, such as a new strategic nuclear arms agreement. Namely, talks about talks are underway, and the process is a lengthy one. Indeed, developments in Afghanistan demand radical solutions that could well be mutual. The only question is whether the Russian and American long-term interests in Afghanistan coincide. Moscow perceives an Afghanistan settlement according to Washington as potentially weakening its clout in the region. Thus, there will always be natural limits and constraints on the road to achieving U.S.-Russian accords on Afghanistan. In fact, Russia has deprived the United States of the airbases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that are of paramount importance for U.S. arms shipments to Afghanistan. (Undoubtedly, both Bishkek and Tashkent caved in to Moscow’s pressure and passed the decision to shut down the bases). Today, Moscow is virtually controlling the organizing of NATO’s military shipments, and it falls to the Kremlin to determine the format and the scale of their implementation. Its decisions will not necessarily concur with the U.S. and NATO’s plans, so disagreement is bound to flare over these issues.