Moscow’s recent diplomatic demarches manifest the Kremlin’s drive to solidify its positions ahead of meeting with President Obama. Therefore, the Kremlin is trying to give the appearance of concessions on the issues that have long been a matter of concern for the American side. For example, on President Medvedev’s order, the State Duma is urgently considering amendments to the NGO law. They are designed to somewhat soften the red tape in regard to NGO activities – to ease accounting and registration requirements. Typically, communists who opposed the amendments unequivocally stated that President Dmitry Medvedev is using them to send a clear signal to the West that he is a “liberalizer” and is allegedly going to promote civil society.
Moscow is also prepared to re-launch its cooperation with NATO, suspended in the aftermath of the past year’s Russian-Georgian war. At the NATO-Russia foreign ministers meeting on Corfu (Greece) the sides succeeded in both demonstrating the political significance of the reestablished dialogue and agree some joint efforts in cooperating more closely on Afghanistan. Admittedly, Moscow does not lose sight of an important economic element – it expects NATO to pay a lot for the transit of military supplies to Afghanistan through Russian territory.
Moscow’s was a soft response to the U.S.-Kyrgyzstan agreement to retain a former U.S. base at Manas under a new title “the center of transit shipments.” Although Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that Bishkek’s decision to extend military cooperation with Washington “was a highly unpleasant surprise,” Moscow’s insiders point out that Bishkek may have coordinated this position with Moscow in the framework of a broader foreign policy quid pro quo arrangement, including that between the US and Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech at an OSCE meeting was uncharacteristically soft and unaggressive. Promoting Medvedev’s idea of a new European security agreement, Lavrov focused on absolute inadmissibility of solutions by force in international relations and proposed calling a summit of international security structures, including NATO and CSTO to compare security concepts.
At the same time, the Kremlin’s affected softness sidesteps fundamental issues over which Russia and the United States have essential differences. Russia is continuing its tough anti-Georgian stance and has no intention of backtracking on its recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence. In addition, in the runup to and concurrently with Obama’s visit to Russia, Moscow plans to hold large-scale military exercises close to the Georgian border dubbed Caucasus-2009 for the sole purpose of demonstrating force and intimidating Tbilisi. This military-political backdrop will doubtless cast a shadow on Obama’s visit.
Moscow’s position on missile defenses looks unlikely to change. It retains a tough linkage between any strategic offensive weapon cuts in the framework of a new agreement with Washington to non-deployment of the American missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This is a principled issue for Moscow. The point at issue is not the threat to national security and Russia’s nuclear forces these systems could present. Rather, Moscow’s objective is to show its allies, NATO member-states in Eastern and Western Europe, and even the United States that Moscow should have a say in every security measure to be taken in Eastern Europe.
Thus, if one attempts to identify the Kremlin’s chief objective at the upcoming talks with Obama, one could say it is to force America to recognize Russia’s status as a global superpower and to force its special interests on the post-Soviet space and in Europe. In order to meet these ends, Moscow is prepared to make cosmetic concessions but would never back out on fundamental issues.