Days ahead of the President’s planned visit speculations are rife in Washington as to what the outcome of his Moscow trip will be. During a June 24, 2009 conference held at the Hudson Institute, a Washington D.C. based think tank, a panel of experts expressed little hope that Obama’s visit will succeed in mending relations between the two countries.
“Whatever optimism there might be about Obama reaching out to Russia [is] unrealistic,” said David Satter, a senior fellow at Hudson and former Moscow correspondent.
Satter called for the President to exercise caution when dealing with the Russians. “Russia does not need to be mollified, it needs to be deterred,” he said and argued that “Obama has an important psychological task ahead of him.”
“Obama has to show that he is not going to be influenced. He should understand that these are people playing a role. He should make it clear to them that he understands their play and should not take them seriously,” Satter continued.
David Kramer, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, said that “Obama is going into Russia’s reality. The sense of an enemy of a [U.S.] threat is very prevalent in the thinking of Russian leaders these days. They may not be interested in mending fences.”
Kramer suggested that Russia’s recent activities point towards a lack of seriousness in establishing friendly relations. “The military exercise that Russia is launching is strange to resurrecting relations with the U.S.” he said. “The deeper problem is that Russia is not resetting its policies but is instead pursuing policies it had since 1999,” Kramer continued.
Earlier this year the Kremlin aggressively stated its plan to build a military force to protect its interests in the Arctic. The region is thought to contain at least a quarter of the world’s oil and gas, according to a March 28, 2009 article in The Guardian.
Kramer cited Russia’s failing economy and stated that “Russia’s rejection of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a coercion and tragic mistake.”
Earlier this month the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow will withdraw its application to join WTO and instead reapply as a bloc with neighboring Kazakhstan and Belarus. According to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, “Russia’s abrupt shift appears to be a pressure tactic by the Kremlin, which has been frustrated by the slow WTO process, to force a quick deal.” Russia’s efforts to join WTO have proved unsuccessful for the past sixteen years.
“According to a World Bank report, Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will fall to 7.5 percent this year,” said Kramer at Hudson. “This should be a wake-up call to the Russian leaders,” he continued.
Kramer said that Russia and the U.S. should be working together towards shared interests. “There are issues in which we can cooperate. The global initiative to combat terrorism should continue, we should work together,” he said. Kramer also argued that the U.S. and Russia should be doing more together to address Afghanistan issues.
“There have been concerns that the present administration may be pursuing a Russia- only policy,” said Kramer while expressing concern about the tension between Russia and Georgia. He praised the U.S. government’s gesture to reach out to Russia’s neighbors. “I want to commend the Obama administration. Sending [Vice President] Joe Biden to Georgia and Ukraine is important,” he said.
The Vice President is expected to travel to Ukraine and Georgia in July.