Concessions that Medvedev cannot afford to make
MOSCOW. (Political scientist Grigory Melamedov for RIA Novosti) - There was no breakthrough on Washington's controversial missile defense plans at the recent two-day Russian-U.S. talks in Moscow in the two-plus-two format (foreign and defense ministers).
As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it after the talks on March 18, the sides have not reached agreement on the missile defense plans nor the control of strategic offensive arms, although some concerns have been alleviated.
Condoleezza Rice added that the talks would be continued. This was an exchange of diplomatic euphemisms, as is usual when there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
It seems that the main aim of the high-ranking U.S. officials, Rice and Robert Gates, was to meet Dmitry Medvedev and see some signs of a milder character in the president-elect. They even probably hoped to help him become more pliable in the world arena. Washington cannot wait to see this.
Talking to journalists during her flight to Moscow, Rice made a direct hint. She said that the Russians are closely following the U.S. elections and hope to make a deal or move forward while people they know are still in the White House. She specified that policymakers want to do as much as possible now because they feel that U.S. policy may become unpredictable.
Rice is a very cautious politician, and such juggling with facts is obviously too much. Moscow has no reasons to rush by giving consent to the deployment of a third American shield on Czech and Polish territory. There is no indication that the new president will be a more enthusiastic supporter of the shield than even George W. Bush. Considering that all American administrations change the plans of their predecessors, there is no rush at all.
It is quite strange that the West hopes for Medvedev's departure from the Munich speech in which Putin firmly outlined Russia's main interests in the world.
If Medvedev wants to liberalize domestic policy, he cannot afford concessions to Western partners. This is a paradox of today's Russia. Historically, a strong hand in the domestic scene has pursued a tough foreign policy, and the other way round.
The United States is used to this. It is no surprise that Medvedev's liberal election speeches prompted Europe and America to believe that the new president will be more compliant. Many find it difficult to imagine a thaw in the domestic situation in Russia which would have no impact on its foreign policy.
The principle that freedom is better than no freedom may work well in the economy, but it does not necessarily mean that it applies to international policy. An internal lack of freedom may lead to economic problems and the new president will have to face social discontent. Millions of people in Russia will see this as confirmation of the old stereotype that no freedom is better. Some will blame Medvedev, while others will think that Putin is responsible, but only for making a wrong choice, for trusting a man with pro-Western views. In this case, democratic values will be forever associated with Western influence in the Russian mind.
Those Westerners who are used to stereotypes may misinterpret the situation. They see Putin's line as tough, but the majority of people in Russia, including the opposition, consider it rational, fair and essential. Big business is also pleased with Putin's defense of its interests in the world arena. Super corporations controlling the Russian economy are against concessions in foreign policy. They may stand even for a tougher line. The new president is bound to take this into account.
Needless to say, there is a personal factor as well. If the United States agreed to make a compromise on its missile defense plans, strategic offensive arms or conventional forces in Europe, Putin would be credited with these achievements. If it was made a bit later - after Medvedev's inauguration, it would be a bow to the new president, likely, as distinct from Putin. If it were made now, both presidents would have appreciated it as a timely step, but alas....
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