US secretary of defence Robert Gates’ first day of talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov seems to have made progress on the discord over missile defence. Interfax quoted Gates in an upbeat tone: “Since the end of the Cold War, there have been some periodic problems, but overall the direction of the relationship has been towards closer partnership, closer working together. The progress has been marked, first of all, bilaterally by our ratification of the new START treaty and internationally by our cooperation together on UN Security Council resolutions with respect to both Korea and Iran.” Serdyukov was less effusive but also expressed satisfaction over missile defence. “We are pleased to note that certain progress has ben made in these areas.”
G & S discussed Libya. S said he urged western coalition to stop “unacceptable hostilities” in Libya as soon as possible, while G responded that military operations “should recede in the next few days”. Mind you, no assurances by G.
On Afghanistan, the two defence ministers agreed on many issues. S said: “We see eye to eye on many issues related to Afghanistan. Russia is interested in the region’s stabilization and in the success of the [NATO] coalition forces.” Standard Russian position.
En route to Moscow, Gates had indicated that he had up his sleeve something on missile defence that could mollify Russia. He said US “can provide political assurances that would reassure Russia that no aspect of our missile defence has ever been intended to be used against Russia.” But Washington cannot go beyond that to provide Moscow with a legally binding guarantee on AMD as the Congress might pose problems. G is scheduled to meet President Dmitry Medvedev. Unlikely Russia will be mollified. US-Russia history is littered with unkept verbal assurances. US seems to estimate Moscow has no real leverage but to accept what is on offer from Washington on missile defence.
Meanwhile, there is no let-up on Russian rhetoric. Novosti carried a fierce attack today against US over Libya. It said US is leading the operations on Libya while pretending it isn’t in a lead role and that Moscow has no illusions the operations will end anytime soon. Nor can Russia believe in US’ claim of altruism. Therefore, Gates’ mission to change the Russian opposition to the Libyan operation will not succeed and Russian perspective on Barack Obama will henceforth be that he is no better than George W. Bush. It warned Libya has serious implications for US-Russia ties. What emerges is that Moscow and Washington can have selective consensus on some issues but no “fundamental changes” in the relationship is possible. A “real reset” will have to wait for another generation till the war legacy of Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya is forgotten, ie., assuming US doesn’t commit more aggression. Reading between the lines, the analysis seems to carry some implied criticism of Medvedev’s decision to abstain over R-1973 on Libya. Significant that Novosti carried such an analysis when Gates is in Moscow.
– March 22, 2011