Many analysts agree that during the eight years of the
Bush administration, U.S.-Russian relations steadily deteriorated. And experts
were wondering whether Barack Obama would reverse that downward
Just several weeks after President Obama was
inaugurated, Vice President Joe Biden addressed that issue in a speech on Feb. 7
to an international security conference in Munich, Germany.
"It's time - to paraphrase President Obama - it's time to press
the reset button. And to revisit the many areas where we can and should be
working together with Russia," he said.
Marshall Goldman from Harvard University says that speech set a
new, positive tone for relations between Washington and Moscow.
"When you say 'reset', that means you clear the computer and
that opens up all kinds of new opportunities and you're not going to be held
back by past commitments which have been controversial. This provides an
opportunity that maybe only a new administration could do because they don't
have to be held down by complications that arose under the past government,"
Daryl Kimball, Executive
Director of the Arms Control Association, a private, independent organization,
agrees there are major differences between the Obama and Bush administrations
when it comes to relations with Moscow.
"The Obama administration has chosen to focus on the areas
where the United States and Russia wish to cooperate, the areas of agreement,
and to de-emphasize some of the areas where we have disagreed. One of the most
important ways in which they have done this is to focus on the job of
negotiating a replacement treaty for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
which expires at the end of this year.[December 5]," he said.
During their first face-to-face meeting April 1
in London, Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed to begin negotiations on a
post-START treaty significantly reducing strategic - or long-range - nuclear
A joint statement following
the meeting said the two sides will try to reach levels lower than those in the
2002 Moscow Treaty. That pact committed both sides to cutting arsenals to
between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by 2012. The two presidents instructed their
negotiators to present a progress report during the July Moscow
While experts believe the two
sides can agree on a post-START treaty sometime this year, they see little
movement on a contentious issue: the U.S. proposal for a missile defense system
in Eastern Europe -10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech
U.S. officials had said the
system is needed to defend Europe and the United States against potential
threats from countries such as Iran. They said it is not targeted against Moscow
as claimed by Russian officials.
Robert Legvold from Columbia
University says Barack Obama is not as committed to the missile defense shield
as was President Bush.
"Candidate Obama, when he was
running for the presidency, made it plain that he had no abiding commitment to
either national missile defense or ballistic missile defense. In the case of the
Polish and Czech pieces of it, he made it plain, that whether he would as
president remain committed to it depended on A/the nature of the threat - that
is the Iranian threat - and B/whether or not it was technically feasible and
therefore worth the money pursuing. He has not changed that position," he
Experts say the missile
defense shield will be discussed at the July summit. Other issues include the
situation in Afghanistan, what to do with the potential nuclear threats posed by
Iran and North Korea and the overall question of nuclear non-proliferation.
David Kramer, a former senior U.S. State
Department official in the Bush administration (now with the German Marshall
Fund in the United States), hopes President Obama will raise at least two other
"One: I hope the president
does devote time and attention to civil society and human rights activists in
Russia. The situation domestically in Russia is deteriorating and I think it is
very important for the president to send a signal in that area. And then
finally," he added, "I hope the president also would make clear to the Russians
- as he has done in comments before his trip - that we don't recognize a Russian
sphere of influence, that Georgia, Ukraine and other countries in the region
have every right to move toward closer integration with Euro-Atlantic
institutions and that that need not come at Russia's expense - that these things
can be pursued simultaneously," said Kramer.
Many experts say after five months in office, the Obama
administration has begun to rebuild relations between Washington and Moscow.
Analysts will be looking at the July summit in Moscow for clear signs that the
relationship will continue to grow as both countries try to resolve issues that
go far beyond their borders.