Russia starts talking to West from position of strength

Russia starts talking to West from position of strength

22nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The latest NATO Summit in Lisbon was an open playing field and a chance for the West to build relations with a critical and expecting Russia.

Russia emerged from a confidence-building summit with NATO on Sunday by stressing that it was now up to the West to make sure that its relations with Moscow did not run off course.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev saw himself wooed in Lisbon not only by the 28-member Alliance but also personally by Barack Obama -- with the US leader initiating what he termed a "very cordial" talk with the Kremlin chief.

But Medvedev made clear at a post-event briefing that he was disappointed with both the timeline that NATO had set for its withdrawal from Afghanistan and with the US Senate's resistance to a new nuclear arms deal with Russia.

His advisers and the media meanwhile heaped a heavy dose of scepticism on NATO's official decision to remove the "threat" label from its relations with its Cold War-era foe.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) speaks with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

"So NATO says that it is no longer a threat to Russia," Russia's NATO pointman Dmitry Rogozin told state television on Saturday evening. "This phrase is followed by a period -- but this is a virtual period that actually reads like a comma. For it in fact says nothing about whether NATO still perceives Russia itself as a threat."

But it was Medvedev's frank comments on NATO's decision to cede full control to local Afghan forces by 2014 and the US Senate's hesitance to ratify the New START treaty that spoke the loudest.

"I feel that the situations in Afghanistan is -- to put it mildly -- still far from calm.. The terrorist threats emerging from Afghanistan are also great. So can this be done in the near future? I do not know. But I have my doubts."

He was just as blunt about the stalled nuclear arms reduction pact, saying "We will act in symmetry to what is happening in the United States," said Medvedev.

"It would be a shame (if the treaty was not ratified) because in that case the efforts of many people -- efforts aimed at securing a general easing of tension and resetting Russia's relations with the United States and NATO -- would have gone to waste."

The remarks underlined a new Kremlin confidence and a sense here that Russia was now commanding a position of strength. The United States is in a tricky position of failing to come through on a nuclear arms deal that Obama has not only promised Russia but made into the centerpiece of the "reset" in relations agreed between the two sides.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) grimaces next to Romania's President Traian Basescu

NATO meanwhile is wooing Moscow to join a new anti-ballistic missile systems just two years after breaking off all contacts with Russia following its controversial invasion of Georgia.

Kremlin officials have stressed that this rapprochement amounts to a NATO admission that the Russia was justified in going to war with its tiny but pesky neighbour.

The war was most heavily criticised by Eastern European and former Soviet nations that have the freshest memory of living under forced Kremlin rule. And Moscow has been keen to highlight the differences between this "new" and "old" -- and more pragmatic -- Europe.

The Moscow media on Saturday played up a statement from an unnamed German official saying that it was this Eastern European states that were to blame for any remaining tensions between NATO and Russia.

"One cannot expect a more positive statement on Russia from the Alliance under the current circumstances," the unidentified German source in NATO was quoted by various Moscow media as saying.

And some Moscow papers actually went out of their way to assure their readers that the Kremlin was not being fooled by the Brussels-based bloc.

"This turn of events was entirely in line with our expectations and Moscow does not intend to allow things to end there," the popular Komsomolskaya Pravda daily wrote.

"The Kremlin expects to build real partnership -- in other words equitable -- relations with the Alliance," the country's best-selling newspaper added.

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