U.S. President Barack Obama made a good start at resetting the relationship with Russia in his first visit to Moscow.
He made concrete progress on important agenda items. The agreement on strategic arms, measures to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, broadening cooperation on Afghanistan, and reestablishing a substantive exchange between the U.S. and Russian military take the agenda he and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev agreed upon in London a significant step forward. No less important is that the presidents agreed to a structure to oversee the future relations and took personal responsibility for the work of that institution.
Obama also carried his "vision of the possible" to the Russian people more broadly. The speech at the New Economic School was addressed to the coming generation and spoke to exactly the right points. We shall have to see whether the Russian people, particularly a quite cynical younger generation, listened. But Obama’s points about the young taking responsibility for a 21st century agenda and making the decisions that will shape it was on target. He effectively combined the sense of America committed to certain principles in a new era with a challenge to new Russia's emerging leaders to join us in tackling an agenda of the future.
Obama was not drawn into the games and shenanigans that occupy observers trying to figure out who really has power in Russia.
Finally, Obama also managed the complex Russian leadership effectively and appropriately. He avoided any hint of playing to one of the leaders in Moscow and spoke effectively to the totality of the Russian leadership. He was, in short, not drawn into the games and shenanigans that occupy observers trying to figure out who really has power in Russia.
The outcome of the visit will now turn on how well it is followed-up. The two presidents set down a number of principles to guide key negotiations between Russia and the United States. They opened significant opportunities to be exploited to advance their ambitious agenda and strengthen the cooperation between the two countries. If these opportunities are successfully and effectively followed-up, even those areas where there clearly was no meeting of the minds and where significant differences remain will be easier to manage over time.
The structure created to manage relations offers an institutional venue to address problems.
In this regard, negotiations over the follow-on to START have a solid foundation but will continue to face difficult issues. The development of greater cooperation on Afghanistan appears promising. Differences over Iran, missile defense, European security systems, etc. remain, but it is constructive that these issues were discussed, some agreement to joint exploration of options appears to have emerged, and the channels of communication on these issues are open. No less significantly, the structure created to manage relations offers an institutional venue to address problems as they arise in these areas.
In sum, President Obama should be satisfied that he made significant progress. He now has to ensure that the American side follows-up on his openings and insist that his colleague in Moscow does the same.