Today at the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Russian Federation’s President Dmitry Medvedev will hold a meeting with his American colleague Barack Obama. This will be their first meeting since the U.S. made its decision to cancel plans to station anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Even though President Obama declared that this is not a concession to Moscow, Washington wants Russia to ante up – most importantly, by refusing to arm anti-U.S. regimes, such as Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
Today’s negotiations will be the third time that Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama are meeting this year alone. This makes it very different from the previous relationship of the two leaders. Their first meeting in April at the London G-20 summit was described by the assistant to the Russian president, Sergey Prihodko, as “sizing one another up;” the two presidents simply got acquainted. July’s Russian-American meeting in Moscow became proof of action of the repeatedly declared plans to reset mutual relations. The two parties signed several documents, among those were the agreement to allow American military cargo transit routes to Afghanistan and a "joint understanding" on working on the new nuclear disarmament resolution. However, those agreements are not considered to be the real reset in relations because neither one of the parties yielded to the other.
Since then, the situation of Russian-American relations has changed, especially after Washington ceased the irritating plan to place a missile defense shield in Europe. This puts Russia in a position to give back. Although President Obama publicly declared that he is not giving in to Russia, the American side still intends to find out whether the Kremlin is going to reciprocate.
Kommersant gathered information that the White House has prepared its own list of problems to be discussed during the next meeting between the presidents. The majority of those problems concern Russia’s military and technical cooperation with countries openly hostile towards the U.S. It is Russia’s relationships with Iran, Syria and Venezuela that has greatly displeased Washington. First of all, Mr. Obama intends to discuss the Iranian question with his Russian colleague at the meeting.
In general, Iran will be one of the main topics to be discussed at the United Nations General Assembly, especially during the Security Council meeting on Sept 24, which will be devoted to nuclear disarmament and proliferation. As disclosed by Kommersant in the Sept 18th issue, Washington initially expected the Security Council members to support their resolution, sharply condemning Iran and North Korea for their aggressive behavior and ideally providing sanctions against Tehran. However thanks to the Russian efforts, the words "Iran" and "North Korea" have been deleted from the planned resolution. Nevertheless, particular attention will be given to the Iranian problem. The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned that Iran is officially not on the daily agenda for the Security Council session but it is on everyone’s mind.
In regards to today's Russian-American negotiations, the Iranian topic will be discussed in the context of military contracts between Moscow and Tehran. They are reviewing the supply of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which is causing an extreme discontent in Washington. "Americans are really anxious by these contracts. They are afraid that Tehran having these weapons will strengthen Iran’s military potential," mentioned Foreign Ministry Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko in conversation with Kommersant. However, as he said, to expect any concessions from the Russian side would be naive. "Our president has already stated that this arrangement does not break the norms of the international law. We have emphasized, in the past and now, the fact that these are not offensive weapons. Moreover, we have agreed with the Iranian party on conditions on how these composites can be used," explained Mr. Nesterenko.
However, several experts questioned by Kommersant believe that Dmitry Medvedev has something that can console Washington. "Most likely, Medvedev will let Americans know that Russia is not in a hurry to supply Iran with S-300’s," speculates editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs Fyodor Lukyanov. The Kommersant source at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is well informed on the Russian-Iranian military cooperation, confirmed that this can take place. "Yes, we have military agreements with Tehran. However, currently they are not being executed, it is more of a paper tiger, or like trading with air," said the Russian diplomat to Kommersant.
Besides the Iranian problem, Barack Obama is most likely questioning Moscow’s military contacts with other U.S. foes: Syria and Venezuela. As with Iran, these countries also have current contracts for purchasing military technology. There is a contract with Damascus for delivery of 50 Pantsyr S1 short-range air defense missile-gun systems – nearly 30 have already been set up – for the sum of $730 million and a number of MIG-29 jets. Also, some time ago there were negotiations with Syria on supplying them with Buk-M2E missile systems. As for Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez openly calls the U.S. his main enemy, Washington is concerned about the recent credit arrangements between Moscow and Caracas of a $2 billion loan for purchase of Russian weapons. Instantly after Hugo Chavez's visit to the Russian Federation, Hillary Clinton expressed concern regarding “growing Venezuelan military purchases.” “They outpace all other countries in South America and certainly raise questions as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region,” declared Madam Clinton.
Kommersant’s Kremlin sources confirmed Mister Obama’s readiness to bring up the weapons questions. Thus, judging by the spirit of the Russian negotiators, they do not intend to refuse the supply of arms. "Why are we being deprived of this right? Are we a banana republic?" stated a resentful member of the Russian delegation in New York.
Another possible compromise for the current Russian-American negotiations could be achieved with START. The new agreement should be prepared by Dec 5. Also, if Washington and Moscow do not reach some progress with START, they will be highly criticized at the next UN Nuclear Proliferation meeting in spring. "The START-1 treaty expires in less than three months, but the positions of the sides are still far from being agreed upon. It is difficult to expect progress without interference from the presidents," said the director of the Russian Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, Sergey Rogov. However, he believes that progress is possible in this matter, taking into account the U.S.’s decision to scrap missile defense plans for Poland and the Czech Republic.