Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Something Is Definitely Happening In Russia

I'm not going to be able to write much over the next week. I'd like to be able to present a fuller analysis, but I don't have time, so this post is a marker.

Today's good Russian news is a border deal with Norway in the Barents Sea (AP, NYT). That boundary has been under contention for forty years, back to Soviet times when it was the only boundary between the Soviet Union and a NATO country.

Several agreements were also signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Oslo: on cooperation in education, between the Prosecutor General’s Offices of the countries, and between the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Police, along with memoranda on cooperation on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources and on training of senior managers for "economic entities of Russia and Norway." These are the usual sorts of agreements that are signed by friendly countries.

Nothing special, until you add in the other events of the past week.

Also good news for Russia: Ukraine signed an agreement for Russia's navy base to remain at Sevastopol for the next 25 years. There was a dustup in the Ukrainian parliament about it; Ukraine has a lot of internal problems, largely having to do with corruption. The current president, Viktor Yanukovich, is Russian-leaning but came across as less corrupt and more interested in running the government than the previous president and prime minister. Whether this is a genuine turn toward Russia by Ukraine remains to be seen.

The American and Russian presidents issued a statement recalling Soviet-American "mutual trust and shared commitment to victory" in World War II. A small thing, but suggesting that trust is part of the future in American-Russian relations.

And at the NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen "suggested that Russia be involved in NATO plans to build a missile defense system." Medvedev had some positive words in response. It's being reported below the weather in the Estonian newspaper Postimees; sunny in Tallinn today, enmity toward Russia down.

So we have NATO meeting as close to Russia as Russia has hated it to be, and a hand is extended, a boundary rectified. I am also wondering if that possible Russian acknowledgement of Soviet occupation of Estonia was discussed at the Russian embassy on Vene Tanav or in a back room of one of the restaurants, the park across the street from the Estonian Foreign Ministry, that building once the headquarters of the Estonian Communist Party.

And Dmitry Medvedev is the public face of Russia. We have heard less of Vladimir Putin as these foreign policy actions are reported. Could be a game of good cop, bad cop, one face at home and one outside, or it could be a genuine difference between the two, with Medvedev asserting power.

All this is happening after New START was signed and the American Nuclear Posture Review released. Is the Russian leadership beginning to feel that the relationship with America, its great nuclear rival, is being normalized and the blustery bear face can be put away? (Irresistable interlanguage pun: as the bear (medvedev) reaches out peacefully?)

Nice summary of New START from the US chief negotiator, Rose Gottemoeller.


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