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Obama and Medvedev to talk disarmament

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in Moscow from July 6 to 8 to engage in disarmament talks with Dmitri Medvedev. It's an ambitious agenda, given recent strains in US-Russia ties.


US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Moscow on Monday to engage in high-stakes talks with Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev on how to curb nuclear arms proliferation.


Sergei Prikhodo, Medvedev’s top foreign aide, said the two world leaders intend to sign a framework declaration on replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires December 5. He said Russia wants a replacement treaty "by the end of this year or beginning of next year.”


Obama is also to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the first time. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told Reuters Putin intends to use next week’s Moscow talks to relieve Obama of mistaken impressions he has of the former Russian president.


Obama had said in a pre-trip interview to the Associated Press that Putin needed to “understand that the cold war approach to the US-Russian relationship is outdated.”


Putin on Friday hit back sharply at Obama's claim that he has one foot stuck in the past of the Cold War. "We are firmly standing on both our legs and always look to the future," he said.



Criticism of Russia's occupation of South Ossetia


Former US President George W. Bush and Putin were unlikely allies for the majority of Bush’s term. Putin showed tremendous support to Bush preceding the latter’s 2004 bid for re-election. The Moscow Times reported on October 19, 2004 that Putin said that if Bush were to lose, it would be a victory for “international terrorism".


But US-Russia relations were strained in 2008, the final year of Bush’s term, with arguments over the missile defence shield in eastern Europe and Washington’s sharp criticism of Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia.


Barack Obama made clear even before the 2008 presidential election that he strongly opposed Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia. In a debate in Mississippi on September, 2008, Obama said that in light of the incident,“our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because a resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region.”


The South Ossetian situation also created tensions between Russia and NATO, as the latter recognises South Ossetia as being a part of Georgia and not as a pro-Russian autonomous region. Russia intervened despite multiple warnings from NATO, which some believe has permanently destroyed any chance that Russia had of joining the organisation.


Since Obama’s election, however, critics claim that he has been more reticent on his official Russia policy. So reticent, in fact, that he wrote what the New York Times described as “a secret letter” to Medvedev in February, which became public in March. In the letter, Obama offered Medvedev an unofficial deal: the US would scrap its missile shield plan, in exchange for Moscow’s cooperation in halting Iran’s nuclear programme.


The letter caused US conservatives to criticise Obama for what it perceived as a naive belief that Russia would uphold its end of the bargain.



Another false start for START?


Diplomats believe Obama and Medvedev will outline a deal to reduce the stocks of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1700 on each side. This is a far cry from the original START treaty proposed by former US President Ronald Reagan in 1982, which called for significantly greater arms reductions for the USSR than for the US.


According to the US-based publication Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, at the start of 2009 the US had around 2200 warheads; Russia, around 2800.


Though the proposed treaty was considered an ambitious and heroic move at the time, it quickly became something of a symbol of the American mismanagement of the nuclear arms race. Its terms required the USSR to reduce its arms far more drastically than the US, and no Russian leader would sign it until 1991 – after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after Glasnost, at the end of the Cold War.

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