Putin May Have An Opening To Rebuild Relations With West

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Russia's president has had muted response to U.S. plan to beef up promises to Eastern European allies. He has meetings set with France's president, Germany's chancellor and Britain's prime minister.


Getting pressure from other world leaders - not something Vladimir Putin is known for enjoying all that much. Let's turn now to NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Corey, good morning.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So have we heard much reaction from Putin or Russian officials yet to what sounds like sort of a tougher stance from Obama?

FLINTOFF: So far there hasn't been much, officially. But the Kremlin's been focused very intensely, lately, on this current NATO defense ministers meeting that's taking place in Brussels right now. Russia is very concerned about the idea that NATO might step up operations in Eastern Europe. In fact, Russia's ambassador to that NATO meeting said that Russia might take military countermeasures if that happens. So I think we can expect pretty much the same reaction to President Obama's announcement.

You know, the Russians are likely to be especially sensitive to Obama's promise that the U.S. will increase its military engagement with Ukraine and Moldova. Russian officials have been saying that any increase in Western military activity in Eastern Europe could basically trigger Cold War style arms race. President Putin is scheduled to meet with European leaders. And I think that will all be very high on his agenda this week.

GREENE: Corey, let's just take a moment to think about what is happening here. It seems like Obama and European leaders want to isolate Russia's leader. I mean, he was supposed to host this meeting of G8 nations in Russia this week. That's been canceled because of the annexation of Crimea. Does Putin feel isolated?

FLINTOFF: You know, a few weeks ago it seemed that he was going to be very isolated. But, now there are signs that he is not being cut out of the dialogue. Putin has a meeting scheduled with President Hollande of France tomorrow evening. And then he's got meetings with Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Cameron of Britain on Friday. And there really are still a lot of areas where Russia and the West can cooperate, including the question of removing chemical weapons from Syria.

So that can be a basis for starting to talk about even more sensitive issues, such as Ukraine and NATO. And even though President Obama doesn't plan an official meeting with Putin during the D-Day events, Obama did have some conciliatory things to say about Russia the other day. He called it a significant country that rightfully plays an important role on the world stage. And he said it would be possible for Putin to rebuild some of the trust that's been shattered during this past year. So what we're seeing now might be an opening to start this whole trust-building process.

GREENE: Significant country, though. Not exactly the words world power that Putin might want to hear. But it is something.

FLINTOFF: Exactly right.

GREENE: NPR's Corey Flintoff joining us from Moscow. Corey, thanks a lot.

FLINTOFF: My pleasure, David.

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