Serious Gaps Remain Between U.S., Russia President Obama heads to Russia on Monday for meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Obama administration says it is anxious to "press the reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations.
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Serious Gaps Remain Between U.S., Russia

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Serious Gaps Remain Between U.S., Russia

Serious Gaps Remain Between U.S., Russia

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama leaves Sunday on a foreign trip. His first stop is Russia. The president will meet with his counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Nearly two decades after the Cold War ended, the two countries are still working out their relationship.

NPR's Anne Garrels reports on how Russians view the upcoming summit.

ANNE GARRELS: When Gleb Pavlovsky, a close associate of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, says Russia is in trouble and needs a friend in the U.S., you know something's changed.

Mr. GLEB PAVLOVSKY: (Through Translator) The current world is dangerous and Russia doesn't have a strategy. We need someone with whom we can navigate this new world. We need someone to talk to, to find areas of agreement.

GARRELS: Pavlovsky believes President Obama is that someone.

Sergei Rogov, head of the U.S.-Canada Institute, agrees. But he cautions it's still not clear on either side where relations are headed.

Dr. SERGEI ROGOV (Director, The Institute for the USA and Canadian Studies): We're no more enemies, but what we are? We have practically complete mistrust.

GARRELS: The two sides have settled on the old issue of arms control as a way to launch the new dialogue. Both say they want to reach a deal by December, when the 1991 START nuclear arms treaty expires. Rogov says this will be hard, though not impossible to achieve.

Dr. ROGOV: We have to negotiate in several weeks, maybe months, what usually would take at least several years.

GARRELS: There are still serious gaps between the two sides. And there are even wider gaps on two other issues: the Kremlin's vehement objections to NATO's plans to include Russia's neighbor, Ukraine and Georgia, and deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe, which the Kremlin argues can only be aimed at it.

U.S. officials have said there won't be any horse trading on these issues. But Russian officials understand President Obama is less interested in pushing NATO enlargement than his predecessor, and they know the administration's budget on missile defense is way down and a review is underway.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia Global Affairs, says these issues could be finessed for a while. But ultimately, he says, they'll have to be resolved.

Mr. FYODOR LUKYANOV (Editor-in-Chief, Russia Global Affairs): Russia's main security concern is situation in neighboring territories. It's really deep-rooted in Russian history. That's why Russia demands a sphere of privileged interest.

GARRELS: Many Russian analysts say the two presidents can make initial progress and build confidence by focusing not on concessions but areas of mutual cooperation. In addition to arms control, they cite Afghanistan, North Korea, even Iran.

Sergei Rogov says dramatic steps are unlikely soon. But he says there has to be more than just fuzzy atmospherics.

Dr. ROGOV: Good words or goodwill expression is very important, but it has followed by very important practical deeds.

GARRELS: In recent years, Russians, through the largely Kremlin-controlled media, have been fed a steady diet of anti-American propaganda. President Obama wants to counteract this by reaching not just Russia's leaders, but its people. He's chosen a place where he'll find a sympathetic audience, Moscow's prestigious New Economic School, a center of economic liberalism and modern thinking.

Anton Tsoy, who has closely followed Obama, is thrilled the American president will address his graduating class.

Mr. ANTON TSOY (Student, New Economic School): The way he speaks in public is very amazing. I like his speeches. We are now surviving difficult times. We all understand that we need to cooperate and deal together with the crisis.

Olga Makarov echoed the widespread view, at least here, that Obama should tackle prickly issues like Russian human rights, democracy and corruption.

Ms. OLGA MAKAROV (Student, New Economics School): Yeah, I think it will be very helpful. I think it will be helpful if Barack Obama will talk about this in front of our president or in front of our government.

GARRELS: But given how fragile the relationship is and how suspicious many Russians remain of America, Obama is likely to tread very carefully.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Moscow.

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