Russian Expert: Pressing 'Reset' May Not Suffice Andrei Zolotov, editor of Russia Profile magazine, talks to NPR's Guy Raz about what to expect when President Obama meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday. U.S. officials have said they hope to "press the reset button" on tense U.S.-Russia relations.
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Russian Expert: Pressing 'Reset' May Not Suffice

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Russian Expert: Pressing 'Reset' May Not Suffice

Russian Expert: Pressing 'Reset' May Not Suffice

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GUY RAZ, host:

Hitting that reset button on U.S.-Russian relations might not be enough. Andrei Zolotov, the editor of Russia Profile magazine, recently wrote: No matter how much you press the reset button, you're still dealing with the exact same hardware and some seriously outdated software.

And Andrei Zolotov joins us from Moscow. Welcome.

Mr. ANDREI ZOLOTOV (Editor, Russia Profile magazine): Hello.

RAZ: Andrei Zolotov, what's the biggest challenge you see in trying to reset U.S.-Russian relations?

Mr. ZOLOTOV: Well, the biggest challenge is to overcome actually a very long trend of downgrading relations as a result of some serious mistakes that were made in the 1990s.

RAZ: Well, what were some of those mistakes, as you describe them?

Mr. ZOLOTOV: NATO expansion and Yugoslavia war were some episodes which really run very deep into the consciousness of not only Russian elites but also average Russians.

There's also been an ongoing degradation which reached some very dangerous levels last year when the Russia-Georgian war took place.

RAZ: Break it down for us. What are Russia's red lines here? I mean, what are the issues on which the Russians, you know, will not compromise?

Mr. ZOLOTOV: I think the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and Czech Republic is a very, very serious issue for Russia. I think that clearly, the NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine is very much of a red line.

Fortunately, today this issue is on the back burner, and that creates a window of opportunity to discuss the whole rules of engagement in the former Soviet Union.

RAZ: Can you explain the hardware-software metaphor you use in your article?

Mr. ZOLOTOV: Well, there are several fundamental problems to the relationship: One is that unlike, say, relations between Russia and the EU or relations between United States and China, there is no fundamental economic basis in this relationship. So whatever that is there is subject to geopolitics, pride, domineering, and status is very important.

The other problem, significant problem, is lack of stakeholders on the both sides in a good, positive relationship because a lot more people benefit politically from chest-banging on both sides.

RAZ: When you talk about an economic relationship, what would that relationship look like?

Mr. ZOLOTOV: It's not an easy question because, kind of, there seems to be kind of, at present in the world markets not much overlap. Most of Russia's economy is raw materials-based and the energy exports, whereas United States really does not need Russian energy. So that's an issue.

On the other hand, the realities of an economic crisis have shown that not only the close, interdependence of the economies; for a long time, politicians in Moscow were saying oh, we are an island of stability, and why do we have to take any responsibility for it. Now, it's absolutely clear that the crisis has hit Russia. And in order to, not only to turn it around, but ideally to use it to some sort of an advantage, technology transfer and American investments would be quite welcome, I think.

RAZ: Of course, you know, in Egypt where Obama recently visited, and parts of the Middle East, there is a sense that a change of administration, a change of personalities, is going to have a major impact, the so-called Obama effect. Was the problem in the relationship a problem of the George W. Bush administration?

Mr. ZOLOTOV: Unfortunately not, because most of these legacy problems that we've spoken before actually originated during Clinton administration, and Bush in some assessments was actually, for a long time, a very, very pro-Russian American president. So I don't think that the simple negation of the Bush legacy can lead to a substantial breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations. There is a need for a greater re-assessment of the whole framework of this relationship.

RAZ: So, the so-called Obama effect doesn't seem to be having an effect.

Mr. ZOLOTOV: The Obama effect is having some effect, but it doesn't go as deep here as it goes in other parts of the world so far.

RAZ: That's Andrei Zolotov. He's the editor of Russia Profile magazine.

Andrei Zolotov, thanks so much.

Mr. ZOLOTOV: Thank you, Guy.

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