Moscow Sends Mixed Messages To Obama The Obama administration has offered to "reset" relations with Russia, which became increasingly strained during the last years of the Bush presidency. But many Russian analysts see little hope for optimism.
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Moscow Sends Mixed Messages To Obama

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Moscow Sends Mixed Messages To Obama

Moscow Sends Mixed Messages To Obama

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Speaking of films, remember those Cold War movies, "Red Dawn," even "Rocky IV," that pitted the U.S. against the Soviet Union? Well, the last few years may have felt like a foreign policy rewind. The relationship between Russia and the Bush administration grew chilly over missile defense. But as President Obama rolls out America's new foreign policy, diplomats hope Russian relations may soon improve. NPR's Moscow correspondent, Gregory Feifer, reports.

GREGORY FEIFER: In the past decade, Vladimir Putin has overseen a massive drive to put large swaths of Russian industry under state control, often by force.

Prime Minister VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: So when the prime minister addressed world business leaders last month, the audience was taken aback to hear him warning against the blind belief in the power of the state. Some picked up on his criticism of Wall Street and called it classic Putin confrontation. But many others heard his statement that Russia is part of the global financial system and thought his words sounded liberal and conciliatory. But only a few days later, Moscow sent out another message by appearing to have pressured the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan to shut down a U.S. airbase used to supply forces in Afghanistan.

President DMITRI MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said Russia was giving Kyrgyzstan billions in financial aid, but the Kremlin denied it was connected to the future of the airbase. The tone appeared to change again last weekend. Making his first major foreign policy speech at a security conference in Munich, Vice President Joe Biden warned the rift in relations was dangerous and invited Moscow to start anew.

(Soundbiteo of speech)

Vice President JOE BIDEN: It's time, to paraphrase President Obama, it's time to press the reset button.

FEIFER: The main Russian representative, the usually hawkish Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, responded positively.

Deputy Prime Minister SERGEI IVANOV (Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: He said Washington had sent a strong signal. But asked whether Russia was willing to take any concrete steps in response, he said no. Foreign policy isn't an oriental bazaar for bargaining, he said. Despite the stated hopes for better ties, the two sides face deep divisions, especially over U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe and Russia's efforts to reassert control over former Soviet republics.

Foreign policy scholar Georgy Mirsky says the Russians are sending mixed messages because most officials are uncertain which way the wind is blowing in the Kremlin.

Mr. GEORGY MIRSKY (Foreign Policy Scholar): Basically, it's not a real problem to be more liberal or to be hardline. They're ready to change their stand overnight.

FEIFER: Mirsky says he believes Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are facing a choice of strategy - continue blaming the financial crisis on the United States or try to repair relations in the hope Western investment will help the economy. But military analyst Alexander Golts has a different view. He says Moscow's changes of tack are part of a well-defined strategy. He says Putin, a former KGB officer, often uses liberal-sounding rhetoric to mislead the West.

Mr. ALEXANDER GOLTS (Military Analyst, Moscow): Mr. Putin thinks about his public speeches as about secret operations. He says what audience want from him.

FEIFER: Golts says Moscow's main goal is to boost its status on the world stage by forcing Washington to take Russian views into account. Moscow's offer to allow U.S. supplies to Afghanistan to cross Russian territory, he says, is really about increasing Russia's importance. Golts says the strategy is paying off. Western concerns, such as Russia's human rights record and European energy security have been sidelined. Instead, the main issues between Washington and Moscow are missile defense and arms treaties, just like during the Cold War.

Mr. GOLTS: The strategy is very simple, just to preoccupy minds of Russian counterparts in the West, and in U.S. particularly, with the old game of counting warheads.

FEIFER: But Golts says Russia's anti-Americanism is harming its own interests. A resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan would pose a serious threat to Russia's south. But Moscow is paying billions it can ill afford to hamper the American-led effort, he says, and buy the status of a superpower. Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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