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Diplomatic Masochism

The Russians have started speaking Obamese:

Relations between Russia and the United States have a “new quality,” with each side ready to give heed to the other’s positions, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

“A new atmosphere of relations has been created,” Lavrov said in London after talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama. “There is mutual interest and, most importantly, readiness to listen to each other, something we had lacked for many years.”

“This means a new quality of relations,” he said.

Much like the American version, the Russian language of reconciliation has nothing to do with reality. On what issues, for instance, is Russia “ready to give heed” to the American position? When Obama left his first meeting with Medvedev, Russia still opposed the expansion of NATO, still objected to an American-installed missile defense system in Eastern Europe, was still a committed nuclear energy partner with Iran, and still talked about replacing the dollar with a new global currency. This “new quality” doesn’t feel so new from where I sit.

However, from Moscow’s standpoint, hope and change are here. As this AP analysis has it:

President Dmitry Medvedev’s first meeting with Barack Obama brought Russia a shot of prestige, upbeat headlines about nuclear-arms cuts and a powerful signal that Moscow has the ear of the new U.S. president.

The price tag for Russia so far: virtually zero.

Medvedev’s talks with Obama set a constructive new tone after years of growing acrimony between the U.S. and an assertive Russia. Their joint vow to reduce the two biggest nuclear arsenals on the planet cast a softer light on Russia, which has worried Europe with recent natural-gas supply cutoffs and threats to put missiles on its borders.

Obama pledged to support Moscow’s World Trade Organization membership bid, which could help end what Russia sees as the embarrassment of being the largest economy outside the WTO. Obama also said he would seek U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, something Moscow has long wanted from Washington.

And in a nod to the Kremlin’s self-image as a chief guardian of global security, Obama also acknowledged Russia’s proposal for a new trans-Atlantic security arrangement – a key Medvedev initiative that the Bush administration pointedly ignored.

It’s hard to believe that every single administration interaction with a bad actor leaves us worse off. Yet, here we are.


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