Monday, July 06, 2009

Stranger In Moscow

President Obama has arrived in Moscow for his first visit to Russia since taking office. These US/Russia summits aren't the big deal they were back in the Cold War days, when the fate of the world seemed to hang on meetings between, say, Reagan and Gorbachev. But Mr Obama's got plenty of important things to discuss with President Medvedev and the man who's still the most powerful politician in Russia, Prime Minister Putin.

The headline news of the trip is likely to be a deal on reducing the two countries' stockpiles of nuclear warheads. So far, so 1980s. More contentiously, Russia is not happy with America's plans to build a missile defence shield with bases in the Czech Republic and Poland, both far too close for The Kremlin's comfort. The US wants to build the system to help protect it against a possible nuclear threat from, amongst other places, Iran. And the Americans could do with Moscow's help on Iran more generally, because Russian technology has been widely used in the Iranians' attempt to build a nuclear bomb. It'll be interesting to see if a deal can be reached, perhaps with the US scaling back its missile defence plans in return for Russia backing away from Iran, and allowing the US to use Russian territory to help the NATO effort in Afghanistan.

No prizes for guessing that, away from the national security stuff, economic issues will be the other main theme of the two-day summit. And Russia's in an increasingly strong position compared to the US when it comes to talking money. It was Russian cash that largely funded the recent Canadian-led buyout of General Motors. And with Russian trade with the US at surprisingly low levels (about the same as the amount Poland does), there's plenty of room for improvement. No matter how tense the talks get when it comes to security, Mr Obama will be very keen to find ways to get better economic links.

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