Obama to Press Kremlin on Energy
U.S. President Barack Obama will press Russia to drop its “zero-sum” attitude on alternative energy supplies out of the former Soviet Union and offer cooperation in preventing climate change through better energy technology during a visit to Moscow next week, U.S. officials said.
The White House also revealed a packed schedule for Obama’s visit, including a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the publication of an interview with Novaya Gazeta.
President Dmitry Medvedev posted a new entry on his video blog Thursday, saying Russia was ready for a fresh start with Obama.
Energy will be a major topic for Obama’s talks with Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said Michael McFaul, Obama’s special assistant and senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs.
“We’re going in there to talk about how we want to do things in cooperation with Russia,” McFaul said in a conference call with reporters late Wednesday, Moscow time. “In particular, we want to have conversations about diversification of supplies out of Russia and through the region in a way that it’s not thought about in a zero-sum way.”
The statement appears to refer to a policy by state-controlled Gazprom to buy as much gas as possible from Russia’s gas-producing neighbors, such as Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, to ensure that it remains the dominant supplier of the fuel to Europe. In the most recent deal, Gazprom earlier this week secured modest supplies from Azerbaijan starting from next year and said it was considering greater volumes.
The Russian and U.S. leaders will also discuss “Russia’s role in terms of becoming a more energy-efficient country as we look to do things on climate change,” McFaul said, according to a transcript of the call.
Obama will deliver the message that Washington and Moscow can do well if they join forces on such energy issues, McFaul said.
“It’s not, in our view, a zero-sum game, that if it’s two points for Russia it’s negative two for us, but there are ways that we can cooperate to advance our interests and at the same time do things with the Russians that are good for them as well,” he said.
A call to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, went unanswered Thursday afternoon. A Kremlin spokesman requested that questions be submitted by fax and did not respond by late Thursday.
A frank exchange of opinions on energy policy could be useful if Obama succeeds in convincing Moscow that the United States isn’t seeking to undermine Russia’s interests, said Pavel Baev, a professor at the International Research Institute in Oslo, Norway.
“Moscow harbors suspicions that it’s the U.S. that pushes the zero-sum game,” he said.
|Monday, July 6
Tuesday, July 7
The energy efficiency topic will come up again later next week when Obama and Medvedev attend the Major Economies Forum in Italy as part of a Group of Eight summit. Russia, the United States and other countries will discuss technological innovation to address the climate change challenge, said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, who also spoke during the conference call.
Russia is one of the least successful major economies in cutting harmful emissions from burning such fuels as oil and coal, according to a study released Wednesday. Russia made little progress to reach its targets for greenhouse gas reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, according to the report commissioned by German insurer Allianz. International negotiations on how to slow global warming will culminate in Copenhagen in December in an attempt to compose a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Medvedev signaled his eagerness to meet with Obama in his latest video blog, posted on the Kremlin web site.
“The new administration headed by President Obama now demonstrates a readiness to change the situation and build a more effective, more reliable and finally more modern relationship. And we are ready for this,” Medvedev said.
He acknowledged the tense relations between the countries, saying they “slipped practically to the level of a Cold War,” and called for “opening a new page in Russian-American cooperation.”
Obama will have a private and working meeting with Medvedev on Monday, the first day of his visit, said Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Obama and his wife, Michelle, will have dinner with the Medvedevs that evening.
On Tuesday, Obama will have breakfast with Putin to let him know that “the old Cold War approaches” to relations with the United States are “outdated,” Obama said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
Putin still has “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new,” Obama said.
Putin said earlier that protocol didn’t require Obama to meet with him but that he would be “pleased” to have an audience with him.
The breakfast will last 60 minutes to 90 minutes, Putin’s spokesman Peskov told Ekho Moskvy radio.
“The prime minister will have an opportunity to meet this U.S. president for the first time. Most probably, one can assume, the U.S. president will also be interested in getting acquainted with Putin,” Peskov said.
At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Obama is scheduled to give a commencement speech at the New Economic School — a speech that his advisers are billing as his third major foreign policy address since assuming office. The first two were in Prague and Cairo.
After the ceremony, Obama will “hold meetings with a variety of Russian political, business leaders,” McDonough said. Those meetings are to include a conference organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the American Chamber of Commerce.
McFaul said Obama also would meet with “nongovernmental organizations, media representatives and in other words, all of those that are dealing with issues of democracy, independent media, rule of law.”
McFaul said the two presidents would discuss a broad variety of issues. He stressed that Medvedev should not expect any concessions on the most painful topics for Moscow — U.S. missile defense plans in Central Europe and the entry of former Soviet republics into NATO.
“We’re not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense,” he said. “We’re going to define our national interests, and by that I also mean the interests of our allies in Europe with reference to these two particular questions.
“So we don’t need the Russians, we don’t want to trade with them,” McFaul said.
He added that the NATO doors remain open for any aspiring member qualifying for entry and that this applies to Georgia and Ukraine. As for missile defense, McFaul said Washington would welcome Moscow’s cooperation on reducing the threat from Iran but would not abandon its idea of the missile shield in Europe simply in order to reach a broader deal with Russia.
Russian officials oppose the U.S. plan to build a missile shield in Europe, saying it will undercut Russia’s potential for a retaliation strike in the case of nuclear attack.
Obama will also meet with Gorbachev on Tuesday.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov also has been invited to meet Obama, his press secretary Alexander Yushchenko said Thursday. “We have an invitation to meet President Obama, but the time of the meeting is still being confirmed.”
Opposition leader Garry Kasparov and Leonid Gozman, head of the new Kremlin-backed, pro-business political party Right Cause, said they also have been invited to meet with Obama, Interfax reported.
McFaul said Obama would give an interview to Novaya Gazeta before he arrives, following the lead of Medvedev, who met with the newspaper’s editor in April.
The interview “should be on newsstands by the time we get to Moscow,” McFaul said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won’t be accompanying Obama to Moscow because of an arm injury she suffered last month, RIA-Novosti reported, citing a Foreign Ministry source. She will be replaced by William Burns, undersecretary for political affairs and the former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
The Obamas will leave Moscow on Wednesday morning.