But the talks will be remembered as the moment when the two countries “reset” relations if both sides muster the political will to build on the agreements — all nonbinding — reached by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama.
“The ‘reset’ is going on, and we can see that a spirit of dialogue remains with both sides,” said Boris Makarenko, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank.
Perhaps the most concrete achievement of the summit was an agreement under which Russia will allow the transit of U.S. military cargo at no charge over its territory to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, analysts said.
As for a treaty to replace START I that cuts the number of nuclear warheads and long-range launchers held by the two countries, the new target range allows Russia to hang onto its current 500 launchers and the United States to feel comfortable with 1,100 launchers, said Alexander Khramchikhin, a researcher with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.
As for aspiring NATO members Georgia and Ukraine, Russia and the United States remain at diametrically opposite positions after the summit, having agreed only to continue discussions without confrontation.
Obama acknowledged the failure to find compromise after a breakfast Tuesday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying “on areas where we disagree, like Georgia, I don’t anticipate a meeting of minds anytime soon.”
Information is contradictory over whether Obama agreed to respect Russia’s interests in other former Soviet republics.
Putin’s aide and former Russian Ambassador to Washington Yury Ushakov said Tuesday that Obama had offered assurances at the breakfast that the United States would take Russia’s interests into account.
Several hours later, however, Obama told graduates of the New Economic School in a commencement speech that Moscow does not have “privileged interests” in the former Soviet bloc.
On U.S. plans to deploy elements of a missile shield in Europe, Moscow failed to get any commitment that Obama would halt the initiative.
Medvedev, however, has touted a clause linking strategic defensive and offensive weapons in the nuclear arms agreement as a foundation for a possible breakthrough.
But defense analysts said the clause does not necessarily oblige the United States to abandon its missile defense plans. Also, Obama reiterated at a news conference with Medvedev on Monday that the missile shield was not meant to undermine Russia’s strategic security but only to intercept a possible missile from Iran.
For his part, Obama got no promises from Moscow on cooperation in easing the nuclear threat from Iran.
The countries agreed to work to create information centers to alert each other of possible missile launches, and this is a good starting point for a new dialogue on security, said Vladimir Yevseyev, a security analyst with the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Optimism that the initiative might bear fruit is undercut by the fact that the creation of similar information centers was discussed at top levels during the presidencies of Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton and in the early days of the presidencies of Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush.
Another initiative from the Yeltsin era — a top-level bilateral commission — was revived at the Moscow summit. The previous commission was headed in the 1990s by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and former U.S. Vice President Albert Gore.
This time, the commission will be headed by Obama and Medvedev, apparently to keep Putin and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden away from the formal process of resetting ties, some political analysts suggested. Both men are widely seen as sticking to harder lines in U.S.-Russia relations than Obama and Medvedev.
The credibility of the commission, however, has already been strongly undermined by Medvedev’s decision to include Vladislav Surkov, his deputy chief of staff and key ideologist, said several political analysts and human rights activists.
“I feel that the U.S. administration was forced to accept this decision in order to avoid a scandal,” said Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.
She called the appointment “regretful.”
Surkov — who is believed to be the mastermind of Kremlin’s strategies to marginalize opposition groups and make the State Duma and civil society servile appendages of the executive branch — was appointed to oversee the commission’s working group on civil society. Obama’s foreign policy aide for Russia, Michael McFaul, is Surkov’s counterpart in the working group.
On Wednesday, a group of respected human rights activists sent an open letter to Medvedev asking that Surkov be removed from the commission.
“He will just turn the U.S.-Russian dialogue into a conversation between the blind and deaf. He will imitate dialogue by replacing [real civil groups with] tamed groups,” said the letter signed by Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Memorial chief Oleg Orlov and several others.
“If we wish to move from ceremonial to real action, someone else is needed,” the activists said.