A few weeks ago, I suggested that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev should firmly "insert" himself into the cockpit of the jet of U.S.-Russia relations by presenting his in-depth views on all major aspects of the relationship.
He did. But instead of giving an extended interview to a top U.S. media source, as I recommended, he's opted for an op-ed. Pointedly, he's chosen The Washington Post, an outlet that is trying relentlessly to torpedo the emerging Washington-Moscow dialogue.
I have an impression that Medvedev struggled to fill even this small space that the format of an op-ed offered to him, for, I believe, he needed only the first four paragraphs of his 800-word piece to articulate his position on the eve of his meeting with President Obama in London tomorrow.
First, Medvedev has put blame for the soured U.S.-Russia relations squarely on the shoulders of the "previous" American administration, referring specifically to its plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, eastward NATO expansion, and refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.
Second, he confirmed that he considers the "U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration" — a document signed by then-Presidents Bush and Putin in Sochi, in April 2008 — a "road map" to "pragmatic and businesslike" cooperation between the two countries. This is an important point, as it emphasizes Russia's commitment to relations that honor prior agreements and aren't subject to lengthy "reviews" by every incoming American administration.
Third, Medvedev "agree[d] with President Obama that resuming the disarmament process should become our immediate priority."
The rest of Medvedev's piece is filled with polite words about the "special responsibility" the United States and Russia have in world affairs; about a few glorious moments in the history of U.S.-Russia relations; and about "a great future for out two nations" predicted, long ago, by Alexis de Tocqueville. A vague promise of cooperation on Afghanistan was offered. Iran wasn't mentioned at all.
I'd make two major conclusions from Medvedev's piece. First, Russia is coming to the negotiation table not as a suitor with extended hand or a junior partner. Rather, it will demand complete parity in the relations and full respect for what it considers its vital national interests. Second, Russia has only one short-term priority in its relations with the United States: a speedy resumption of the arms control talks. The rest can wait, and if Washington wants more, Moscow will be willing to negotiate one topic at a time — a la carte, so to speak.
Russia's position reminds me of the e2-e4 move, arguably, the most popular beginning in the game of chess. Responses to this move are multiple, and each can lead to a completely different game.
Has President Obama played chess recently?