On the first day of his three-day Mission to Moscow, President Barack Obama signed several cooperative agreements with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
One calls for taking extra special care of each country’s nuclear materials – including warheads -- to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. Another creates a bilateral commission to coordinate issues of interest to both countries including: arms control and international security; foreign policy and fighting terrorism; and suppressing drug trafficking.
Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral (Photo: Stan Shebs, courtesy, Wikipedia)
The biggest deal, of course, moves both countries toward a new strategic nuclear arms treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) – due to expire Dec. 5 -- that limits each side’s warheads as well as nuclear weapon delivery vehicles (missiles, submarines and bombers).
Still another agreement will allow U.S. troops and weapons to cross Russia en route to Afghanistan. That agreement will permit 4,500 flights per year through Russian airspace. The shortcut is expected to save the U.S. government $133 million a year in transportation costs.
Wait a minute, the Russians must know it was the U.S. that backed the not-so-covert effort to supply and train Afghan insurgents that drove the Soviets OUT of Afghanistan, the effort known as “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
And yet, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and his counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian General Staff, signed an agreement in Moscow resuming military-to-military cooperation between the two countries.
What’s going on here?
Relations between the U.S. and Russia sank to a post-Cold War low in the final days of the Bush administration as the Russians fought a brief war with U.S.-ally Georgia and the U.S. announced plans to put missile interceptors in Poland and a radar warning system in the Czech Republic – territory Moscow considers the “near abroad” and subject to a Russian version of the Monroe Doctrine.
So why are the Russians cooperating now? Is it Barack Obama’s winning ways or simply an ‘Anybody but George W. Bush factor?’ Is it sagging oil prices? The cutbacks in Russia’s defense budget? Worries about China and/or Iran?/and/or the Muslim world?
I’d like to hear what you think is really behind this thaw in U.S.-Russian relations.