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Leaving the Cold War Behind

Obama and Medvedev meeting today. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev officially reset relations between their two countries today after eight years of increasing testiness and lack of cooperation.

Top of the new agenda: An agreement to quickly and dramatically reduce the number of long-range nuclear weapons on both sides, thousands of which remain on hair-trigger alert.

From the joint statement released by Obama and Medvedev after their meeting in London today, before tomorrow's G-20 talks:

"We, the leaders of Russia and the United States, are ready to move beyond Cold War mentalities and chart a fresh start in relations between our two countries. In just a few months we have worked hard to establish a new tone in our relations. Now it is time to get down to business and translate our warm words into actual achievements of benefit to Russia, the United States, and all those around the world interested in peace and prosperity....

"We agreed to pursue new and verifiable reductions in our strategic offensive arsenals in a step-by-step process, beginning by replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new, legally-binding treaty....

"We intend to carry out joint efforts to strengthen the international regime for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery...

"We agreed that al-Qaida and other terrorist and insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose a common threat to many nations, including the United States and Russia. We agreed to work toward and support a coordinated international response with the U.N. playing a key role."

It's a pretty dramatic shift. Former president George W. Bush's relationship with former Russian president Vladimir Putin was characterized by an unfortunate combination of naivete and cockiness, and ended up remarkably bitter, confrontational and ineffectual.

Before today's meeting, an unnamed senior administration official described Obama's approach this way to ABC's Jake Tapper: "Nobody's going to be looking into anybody's soul."

It was a reference to Bush's first meeting with Putin, at which Bush famously declared that he had looked into the former KGB officer's eyes, had gotten "a sense of his soul," and had "found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy."

Putin proceeded to become increasingly authoritarian, consolidating power both inside and outside Russia. Bush responded by provoking Putin with a proposed missile defense installations in Eastern Europe and a push to include former Soviet republics in NATO. Putin arguably responded by invading Georgia.

Medvedev, for his part, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed yesterday that "relations soured because of the previous U.S. administration's plans -- specifically, deployment of the U.S. global missile defense system in Eastern Europe, efforts to push NATO's borders eastward and refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe."

But, he wrote: "Neither Russia nor the United States can tolerate drift and indifference in our relations."

Obama, in a joint press availability with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this morning echoed Medvedev's language:

"[W]hat we've seen over the last several years is drift in the U.S.-Russian relationship," he said. "There are very real differences between the United States and Russia, and I have no interest in papering those over. But there are also a broad set of common interests that we can pursue. Both countries, I believe, have an interest in reducing nuclear stockpiles and promoting nuclear nonproliferation. Both countries have an interest in reducing the threat of terrorism. Both countries have an interest in stabilizing the world economy. Both countries have an interest in finding a sustainable path for energy and dealing with some of the threats of climate change that we've discussed.

"So, on a whole range of issues, from Afghanistan to Iran to the topics that will be consuming most of our time here at the G20, I think there's great potential for concerted action. And that's what we will be pursuing.

"Now, as has I think been noted in the press, a good place to start is the issue of nuclear proliferation. And one of the things that I've always believed strongly is that both the United States and Russia and other nuclear powers will be in a much stronger position to strengthen what has become a somewhat fragile, threadbare nonproliferation treaty if we are leading by example and if we can take serious steps to reduce the nuclear arsenal.

"I think people on both sides of the Atlantic understand that as much as the constant cloud, the threat of nuclear warfare has receded since the Cold War, that the presence of these deadly weapons, their proliferation, the possibility of them finding their way into the hands of terrorists, continues to be the gravest threat to humanity. What better project to start off than seeing if we can make progress on that front. I think we can."

In his remarks after meeting with Medvedev, Obama announced that he will travel to Moscow in July.

Peter Baker and Helene Cooper wrote in today's New York Times that "American and Russian officials have privately indicated that they could agree to reducing their stockpiles perhaps to about 1,500 warheads apiece, down from the 2,200 allowed under a treaty signed by President George W. Bush....

"[N]ext year, the two sides envision a more ambitious agreement that could reduce warheads further, even to 1,000, as well as limit delivery vehicles and possibly tactical nuclear weapons....

"Steven Pifer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state under Mr. Bush...., said Mr. Obama's initiative could finally bury the cold-war nuclear legacy. 'It's cleaning up some unfinished business that's been put on hold for the last seven years,' he said."

Michael D. Shear writes for The Washington Post that the joint statement "outlines new areas of planned cooperation while skirting some of the most contentious issues that have soured relations during the past several years.

"They pledged to cooperate on trying to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions, contain the proliferation of nuclear technology, and fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And they expressed joint concern about North Korea's expected launch of a ballistic missile sometime soon....

"The statement does not attempt to resolve some of the stickiest issues that divide Washington and Moscow, in particular the disagreement over Russia's aggressive actions in the nation of Georgia and the deployment of missile defense equipment in Poland."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 1, 2009; 1:10 PM ET
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It is so refreshing to see people who seem genuinely happy to see each other.

Posted by: TOMHERE | April 1, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Since the administration has now succeeded in “reseting” (or was it “overloaded”) our relations with Russia I am sure we will see some progress on the following issues: Russian energy blackmail of its neighbors, selling anti-air defenses to Iran, selling nuclear technology to Iran, suppression and assassination of Russian journalists, the closing of US resupply bases in Kyrgyzstan, or plans to base Russian long range bombers in Venezuela and Cuba ..... or will this, like The Dear Leader’s gift of an Ipod to the Queen (who already had one) and unformatted DVD’s to Gordon Brown turn out to be just another meaningless gesture more suited to plaster the articles of sycophants like Dan Froomkin?

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 1, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

My cat sometimes shares her food with Putin's cat.

Posted by: c420ach | April 1, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

It's about time we saw this type of adult approach to engaging with the rest of the world again. I just wonder how long it will take to repair all the damage that was done in the last 8 years.

Posted by: apn3206 | April 1, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Typical partisan crap from Froomkin.

Of course, Froom fails to mention that Bush signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia in 2002 and that the "push to include former Soviet republics in NATO" was a direct continuation of a policy held by the Clinton admin. Froonkin is a partisan hack and every bit of one-sided propaganda he publishes is further illustration of his utter inability to view any news without a mindless ideological filter.

The Post assigned a hyper-partisan liberal to blog about Bush. Why did they not choose a hyper-partisan conservative to blog on Obama? The answer is simple: the Post is more interested in political activism than they are in journalism.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

The New York Times had a more honest assesment than Froomkin (although that is a very low bar to clear.)

"But clear differences between the two nuclear powers remained visible, even when viewed through the prism of their statement, which sought to showcase common ground. For instance, on missile defense — like NATO expansion, a deeply contentious issue between the two countries — the statement acknowledged “that differences remain” but said that the two presidents had looked into possibilities for cooperation, “taking into account joint assessments of missile challenges and threats.”

That was a noncommittal way of saying that Russia still has not lifted its intense objections to American plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and that the Obama administration is not willing to give up on the missile shield until it gets something from Russia in return, foreign policy experts said."

So Obama is moving ahead with the missile plan that Froomkin was moaning about.

As for Froomkin's moaning about NATO expansion, just a few days ago, the AFP reported:

" US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he wanted to "reset" US relations with Russia but argued NATO should still be open to countries which aspire to join the alliance.
"My administration is seeking a reset of the relationship with Russia," Obama said after an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
But Obama said re-invigorated ties with Moscow must be "consistent with NATO membership and consistent with the need to send a clear signal throughout Europe that we are going to continue to abide by the central belief ... that countries who seek and aspire to join NATO are able to join NATO."

Obama's position on NATO expansion is no different than Bush's or Clinton's.

So if Froomkin really cared about the missile shield and NATO expansion, he would criticizing Obama, not praising him. Of course the only fact that plays into Froomkin's "analysis" is party affiliation of the President in question.

Froomkin is a joke.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

apn3206 -

You do know that Obama is doing nothing different in regards to Russia than did Bush right?

You shouldn't get your analysis from Froomkin. He is a deceptive partisan.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

OK, bobmoses, take a breath. Maybe go take a walk. You need to get out more, anyway.

Posted by: stephenlouis | April 1, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

stephenlouis -

Hmm. I guess that feeble comeback is all you can provide since you can't dispute any of the facts involved.

Keep on bleating.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

stephenlouis -

Just curious. Did you create an account just to make that feeble comment? Pretty sad.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I guess the Bush apologists on this blog forget that while Russia was invading Georgia Bush was two rows away from Putin at the Olympics but said nothing to Putin. The "I saw is soul" Comment Dubya gave opened the door for Putin to do as he pleased.......

Posted by: rharring | April 1, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

So, bobmoses, you would say that in the two months that President Obama has been in office he has not dramatically changed our relationship with Russia. That he has not re-structured NATO, stopped construction of the missile sites, or signed any new and/or different treaties with Russia? For more than two months now, everything has continued to be the same as it was the previous 16 years? And so that pretty much settles how it's going to be for the next 8 years? You draw interesting conclusions. You expect the US to be supporting another Georgian attack on Russian "peacekeepers," as occurred during the Bush years, I presume?

Posted by: dickdata | April 1, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Bobmoses, Froomkin also forgot to discuss how Bush (very very early in his first term) defunded and pretty much ended the program whereby the US helped pay the Russians to dismantle their Nukes and to keep their former Nuke scientists gainfully employed. By not reporting this Froomkin also neglected to note that the Russian nuke pile was the most likely source of theft for black market nukes. By not mentioning it Froomkin also failed to note and stress that in addition to actual nuke material most likely coming from the old soviet union that the know how to turn that nuke material into a big boom was also on the free market as these now un paid unemployed physicists could go on the open market and sell their knowledge and skills. But why would he bother mentioning this sort of thing? Just because ending the program made/makes the world less safe all because of the dear leaders inability to see beyond that the program was not one he approved of.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | April 1, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

RE: bob moses and the shortshootingpugnaciousest-
Barack Obama isn't really magic, or Jesus. He cannot fix 90 years of problems using magic or by simply demanding things to be so. He cannot stop the juggernaut of post-Cold War policy by himself, while fixing all the problems created by conservative Republicans and business friendly DLCers. And if either of you are so wicked smart, why haven't we seen you running for presimadent? Apparently you don't have to be half bright to get two terms. You can even be a sociopathic sadistic closeted gay Texan from Connecticut.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | April 1, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

It's good to hear "nobody's going to be looking into anybody's soul". Anyone who understand's what's going on knows you look instead at geopolitical realities. About time we did that. The fantasy wasn't working.

Posted by: jpk1 | April 1, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

"The Post assigned a hyper-partisan liberal to blog about Bush. Why did they not choose a hyper-partisan conservative to blog on Obama?"

You're forgetting Bill Kristol? George Will? Charles Krauthammer? And more of the same, as well?

Posted by: thrh | April 1, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I think BobMoses' comment points to the reversal of roles that this column has had where its gone from an article whose mission is "White House Watch" with a critical eye to "White House Felatio".

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 1, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

bobmoses, check out the top of the page, Froomkin's blog is under the opinion file on the site, just like Krauthammer, Will, Gerson, Robinson, Dionne, etc...It is his OPINION, just as Gerson's today is. bobmoses, want to see a non-political decision by a Dem? Check out AGHolder's decision to drop charges against former sen. stevens, cause the Justice Dept. under Bush screwed up the prosecution. Not whether Steven's is guilty or not, but because of prosecutorial misconduct. Could it be possible that the GOP Justice Dept. did it on purpose, to give Republican Sen. Stevens grounds for an appeal?

Posted by: katem1 | April 1, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Besides, do the conservatives posting here really mean to suggest that Bush's conduct of foreign policy was successful? I won't deny the wisdom or worth of helping Russia demobilize and keep its scientists employed: one of the Bush administration's finer actions. (Though the nuclear deal with India was stupidity itself.) Between the idiot cokehead's thinking he'd taken the measure of Putin--when rather the opposite happened--and the paranoid megalomaniac having one response--aggression--to any international provocation, do any of you really think Bu8sh and Cheney left our international relations, especially with Russia, better off? We'd stopped talking to nearly everyody, including those countries we rendered prisoners too (Syria and Morocco, anyone?).

I don't think Dan has to apologize for a liberal viewpoint--White House Watch is, as katem1 (not to mention Dan himself) has pointed out, classified as opinion, not reporting.

Does it gall any of you to see the imperial ignorance of the previous administration reversed? Not on every last count, to be sure--I'm not a fan of Obama's team maintaining the national security argument on the torture of foreign nationals, for example--but so early on in his administration, Obama's clearly signaling a new tone in relations. You were horrified by his al-Jazeera interview, perhaps, where he confessed to wanting a dialog with Islamic nations? Or you kid yourselves into thinking that's no big change from the imperial fantasies of the now-departed losers.

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 1, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

And you, bobmoses, need to get your analysis from sources other than Hannity, Coulter, and O'Reilly and the other Fox Noise talking (I use the word loosely) heads. I read the Post, the Times (both NY and London), the LA Times, Le Monde, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and the Economist.

Posted by: apn3206 | April 1, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Dan: Nowhere in today's Washington Post article was the Russian "elephant in the room" mentioned - namely, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It will take time to tell if the "happy face" talk between Presidents Obama and Medvedev will lead to any substantive consensus on the wide range of issues mentioned in today's discussions in London.

The questions are: How much wiggle room (If any) does Medvedev have in terms of demonstrating independence from former President Putin, and will Obama's insistence on discounting "spheres of influence" really be seriously considered by the Russians?

Most disturbingly, will President Obama be perceived as idealistic and naive, much as President Kennedy was by Nikita Khrushchev back in 1961?

Putin is the antithesis of naive, and may have serious designs on reconstituting the old Soviet empire (check out an article posted today on "Spheres of influence" are very important to him - and to any Russian who shares his perception of history.

Posted by: MillPond2 | April 1, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

The Cold war ended about twenty years ago. However, neo-cons and militarists, mostly overlapping groups, appeared not to notice or needed a continued cold war, as well as imagined adversaries hither, thither to try to justify huge, unnecessary, wasteful military spending. The neo-cons and militarists will become very depressed with Obama's achievements in reducing nuclear weapons with Russia, as well as other improvements in relations between the two countries. Hopefully these reactionaries will never control any branch of government again.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | April 1, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Bush completely misread Putin, believing him to be a friend rather than a self-interested Machiavellian. It is unclear whether Obama has misread Medvedev or whether he is simply doing and saying all the right things while maintaining a healthy skepticism inside. I think the latter, to Obama's credit. But Froomkin has swallowed the hook, just like Bush did.

Posted by: Compared2What | April 1, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

apn3206 -

"And you, bobmoses, need to get your analysis from sources other than Hannity, Coulter, and O'Reilly and the other Fox Noise talking (I use the word loosely) heads."

Well, I don't get my news from any of those outlets. I cited the NYT and the AFP in my cogent argument that included facts, which contrasts strongly with your silly rant based on mindless stereotypes and devoid of facts.

Thanks for demonstrating how a mindless partisan reacts to facts.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

dickdata -

Actually I didn't say any of the silly straw men arguments you put up.

I simply pointed out that the specific policies cited by Froomkin as divergences from policies are nothing of the sort. Read the quotes I cited from the Times and the AFP and you will see that Obama intends to continue NATO expansion and developing a missile shield.

Jeez, for such a bunch of self-described "intellectuals", the angry liberals on this blog seem incapable of following a very simple argument backed up with facts with sources.

How about contesting something I actually did say instead of things I never said?

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse

""The Post assigned a hyper-partisan liberal to blog about Bush. Why did they not choose a hyper-partisan conservative to blog on Obama?"

You're forgetting Bill Kristol? George Will? Charles Krauthammer? And more of the same, as well?""

Another liberal who can't read. None of those people were charged exclusively with covering the President. The people you cite are general columnists and they are outnumbered by Robinson, Cohen, Meyerson, Toles, Telnaes, et al.

BTW: Kristol was a columnist at the Times, not the Post.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

katem1 -

Of course I know that Froomkin is opinion and I don't need to shout it in caps. His analysis still pathetic and his double standards and deceptive reporting of the facts deserve criticism.

As for your paranoid rant about a Ted Stevens conspiracy, that is a topic that neither Froomkin nor I brought up, so I don't know why you are asking me about it.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 1, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Bush was an idiot concerning Russia, the only one's worse in his bunch were Cheney and McCain. I still shake my head everytime I hear about putting missiles in Poland, what utter stupidity! Did no one in Bush's administration have the guts to tell Bush that to his face? Did he even have any idea the cold war was over? It sure doesn't look like he had a clue.

The other neo-cons were just hoping it wasn't so. That way they could keep funneling hugely expensive and unneeded military hardware contracts to their pals in our military/industrial complex industries. The same way they hope to keep our oversized military going now with useless and ignorant wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, they now want to get us involved in Iran or North Korea. More stupidity on a scale that takes ones breath away to see it exposed.

I hope Obama does a better job with our foreign policy than Bush did. It would be very difficult to do worse, in my opinion.

Posted by: surfer-joe | April 1, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

You can try to blame Russia's recent aggression on the planned missle defense sites in Poland, but how does that explain or justify Russia cutting natural gas supplies to millions of Europeans during the dead of winter? So the Cold War is over. Great. But now we have a new dynamic that, in terms of Russian behavior, looks very familiar.

Posted by: Compared2What | April 1, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

bobmoses: If Froomkin is so pathetic I suggest you stop reading him. You are certainly sucking up (is that fellatio pugilismboy??) more than you're share of comment bandwidth today with quite a load of bullpucky. I would certainly not miss your angry rodeo clown rants.
Perhaps you can start your own blog and get your own little audience of fellow aholes to tell you how smart you are.

Posted by: mickster1 | April 1, 2009 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Wow, our resident trolls really crapped this one up good yesterday. I like the complaint about "angry liberals" from the particularly loud one who screams every day about Froomkin's love of Obama.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 2, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Did someone hit a nerve? The partisan bile is particularly thick here this morning. Along with the puling and mewling about how unfair and biased "the press" is... one side is kvetching about Froomkin and Robinson, the other about Will, Krauthammer and Kristol.

Speaking purely as a Republican, though, I find Froomkin amusing, I rather like Robinson (doesn't mean I agree with everything these gents write)...but I really resent that anyone would put the erudite and reasonable George Will in the same category as Neocon buttheads like Kristol and Krauthammer.

Will isn't perfect (though he is very often correct and insightful), but the wingnut faction Kristol and Krauthammer represent are the very people who, on blatantly false pretexts, dragged the United States into so much dreck in the Middle East (and who nearly wrecked the Republican Party, in the process).

Posted by: Observer44 | April 2, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

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