Gates' trip changes little in U.S.-Russian ties

14:55, March 24, 2011      

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (3rd L) speaks with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (3rd R) during their meeting at the presidential residence at Gorki, outside Moscow March 22, 2011. (Xinhua/Reuters)

by Igor Serebryany, Zheng Haoning

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended his "farewell" trip to Russia late Tuesday with little real progress made and both sides sticking to their positions on a range of issues.

Analysts say, although both countries have "reset" their relations, they still really don't know how to listen to each other and the outgoing U.S. defense secretary's trip to Russian was a crippled one.


During Gates's three-day visit to Russia, the two sides discussed a number of issues of common concern, including the new Russian-U.S. strategic arms reduction treaty (START), European missile defense, and the situations in Afghanistan and Libya.

Gates, who met his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov and President Dmitry Medvedev, tried to sweeten the pill by calling U.S.-Russian relations a partnership and added the United States was seeking the same level of relations with Moscow as Washington enjoyed with London, Paris and Ottawa.x However, Serdyukov was not ready to go as far and only said that Russian-U.S. military cooperation was making "a certain progress."

The word "progress" might describe the U.S.-Russian relations more precisely because it highlighted the open-ended nature of the Russian-U.S. ties, said Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of Moscow's U.S. and Canada Institute.

Gates's purpose was the same as that of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who visited Russia earlier this month, to convey Washington's good will to Moscow and pave the way for the future meeting between U.S. President Barak Obama and Medvedev.

"Whereas Joe Biden spoke mostly about economic cooperation with Russia, Gates's objective was to clear the skies in the military sphere, in particular regarding anti-missile defense, strategic and tactical nuclear weapons," Zolotaryov told Xinhua.

Gates even said the United States was ready to give Moscow political assurances that the anti-missile defense (AMD) system planned for Europe would not target Russia.

Moscow has long opposed U.S. plans to deploy missile defense units in eastern Europe and has accused Washington of targeting Russia. Biden admitted Washington still could not provide Moscow with legally binding guarantees on the AMD, adding it would be very difficult to pass the judicial guarantees in the U.S. Congress.

Biden's remarks implied the AMD has remained a stumbling block in U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia relations, with both sides remaining suspicious of each other.

Moreover, after the new START, the United States has been persuading Russia to negotiate on the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons.

Russia has an absolute advantage in tactical nuclear weapons against NATO and believes its tactical nuclear weapons could overwhelm the advantages of NATO's conventional weapons.

Dating back to the early 1990s, Russia and the United States have discussed the mutual reduction of tactical nuclear weaponry, but a premise set by Russia for the talks was that the United States should withdraw all its nuclear weapons from European countries.

Zolotaryov said Gates had told Russia the strategic and tactical nuclear missiles of both countries must be reduced further, but Russian leader Medvedev reiterated the position he took in Lisbon last November.

"This demonstrated the parties did not hear each other," Zolotaryov said.

"Political declarations are the things which are easy come, easy go. This is why Moscow wants something firmer and more binding, like creation of a center for missile data exchange," Zolotaryov said.

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