A positive sign for removal of deadlocks in US-Russia relations

Friday, 2018-11-02 14:05:17
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US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – Russian and United States officials are actively preparing for a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump, scheduled to take place in Paris, November 11. US National Security Adviser John Bolton also announced that the White House has sent an invitation to President Putin to visit Washington.

Russian state news agency TASS recently cited the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart Mike Pompeo held phone talks on some bilateral and international issues in preparation for the meeting between the two countries’ Presidents. The phone call was made at the request of the US side. US National Security Adviser John Bolton said last week that the White House has sent an invitation to President Putin to visit the US. So, if all goes well, President Trump and President Putin will have at least two meetings in the time ahead with efforts to “defreeze” the Russian-US relations.

However, despite the goodwill of the senior Russian and US leaders for bilateral meetings, multiple challenges still remain in the relationship between the two world powers. The Russia-US ties have seriously worsened following Washington’s allegations that Moscow interfered in the 2016 US presidential election and was the “culprit” in the poisoning of ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal in the UK. The relationship between the two sides continued to deteriorate dramatically as the US Department of Justice recently charged a Russian citizen with interfering in the US mid-term elections scheduled for this November 6. Together with the worsening political ties, the US has constantly increased its economic sanctions against Russia. In 2017, Washington decided to impose sanctions on Russia’s leading groups, oil companies, and weapons firms, such as Rosoboronexport, Sukhoi, and Tupolev. Analysts hailed the US sanctions as one of the reasons for the devaluation of the Russian ruble, which threatens to push inflation to 4% in 2018. Economic difficulties have forced the Russian government to adjust the forecast of Russia’s 2019 economic growth down to 1.3%.

A thorny issue posed to the Washington-Moscow relations at present is the US’s possible withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been a public concern in Russia over recent days. Recently, the US has constantly accused Russia of violating the provisions of the INF, while the Russian side asserted that it was the US which did not comply with the agreement. Russian news agency Sputnik has recently launched a move of offence aimed at the US’s INF withdrawal, stating that “the US has put off their mask”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the US’s withdrawal from the INF would be among the topics on table during the Trump-Putin meeting in France this November 11.

In his speech on Rossiya 1 television channel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the US will need to clarify its plans in the field of arms control after withdrawing from the INF treaty with Russia. He added that Moscow had asked Washington to abandon the plan to expel Russian diplomats, aiming to ensure normal working conditions for these officials, as well as to deal with the issue of diplomatic property, so “the ball is now on the US side”. Minister Lavrov also expressed a view of “goodwill but not down the ladder” from the Russian side. Accordingly, if the two countries’ Presidents meet, the Russian side is willing to discuss the thorniest international and bilateral issues with the US on the basis of equality, not “forcing friendship”.

The reality of the relationship, hidden with many differences that are difficult to be removed, between the US and Russia, together with the statements made by Russian officials, show that it is still a thorny path ahead to improving relations between the two world powers. However, when President Putin and President Trump have the goodwill to “sit down together” to discuss differences, it is a positive sign opening up the hopes for the removal of deadlocks in the current US-Russia relations.