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FP: New Russians

June 26, 2009

Peter Savodnik writes that Russia, after years of unsuccessfully trying to reclaim superpower status, is rethinking the way it engages with the United States.

It's not immediately clear why Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev are meeting next month in Moscow. In Cold War times, Washington and Moscow were locked, boxerlike, in a sweaty, awkward embrace, and the whole point of any U.S.-Russia summit was to make sure that the fight didn't spill out of the ring. Meetings between heads of state were brakes, or institutional curbs, meant to ensure that the system persisted. Sustaining the status quo, however costly it may have been, was assumed to be preferable to its violent breakdown.

But now there is no system to sustain. And though both countries have overlapping interests, and though both have things to talk about (Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, missile defense in central Europe), it's not apparent why they need to talk about them now, with no wars or arms agreements on the table. Granted, there's the pact that's meant to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but replacing an antiquated treaty feels stilted, as if the purpose of the talks is to talk rather than make the world a safer place. So why is this meeting taking place?

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