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Seeking Substance in Moscow

In April the metaphor was "reset," a reminder that U.S.-Russia relations had sunk to new lows during the final years of the Bush administration. But with President Barack Obama in Moscow for two days of meetings with Russian leaders, the focus is more on policy than rhetoric. "I'm using the word 'substance' as opposed to 'good' or 'bad' or 'indifferent,'" Michael McFaul, the White House's senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs, told reporters last week. "We want to actually do real business with the Russians on things that matter to our national security and our prosperity."

Yet it remains far from certain how much actual business will get done. CFR Senior Fellow Charles Ferguson, in a new interview, says that so far only "incremental progress" has been made during what the White House had hoped would be a summit full of substance. Prior to the summit, CFR Russia expert Stephen Sestanovich predicted that U.S.-Russia talks on arms control would likely be marked by hard bargaining. He expected Moscow to use the arms control agreement issue as leverage against U.S. plans to build an anti-ballistic missile system in Europe, which Russia opposes. In their meeting on Monday, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed a replacement (Reuters) for the START-I arms reduction treaty, which expires in December. The two sides did reach a preliminary agreement on modest cuts (NYT) to each country's strategic nuclear arsenal, but that agreement makes no mention of defense missile systems.

A host of other thorny issues were on the table as well, notably NATO expansion to include Ukraine and Georgia, which Russia sees as an affront to its sphere of influence. Washington also sought more help on curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions; Russian cooperation...

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