My new RealClearPolitics.com column examines Obama’s upcoming trip and the debate between “realists” and “idealists” on Russia.
(And my other column today, in The Wall Street Journal, asks if Mr. Putin is going to Georgia. Again.)
The Obama visit should be interesting. Evidently, Obama is spending a lot of one-on-one time with Medvedev (who declares on his video blog today that “Today, we are united by the values of our civilization, the values of respect for human life and human rights and freedoms” — does he say this stuff with a straight face?) and a lot of time with “unofficial” activists. On Tuesday, he breakfasts with Putin. Obama’s remarks today suggest that his “narrative” for the Moscow trip is that he and Medvedev together will be leading their countries forward to cooperation and partnership, while Putin, who “still has a lot of sway” and keeps “one foot in the old ways of doing business”, needs to understand that the time of the old ways has passed. Sounds like Obama’s message to Putin is, more or less, “Move out of the way, buddy, time’s up.”
Chances are, Putin is not going to like this, particularly in conjunction with the fact that Obama goes straight from breakfast with Putin to a day of meetings with representatives of unofficial Russia. In EJ.ru, Alexander Golts writes that his conversations with “certain people who are involved in the [U.S.-Russian] negotiations in one way or another” have left with the impression that they are confident that Obama’s visit will be productive, but also extremely tense and nervous that something will go wrong. And that “something” has a name. According to Golts,
At one point, an impressively high-level diplomat blurted out, “What if Putin finally loses it completely and screws everything up?”
I go back and forth on how real or meaningful the rumored Putin-Medvedev rift really is, and to what extent Medvedev is really emerging as his own man (or a reformer). We may learn a lot next week.