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Russia: Summit Deemed Sunny, But Low On Substance

  • Chloe Arnold

http://gdb.rferl.org/F4E0F01D-614D-4C0E-8DF5-896E61F9AF63_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/F4E0F01D-614D-4C0E-8DF5-896E61F9AF63_mw800_mh600.jpg Even the dogs had a good time (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, July 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- One news item dominated the front pages of Russia's newspapers today -- the camaraderie between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin at their meeting at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on the Atlantic coast.


The main picture on the front page of "Izvestia" shows Putin bending down to nuzzle one of the Bush family dogs as former President George H.W. Bush grins in the background.


"Moskovsky komsomolets" went with a photograph of Putin and the current President Bush waving and smiling broadly after a fishing trip.


Newspaper editorials, too, sounded a positive note.


Writing in "Moskovsky komsomolets," Natalia Galimova said the atmosphere at the summit was relaxed and cheerful, noting that while swordfish was on the menu for the first night's dinner, "the presidents themselves were not brandishing swords."


One Of The Family


"Novye izvestia" went further, describing the meeting as more like a family reunion: "The Bushes received Vladimir Putin as a family member... The atmosphere was simply idyllic. All around, there were children playing on the lawn."


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, it added, "almost threw herself around Vladimir Vladimirovich's neck."


It's a distinct change from Russia's usual media fare, which in recent months has reflected the country's mounting anti-American sentiment.


And Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the meeting itself was a far cry from Putin's infamous speech at an international security conference in Munich earlier this year, when he accused the United States of overstepping its national borders and plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.


"During their joint press conference he made jokes, and there was laughter," Lipman said. "And the fact that he was the only one to catch a fish, and he said 'we caught this fish,' was a sign that he had just as much goodwill as he was ready to show."


"Sending A Signal"


Lipman said the Russian president gave the impression he was open to discussion on U.S.-backed issues he has previously rejected, including a missile-defense system in Central Europe to target rogue nuclear states.


In particular, he offered the United States use of an early-radar system in southern Russia, and suggested negotiations continue through the Russia-NATO Council as a way of bringing European countries in on the issue as well.


"Nobody expected this summit to be substantial, to resolve any of the divisive issues. But Putin did make one more proposal on the antimissile defense," Lipman said.


"I'm not sure this is more realistic than his previous proposal, but in any case, he sent a signal that he is thinking of how to resolve these crises."


Fireworks?


But Yevgeny Volk, the head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, called for caution.


He said the summit was a perfect PR exercise for the Russian president: he can turn on the charm, but remain resolute on key issues.


"I believe that Mr. Putin applied once again what I call 'fireworks diplomacy,' meaning that he tried to put [forward] some imaginative initiative, which actually captures the public's attention, but seems not very acceptable for the United States because [it doesn't] take into account their vital concerns and considerations about the missile-defense requirements," he said.


Volk added that the main television channels, which gave ample coverage to the summit, had by today already switched to other news: the eagerly awaited decision by the International Olympic Committee on where the 2014 winter games will be held.


Russians are hoping they will choose their Black Sea resort, Sochi.


No Advance On Kosovo


One divisive issue that wasn't publicly addressed in Kennebunkport was the future status of the Serb province of Kosovo. Russia has resolutely refused to back a U.S.-supported plan for eventual independence for the predominantly ethnic-Albanian region.


Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. says the Kosovo issue remains useful as a lever in U.S.-Russia relations.


"Kosovo is a tragic problem, but there are about a hundred such problems in the world, conflicts between a defiant ethnic province and the capital," Piontkovsky said. Universal solutions do not exist. Why is it suddenly appearing at the center of Russian-U.S. relations? It's simply because for Russia and its domestic political considerations, it's beneficial to whip up anti-American hysteria."


(RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Shary contributed to this report.)


Rising Russian Nationalism
Orthodox believers and nationalists heckling a gay-rights rally in Moscow in May 2006 (RFE/RL)

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