Ban Finally Makes It to Moscow

APMedvedev meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday that the UN was the only global body with the authority to resolve international disputes.

Ban, for his part, congratulated Medvedev on his presidential election win and complimented Putin on his role in "governing this country to success."

The exchange of niceties could not, however, sugarcoat rifts between the Kremlin and the UN chief, analysts said.

Ban's openly pro-U.S. position has irked Russia, which supported his candidacy, as has what even he admitted was a long wait for his first official visit to Moscow.

"I wanted to say that I, of course, should have come to Russia much earlier," Ban told Medvedev in comments released by the president-elect's office. He added, however, that Russia was among the first countries he visited immediately after he being elected secretary-general in October 2006, although he had yet to take office.

The three-day visit is Ban's first since assuming his duties in January 2007.

The situation in Kosovo, Russia's plans to host a Middle East peace conference, and problems in the strife-torn Sudanese region of Darfur were expected to top the agenda of talks between Ban and the Kremlin, the UN said this week.

Moscow has been unhappy about Ban's neutrality on Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in February. The United States, France and Britain are among the countries that have recognized Kosovo's independence, while Russia has called the declaration illegitimate.

Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said the Kremlin's sentiments were understandable.

"But [Ban] is forced to align himself with those holding the trump cards," he said, referring to the United States and other members of the NATO block.

At his meeting with Putin, Ban greeted him in Russian -- "Thank you Mr. President" -- and said he was grateful for the support Russia had given to the United Nations, expressing hope that it would continue to do so in the future.

In an earlier meeting with Medvedev, he said he agreed with him that attempts to resolve international disputes outside the global body were counterproductive.

"You are right that no nation, however powerful and resourceful it is, can resolve all problems of the modern world by itself," Ban said.

Just over a month before his trip to Russia, Ban professed his admiration for the United States.

"The United Nations has no better friend than America," Ban told former U.S. President George Bush during his first visit to Texas on Feb. 29.

"As a boy growing up in South Korea, I was inspired by America and its noble ideals," he said at the Bush Presidential Library, in comments released by the United Nations. "American soldiers saved my country from communist aggression. They were so friendly to me and so generous."

Kommersant cited sources Wednesday who said Medvedev would tell Ban that Russia was willing to raise its annual UN contributions to roughly the same level as those of the United States, which would mean an enormous, 20-fold spike in the fees. In 2006, the United States contributed $423 million to the organization, while Russia gave $21.2 million, Reuters reported.

The Foreign Ministry's department of international organizations and a spokesman at Russia's permanent mission to the United Nations both declined immediate comment on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Ban is scheduled to meet with Russian businessmen and deliver an address at the launch of the UN Global Compact's Russia network. He was also to meet with State Duma First Deputy Chairman Oleg Morozov and Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Alexy II. He will also make an address at Moscow State University and speak at a joint briefing with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He will leave Moscow after an internal UN meeting Friday.