Getting Along With Obama

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It was not only President-elect Barack Obama's charismatic personality and well-orchestrated election campaign that won him the election. It was also the fact that American voters were tired of the Republican administration. Indeed, the whole world was fed up with the United States' foreign policy of constantly expanding its "strategic spheres of influence." Both the United States and the world needed a change.

During the election campaign, Russia analysts spent a lot of time discussing how U.S.-Russian relations would develop or deteriorate under Obama or Senator John McCain as president. But Obama has a lot on his plate, and U.S.-Russian relations are probably not at the top of his list.

Most important, the U.S. economy is facing the deepest recession in the past 20 years. Unemployment is at a five-year high.

On the foreign policy front, U.S. priorities are Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan. Although Obama has promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, he plans to boost the military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

As for Russia, it is too early to speak of any warming of relations between our two countries under the Obama administration. Judging from his advisers, Obama will surely support the U.S. missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic — particularly after President Dmitry Medvedev's state-of-the-nation address on Wednesday, in which he promised to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. Thus, it is far from certain that Russia and the United States will become closer partners under an Obama administration.

Most likely, both sides will be content to continue their ongoing selective cooperation on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the fight against international terrorism. But the same old disagreements will remain over other former Soviet republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Kosovo, Iran, Iraq and over differing world views.

At the same time, Medvedev said during his address that Russia is not infected with anti-Americanism and does not want a confrontation with the United States. This was underscored when Medvedev emphasized the importance of modernizing Russia, which he said must include fundamental democratic changes. Tensions with the United States and its allies would heavily undermine the country's democratic development.

Confrontation with Russia is clearly not in the interests of the United States either. Obama's administration will not be conducting "cowboy diplomacy" as his predecessors did. Moreover, Obama understands that without Russia it would be difficult to resolve many global problems affecting key U.S. interests. There are certainly people in Obama's inner circle who are not favorably disposed toward Russia, but if they want to bolster U.S. interests and security, they will be forced to cooperate with Russia. The two countries can work together without having to be the best of friends.

And there are concrete reasons why Russia and the United States need to cooperate. The world is becoming more chaotic, and this is dangerous because we are armed to the teeth. Existing measures for ensuring the nonproliferation of nuclear and conventional armaments are ineffective. International institutions created under Cold War conditions are in crisis. The number and scale of conflicts is increasing around the world, including ethnic and religious clashes. Terrorism and poverty remain global powder kegs. State sovereignty gives rise to state egoism. The world community has lost its sense of solidarity and a common conception of good and evil. Foreign policy of nations increasingly favor selfish interests over universal values.

Such a world needs change. But without close cooperation between the leading powers — including the United States and Russia — those changes will not take place.

Mikhail Margelov is chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Federation Council.