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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit Puts Ball In Putin's Court

The U.S.-Russia summit this weekend will be another inauguration for President Vladimir Putin - this time as international leader.

No major breakthroughs are expected in the stalemate over U.S. plans for a missile defense system or other security issues, billed as the summit's main topics. But analysts said the first summit between Putin and President Bill Clinton is important in and of itself, with the potential to set the tone for a new phase in U.S.-Russia relations.

"Putin has to make a two-fold impression," said Viktor Kremenyuk, director of the Institute for USA and Canada Studies. "On the one hand - a man possible to do business with, on the other hand - a man who is firm in his understanding and defense of Russian national interests, thus showing his difference from former President Boris Yeltsin."

Gone are the days when U.S.-Russia summits were seen as exams that Russia's "young democracy" and "market economy" had to pass to get a new IMF loan, and when a personal relationship between "friend Bill" and "friend Boris" was such a decisive factor in international politics.

Under Putin, the Kremlin has felt no need to apologize for events that raise eyebrows in Washington and often seem to coincide with visits by high-level U.S. officials. For instance, the arrest of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky while Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in town, the raid on Media-MOST when her deputy Strobe Talbott was here for talks, and the seizure of an Amnesty International report as summit preparations are in full swing.

Putin's foreign policy style may be defined this weekend, Korgunyuk said, summarizing the new attitude as "If the West doesn't like something, it will have to live with it."

U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Burger also signaled the new nature of top-level contacts. "This is not fundamentally about relationships; it's about interests," Reuters quoted him as saying. "The interests of Russia, the interests of the United States."

Clinton, who is in the final months of his presidency, needs the summit to make sure his much-trumpeted Russia policy is less of a liability in the Democratic presidential campaign. Especially if Vice President Al Gore succeeds him in the White House, the summit could help set the tone for years to come.

"Essentially, it opens a series of summits," Russia's ambassador to the United States, Yury Ushakov, was reported by Itar-Tass as saying Wednesday. "Thus we hope to provide for a smooth transition to President Putin's contacts with the next U.S. president in 2001," the ambassador said.

Clinton is to arrive in Moscow on Saturday afternoon and have a private dinner with Putin at the Kremlin, a U.S. official said Wednesday. Sunday is to be a full day of talks, mainly on security and economics, after which Putin and Clinton are to give a joint news conference.

On Monday morning, Clinton is to address the State Duma - becoming the first U.S. president to be welcomed by a Russian parliament. The rest of Monday's schedule still had to be ironed out by the U.S. advance team. The possibility of a meeting with Yeltsin, with whom Clinton has a history of 19 summits, was "being discussed but was not final yet," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition he not be identified.

Berger said Clinton intended to find a way to express his support for independent media in Russia. One possibility would be to appear as a guest on Ekho Moskvy radio, which is part of the Media-MOST holding company. Alexei Venediktov, the general director of Ekho Moskvy, said the station has invited Clinton to appear but has not received confirmation.

Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, said free speech in Russia is among several issues, along with the war in Chechnya, corruption and money laundering, that are sensitive in the United States and thus Clinton is likely to raise them. "He has to take some high visibility steps in this, which would have an effect on U.S. voters," Volk said.

Both Putin and Clinton were upbeat about the summit Wednesday.

Putin said he expected good results, pointing out that the two countries had worked well together during Clinton's two terms in office and there was no reason to expect a change for the worse.

"In such summits it is impossible to achieve positive results only for Russia or the U.S.A.," Putin was reported as saying in Yaroslavl. "It is possible to seek mutually acceptable decisions for both sides for the good of humankind."

Clinton said the talks could yield more progress than expected toward resolving differences over U.S. development of a missile defense system.

"I would be surprised if we resolve all of our differences on the question of missile defense, although we might make more headway than most people would expect," Clinton said after a meeting with EU leaders in Portugal.

Interfax reported Wednesday that two minor agreements are likely to be signed or at least announced at the summit: one on the utilization of plutonium and the other on the creation of a joint early-warning center.

Talbott is scheduled to conduct preliminary talks in Moscow on Thursday and Friday on the central and most divisive issue of the negotiations - Russia's stern opposition to amending the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would allow Washington to go ahead with its plans to build a national missile defense system.

The possibility of a compromise has been widely discussed. The theory goes like this: In return for Russia's agreement to amend the ABM treaty, the United States would agree to Russia's request to start talks on a START III treaty that would bring the number of warheads on each side down to 1,500.

Yeltsin and Clinton agreed during the 1997 Helsinki summit that after the State Duma ratified START II, which it did last month under pressure from Putin's Kremlin, the third phase of strategic arms reduction talks would envisage a level of 2,000 to 2,500 warheads. U.S. officials have opposed reducing the number further.

Kremenyuk dismissed the possibility of an ABM-START bargain. "It is nonsense for the ignorant," he said in an interview.

Commenting on his government's opposition to national anti-missile systems, Putin said Wednesday, "We never selfishly insist on anything. We propose, we explain our position."

Clinton's national security adviser also has said the summit's purpose was to open a dialogue between Putin and Clinton, in particular on the U.S. plan for a missile defense system.

"This is the first time the president will have had an opportunity to discuss it with President Putin,'' Berger said last week, Reuters reported.

One field that may allow the two presidents to report some progess is the economy.

Putin's economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said Tuesday that t he agenda will include discussion of joint projects and questions of Russia's entrance into the World Trade Organization. He said the U.S. delegation will be briefed on the government's plans for cooperating with the International Monetary Fund, Itar-Tass reported.

But he too stressed that the government would like to depart from the old framework of Russia "reporting" to the United States on its progress in economic reforms.

Putin and Clinton met twice last year but this is Putin's first major summit with a Western leader since his inauguration May 7. v