Overwhelming attention, this week, has been focused on the G20 summit and the argument for international fiscal stimulus. Although Gordon Brown might like us to believe that the resultant communiqué will offer a blueprint capable of saving the world, ‘sherpas’ and officials are even now expending enormous intellectual resources seeking a form of words ambiguous enough to satisfy widely diverging views of the financial crisis. These meetings may represent impressive showcases of draftsmanship by world political elites, but contending domestic agendas dictate that their planet changing potential is grossly exaggerated. Remember Gleneagles, when Tony Blair oversaw an end to African poverty?
That is not to say that important developments are not possible when international political power is suddenly concentrated in one venue. It is just that real progress is unlikely to be reflected in the nuances of an agreed text and it is not necessarily framed by the official agenda of the summit. Arguably the most significant talks which will take place this week occurred yesterday, when the new President of the United States met the relatively new President of Russia. Barack Obama had already exchanged enough honeyed words with Gordon Brown to make even the stoutest stomach a little queasy, but he had not by any means exhausted his reservoir. Dmitry Medvedev was subject to similar effusion.
The relationship between British Prime Ministers and American Presidents is frequently characterised by ostentatious friendship and gushing praise. It might be expected, that between Russian and US heads of state, there would be a more wary approach. Still, as a Guardian editorial observes, warm words are not unprecedented and they do not always correspond with an improvement in the two countries’ working relations. Obama has, however, given every indication that his charm offensive could be accompanied by genuine determination to treat Russia as a respected partner.
By showing willingness to negotiate on missile defence the US President is symbolically rowing back from the carping unilateralism which so blighted George Bush’s relationship with VV Putin. The perception in Russia is that it has not been consulted or respected as an important member of the international community. It is difficult to emphasise enough the extent to which the resultant resentment nurtures a vicious circle which has developed between Moscow and the west.
The world’s economic woes have displayed graphically that Russia is integrated into the global economy and its political life is animated by similar concerns to those which exist elsewhere. Acknowledging that Moscow has legitimate interests, which do not represent a Machiavellian plan for world dominance, is an important step towards creating partnership. The Guardian article refers to a ‘distorting prism of former Soviet satellite states’. It is indeed necessary to take a calm step back from this prism, rather than interpreting the world’s largest state always through its distorting lens. The initial signs are that Obama understands that necessity.