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Sunday, July 5, 2009

The President in Russia: A Preview

Later today, the president will travel to Russia as part of a week trip through Europe and Africa. He'll stop at the Vatican, meet with the other leaders of the G8, and travel to Ghana.

President Obama is scheduled to leave Washington tonight on a week-long trip that will help determine whether his personal popularity and fresh policy approaches can yield concrete results on difficult issues including arms control, missile defense and nuclear nonproliferation.

After seeking support for U.S. policies from allies in Europe and appealing for a new relationship with the Muslim world in Cairo on previous trips, Obama arrives in Moscow tomorrow for his first foray into high-profile, nuts-and-bolts negotiations with the leader of a nation that might be deemed an unfriendly rival.

On Wednesday, Obama will travel to L'Aquila, Italy, where he will meet with leaders of the world's major industrial powers. Climate change and the continued shaky global economy are expected to dominate the agenda. He is also to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.

The president is wise to understand Russia's motive in the region and in the world. Russia is looking to increase its reach both in the region and the world. Russia currently supplies Europe with about 75% of it energy needs. Russia is also a major player in the natural gas market. In fact, Russia may even be angling to lead a group of nations to create an OPEC like cartel in natural gas. In all these ways, Russia will once again become a major player in the world's geopolitics.

Russia is also looking to exert as much control over its former republics as possible. That was put on display last summer when Russia invaded Georgia. Finally, much of Russia's economic wealth is dependent on artificially high oil prices, and in fact, Putin opponent, Garry Kasparov, believes that Putin's entire geopolitical agenda is based on maintaining this artificially high oil prices.

There will be several issues on the agenda between Russian leaders and President Obama: nuclear non proliferation, missile defense, and NATO membership for many former Georgian satellites.

President Obama would be wise to keep all of this in mind as ne negotiates with the Russians. Nuclear non proliferation is his pet issue but from the view of Vladimir Putin, he would gladly give up his nuclear stock pile if it meant the U.S. backing away from a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Missile defense in Eastern Europe make most of the former Russian satellites a lot more secure from the influence of Russia. The same goes for NATO membership of many of these satellites. Putin frankly sees the potential of a natural gas cartel as a significantly more promising way of exerting force than his nuclear stock pile. As such, Russia would gladly sign onto any nuclear non proliferation agreement if it means that the U.S. backs off missile defense and NATO membership for the Ukraine, Georgia and other former Russian satellites. Any such agreement would NOT be in our best interest, nor our friends.

There's more. Israel recently discovered a major natural gas discovery. Israel is now instantaneously a player in the natural gas market. With relations between the U.S. and Israel frosting, Russia could use this as an opportunity to try and include them in any such OPEC style cartel. In fact, the recent visit by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, of Russian descent, could be a sign of warming relations between the two nations. Russia can and will use the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel to their advantage.

Vladimir Putin knows that President Obama is desperate to achieve nuclear non proliferation. Putin is desperate to increase the scope of influence by Russia in the world. Putin could easily puppeteer Obama into an agreement that gives Putin exactly what he wants. Russia has several agendas in the world. They are not America's allies. They must be viewed as threats and rivals and all potential agreements must carefully be viewed with all of this in mind.

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