President Obama's call last year for a reset in relations between Russia and the U.S. was initially met with a good deal of skepticism. When Presidents Medvedev and Obama signed off on the START arms reduction treaty in Prague on April 8, however, the leaders initiated the most tangible product of the year-long reset, which has been far more successful than generally acknowledged.
Since Medvedev and Obama took office, Russia and the U.S. have sought to redefine their historically complex, ever-changing relationship into a stable and symbiotic one. Thanks in part to Mr. Medvedev's commitment to mutual respect and cooperation throughout the START negotiations, we are now seeing evidence of the reset in practice. New START, along with this year's other outgrowths of the reset, prove the ability of the U.S. and Russia to work together towards common goals.
Medvedev, Obama and all the members of the negotiating delegations from both sides worked together throughout the past year to find common ground. What they ended up with was an agreement that both countries believe will increase their own national security interests, as well as promote the global security agenda (PDF).
In fact, President Medvedev said on Thursday that he would visit the U.S. this summer to further discuss cooperation. Following the signing, President Obama said the leaders discussed "the potential to expand our cooperation on behalf of economic growth, trade and investment, and technological innovation, and I look forward to discussing these issues further when President Medvedev visits the United States later this year." The collaborative atmosphere allows us to be cautiously optimistic that headway could be made on important foreign policy issues, such as Iran and Afghanistan.
The ratification process is sure to be challenging from both ends, but the fact that Presidents Medvedev and Obama achieved such a complex and globally significant deal should be lauded as a genuine achievement.
Over the past year, many events served to bolster U.S.-Russian cooperation and validated both sides' push for a new relationship based on respect and mutual security. Obama's first visit to Moscow last July, for example, yielded an agreement by President Medvedev to allow U.S. weapons and personnel to pass through Russian airspace on the way to Afghanistan.
Additionally, European monitors judged this winter's Ukrainian elections to be fair and independent, a victory for Ukraine, Russia and the U.S, as Russia's suspected involvement in Ukrainian politics had been a sticking point for the U.S.
Most recently, Prime Minister Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk came together for the commemoration of the Katyn massacre, a long-running source of tension between Russia and Poland. The leaders attended a tribute in the Katyn forest on April 7 where, 70 years ago, members of the Soviet secret police carried out the mass murder of more than 20,000 Polish officers. Putin's participation in the ceremony was widely viewed as the latest step in an effort to heal relations between the two countries. As Russia's policies toward Eastern Europe remain a closely monitored issue by the U.S., Putin's willingness to partner with Tusk in acknowledgment of the Katyn massacre can be interpreted as another positive result of the reset, serving to remove further obstacles between Russia and the U.S.
The completion of New START is just one of the elements that have helped to facilitate an atmosphere conducive to continued cooperation between Russia and the U.S. Russia has proven that it is willing to come to the table and engage in strategic discussions aimed at elevating global security. The real test will be whether the U.S. and Russia can turn this tangible progress into a safer and more prosperous world.