Tom Donilon, the US National Security Advisor, visited Moscow on April 14-15. It was a long-awaited event. With the relationship becoming more tense, it was expected the official would come with the proposals to give the reset policy a new lease on life, even if the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs finds the term «reset» obsolete, thought it has played its positive role for some time…According to experts, Tom Donilon is perfectly suited for the mission. He is the only top official of the law enforcement team to make it to the US President’s second term symbolizing the succession of the reset policy. Besides, he is close to Mr. Obama. Mr. Donilon attended La Salle Academy, earned a B.A. at the Catholic University of America in 1977, and a J.D. at the University of Virginia in 1985. He served on the Editorial Board of the Virginia Law Review. He has business experience as executive Vice President for Law and Policy at Fannie Mae, the federally-chartered mortgage finance company gone bankrupt. He received his first White House experience in the times of Carter administration. Mr. Donilon also worked as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 1993 to 1996, and served as the Clinton administration's Secretary of State's chief of staff. Those days he was cautious and skeptical towards Russia and its reforms, according to the reminiscences of incumbent US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, who was Donilon’s subordinate. (1) Donilon played an important role while being involved in preparing Obama for the debates with Senator McCain during the incumbent President’s pre-election campaign before the first term. He is an influential member of the structures related to the formation of US foreign policy – the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Trilateral Commission. His own brother Mike is a lawyer and political campaign consultant, he has been appointed to be Counselor to the Vice-President by vice-president Joe Biden. He is married to Catherine M. Russell, who is Chief of Staff to Jill Biden. (2) It makes Tom Donilon a connecting link between the President and his more conservative Vice-President.
The visit had been thoroughly prepared and postponed a number of times. Still, the timing was hardly propitious. The Magnitsky bill was signed into law on April 12, 18 Russia citizens will be barred from entering the United States, and their US bank accounts will be frozen. The reason is their alleged complicity in gross human rights abuses, including the death of Sergey Magnitsky, an Hermitage Capital lawyer, who has died behind bars. According to media, a part of the list, including nine more people, is classified. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, is believed to be blacklisted.
Moscow responded with the same number of people included into the Guantanamo blacklist, including the US citizens forbidden to enter the Russia’s territory for being involved in unlawful detentions abroad, jail tortures, as well as initiators of anti-Russian actions… Before that, Russia had adopted a law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. families. The White House admits the Magnitsky law may complicate the relations with Russia and do it really soon. White House spokesman Jay Carney has said the US realized the law would strain the relations with Moscow but couldn’t delay its publication according to law.
Multiple divisions and differences have accumulated recently, so the mutual zingers trading were just the top of the iceberg. The main thing that divides the two parties is the adherence of Obama’s administration to the goal of establishing US global hegemony, even if it is done by using «mild» or «soft» power. Concerning the US-Russia relations it all goes back to the core policy directions defined by previous administrations, including the NATO expansion to Russia’s borders, the creation of global missile defense, «selected engagement», which means unilateral concessions on the part of Moscow, the interference into Russia’s internal policy under the pretext of «promoting democracy».
Washington wants to impose its will everywhere, even to its own detriment, like in Afghanistan and Iraq, or like it is taking place in Syria. That’s what spikes tensions in the relations with Russia when it comes to tackling international issues. The both sides differ on the causes of conflicts and the ways out. Serious problems have remained concerning the Iran’s nuclear program. The US expresses discontent caused by Russia’s screening non-commercial organizations sources of funds. As a result, the working meetings within the framework of 2+2 (foreign and defense chiefs) are sustained, the civil society group of the U.S.–Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission has stopped its activities.
Many thought that under the conditions, the Thomas Donilon’s mission was doomed. But according to observers, it ran smoothly. To large extent, it was the merit of Russia’s negotiators.
It was also thanks to the fact that, according to official reports, Vladimir Putin joined the talks with Donilon for a short time and Donilon passed over a letter from Obama. The Russian side was represented by the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, Vladimir Putin’s presidential aide, Yuri Ushakov, officials representing the Foreign Intelligence and Federal Security services.
The US team included Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller and US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul. (3)The fact that Russian President took part in the meeting appears to testify to the positive reaction to the message from President Obama, which was delivered by Mr. Donilon to Nicolay Patrushev during consultations. (4)
At the conclusion of the talks, Russian Presidential aide Ushakov stated that the American President’s letter was «couched in quite a constructive tone and contained a number of proposals for deepening bilateral dialogue and cooperation». «Some aspects of the ideas set out in the message have been expressed before, and, in some areas, it contains new elements, which our country will study carefully and respond to appropriately», said Ushakov. In addition, Ushakov mentioned that «the message covers some issues in the military and political areas, including missile defense systems and nuclear arsenals». The aide to the Russian president reported that, «the two sides agreed that Obama and Putin would meet in Northern Ireland during the G8 summit in June, and would then hold full-scale talks during the G20 summit in St. Petersburg». According to Ushakov, some time has passed since President Putin invited President Obama to pay an official visit to Russia. The invitation is still valid. (5) «There are also some considerations in the trade and economic area», Vladimir Putin’s aide said, «and they are quite specific proposals. They are a development of the ideas that Putin expressed at his meeting with Obama in Los Cabos, when he emphasized that what we need to do above all is to create a safety net that will help us at difficult moments, when the political situation creates some kind of difficulties». (6) Ushakov assured journalists that Donilon’s conversation with Putin was of a positive nature, «as are the signals that the Obama administration is now sending us».
Obama’s message contains a number of proposals to deepen bilateral dialogue and cooperation, and Moscow will study them in depth, Ushakov said. Moscow is ready to «pick up» the positive signals that are coming from the Obama administration, he said. Russia has always been willing to develop and deepen its ties with the US without any constraints, Ushakov pointed out. According to him, «All the constraints come from the other side; there are none on our part». As to him, «Moscow understands the importance of these relations and the significance of their influence on the international situation. We realize that this influence will be decisive to a degree in the future». (7)
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said the, «The discussions were comprehensive and constructive. They covered a range of issues». In particular, he pointed out, «As I've said repeatedly, not just in the last week but for my entire time at this podium, we have an important relationship with Russia. We have considerable differences on some issues, and we are clear about those and candid about those, as I just was. But we also have areas where we have and can make real progress where our interests align. And that’s why we engage with the Russian government on a range of issues. That’s why Tom Donilon engaged with Russian officials in his meetings, including President Putin on a range of issues — because we have a lot of important business to do with the Russians. We disagree on some matters, and we are able to cooperate and agree on others». Carney confirmed the information that Mr. Donilon passed a letter from President Obama to President Putin. He refused to elaborate, but noted the issues encompassed a range of issues – including bilateral trade issues, including Iran and North Korea and other matters, Syria. (8)
Steven Pifer, an expert on U.S. – Russia relations with the Brookings Institution, says both sides appear to be looking to move past recent diplomatic tensions. Pifer says the Donilon visit presented an opportunity to more clearly define issues and areas of common interests, such as nuclear nonproliferation, North Korea, Iran and trade and economic relations.
«So the question is, can the sides begin to work more on those issues where they have converging interests, and then you have a relationship where there are some areas where they are working together, and there will be some issues on which we just disagree and it's better to have that combination than have just a relationship that is focusing only on the problem questions», he said. Pifer says it is difficult to point to any progress on one major sticking point in relations – what to do about the situation in Syria. (9) In its turn, the Hill thinks, «That burgeoning good will, however, may be put to the test over the next five months, as both countries still find themselves on opposite sides on a number of pressing national security issues». (10)
Russia is always ready for equal partnership. The tragic events, which took place during the Boston marathon, immediately confirmed the fact that the world is one and there are many problems that could be tackled only together and aside from rivalry. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has condemned the Boston bombing and sent his condolences to US President Barack Obama, offering Washington a helping hand in the terror attack probe. (11)