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Changing the Tone

The Financial Times has an editorial on next Wednesday’s first meeting between Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.

The two sides are now accelerating talks on a new strategic arms reduction treaty to replace Start 1 before it expires in December. While Russia and the US will retain huge arsenals, the planned cuts are significant given the grave concern about nuclear proliferation, not least in relation to Iran. There must be no illusions: full nuclear disarmament is a distant dream. But US-Russian readiness to make cuts is a good precedent. As elsewhere, Mr Obama is changing the tone, and by changing the tone creating openings for more concrete developments.

But, the nuclear issue aside, it would be wrong to hope for many early gains in US-Russian ties. Mutual mistrust runs deep. Russia remains a corrupt authoritarian state with limited respect for political rights and a record of bullying its neighbours. Even if the US now refrains from criticising Russia’s internal affairs, serious differences will remain over Moscow’s claims to dominate the former Soviet republics. The west must not give Russia a free hand in the region: the post-Soviet states must have the right to make their own political choices, including co-operating with the European Union and, perhaps at some future date, joining Nato.