Should Ray of Ray’s Hell Burgers ever be at a loss for an eye-catching menu item, he can certainly add a ‘reset burger’. Unless you are entirely impervious to news of a non-verbal nature or have been cruelly denied media access these past days, it seems unlikely that you will have missed the numerous pics of Presidents’ Medvedev and Obama’s fast food pitstop in Arlington, Viriginia. The media has naturally been delightedly waxing metaphorical about burger bonhomie and a fast-food fast-forward. Nor has Coca Cola has been oblivious to the gastronomically-themed detente, seizing the opportunity to sell its version of a traditional Russian soft drink called kvass in the New York City area. What we could suggest is that some critics might consider burger diplomacy to be rather an apt epithet for a relationship that is, in the moment, enticingly satisfying, but in the long term, possibly artery-blocking: as the Russian president put it, ‘not quite healthy, but very tasty’.
Other journalists have also reminded readers to consider that belief in the import of an Obama-Medvedev meeting is predicated, to some extent, on the notion that the President has the power to change relations. Simon Tisdall in the Guardian encourages us to take this news, like french fries, with a pinch of salt. Whilst Medvedev was hobnobbing with the governator and chewing the fat with his friend Obama on Capitol Hill, Putin has been engaged in iron-fisted wrangling with Belarus’ Alexander Lukaschenko over gas:
President Dmitry Medvedev this week stepped up his campaign to convince the west that Russia is changing and can now be counted on as a reliable political and business partner. But even as he toured California and talked of creating a Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley backed by foreign investment, the senior partner in Kremlin Inc, prime minister Vladimir Putin, was up to his old tricks.
Another point is that the well-devised photo-op blitz has put the whole ‘no news is good news theory’ into practice, as this article in the Washington Post points out. A happy cloud of agreements on chicken exports, the Boeing deal, a $1 billion Ciscoinvestment and backing for Russian accession to the WTO,wafted in the background, and as Owen Matthews points out in an analysis in Newsweek, trade deals are never inseparable from politics, but nonetheless there seemed to little of groundbreaking import regarding meatier, more substantive diplomatic issues such as human rights or political reform. Doubtless they would have soured an otherwise enjoyable meal. Matthews writes:
The problem, though, is that all this good will has been bought almost exclusively at Obama’s expense. The United States disappointed allies in Eastern Europe by scrapping plans to station missile-defense batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic, all in order to please Moscow. The Russian occupation of Georgia, America’s best friend in the former Soviet Union, has effectively been acknowledged as a fait accompli by Washington, again to please the Kremlin. At the same time, Washington has remained silent about increasing crackdowns on freedom of assembly inside Russia and the ongoing second trial of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
What will be on the table is a bevy of potential business deals. That suits both sides: from Washington’s point of view, the more Russia is integrated into the U.S. and European economies, the less likely it will be to revert to Putin-era confrontation. And from the Russian side, much of the recent friendly tone adopted by Russia’s leaders is motivated by an urgent need for Western capital and know-how with which to revamp Russia’s moribund economy. Medvedev is due to visit California’s Silicon Valley to drum up investments for his pet project, an “innovation city” outside Moscow. Russian Technologies also recently announced the $4 billion purchase of 50 Boeing 737s for Aeroflot; more large deals will doubtless be announced this week to give Medvedev a public-relations fillip at home.
Read whole Newsweek article here.