Is it a mistake for President Barack Obama to only meet with President Dmitry Medvedev? Andrew Kuchins thinks so. From the Moscow Times:
There should be no illusions about where ultimate decision-making authority in Russia resides today. The “tandem” is a fiction, of course. Obama must operate under the assumption that on any issue of importance to him — from nuclear arms reductions to Afghanistan to Iran — the ultimate arbiter for Russian policy is Putin.
This does not mean that meeting with Medvedev is a waste of time, but it must be assumed that every position taken by Medvedev has been blessed by his mentor. Obama must also harbor no illusion that the United States can take measures in Moscow to empower Medvedev or his Western-leaning colleagues in the government. (…)
Since Putin is clearly the most important and powerful figure in Russia, I hope that Obama does not shy away from engaging with him in an environment where they can have a real discussion. Obama should go to Putin’s dacha and take a walk in the woods — with or without translators — and say what needs to be said in a clear and forceful way.
I like this last idea of the private talk. With so much emphasis placed upon Russia’s leadership needing to “look tough” in front of the new administration, as well as the general consensus that the Kremlin is unsure of what it wants beyond respect, this approach could help to strip away some of these extenuating factors.