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Analysis & Opinion
09.12.08 Dear Dima
Comment by Vladimir Frolov

Three weeks before the U.S. presidential election, Vladimir Frolov wrote a column in the form of an imaginary letter from Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev to the U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. Since then, Obama has been elected president, while Medvedev delivered his first State of the Nation Address and made his first trip to Washington, where he tried to procure an audience with Obama. Time has now come for Obama’s return letter to Medvedev. As before, the email addresses used here are purely fictitious.

From: Barack Obama at bbma@gmail.com
To: Dmitri Medvedev at Medved@yandex.ru

Dear Dima,

I am writing to you using my private email account that even my wife is not aware of, and on a notebook borrowed from my daughter. You see, since I got elected president the Secret Service confiscated my Blackberry (yes, I used to have a Blackberry) and they refused to let me put a notebook in the Oval Office for security reasons. I am now supposed to dictate all of my emails to my assistants, so that they be saved for presidential records and then published for all to see (it’s the law). Hence the delay in answering your email.

I appreciate your support for my candidacy. It was a long shot, but somehow I pulled it off. I still can’t believe I’m “prez,” something you probably felt too until the financial crisis hit Russia.

Dima, your people asked for our early meeting before my inauguration. I can understand your impatience. I am now more popular than Jesus Christ, and a lot of foreign leaders are jumping out of their pants to get an exclusive meeting with me, so that a part of my popularity rubs off on them. I will not let that happen. Nothing personal. America has one president at a time.

We will meet when we have something to discuss in a way we can agree on. I do not see the point of holding a meeting which you would use for empty grandstanding, allowing you to look tough at my expense. Which brings me to my point.

Dima, you are making it hard for us to understand what it is exactly that you want. I am referring to your State of the Nation Address and your magic mystery tour to Venezuela and Cuba. If your objective in the speech was to make people shake their heads in bewilderment, it succeeded beyond expectations. But if the intention was to send a reassuring message to the international community, it failed – it made you look like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez.

I hear your team deliberated for some time whether you should send me a warm, hand-written note to congratulate me on election day, or an impersonal diplomatic cable. You wound up sending me a public ultimatum on missile defense. Your Iskander threat sounded like an attempt to publicly blackmail me out of missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe.

Now, I am not a big fan of George Bush’s pet projects, and I am not at all convinced that the missile defense in Poland would be the solution to all of America’s security problems. I want some serious proof that the damn thing really works, and that there is no better way to stop Iran from putting a nuke on an American or a European city.

But by laying down this marker, you made it much more difficult for my administration not to proceed with the missile defense deployments. To cancel the project now would be like buckling to Moscow’s pressure. This is not what U.S. presidents are used to doing. I’ll tell you what - blackmailing a U.S. president-elect is not the smartest way to reboot the relationship.

Dima, I do not understand what it gives you to schmooze with the likes of Chavez or Castro. Perhaps, Chavez will buy some Russian weapons and pay for them in bolivars (wonder what bank will convert those bolivars into rubles?) And Castro might give you another radar base. But how will it help Russia modernize? And how can you trust them if they do not even want to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

And what’s up with the Russian navy in the Caribbean? Since when have there been doubts about the balance of military power in the Caribbean? I am glad your boys got some decent sunshine, but next time you want to send the Russian navy to warm waters, send them to my home state of Hawaii. I may well come down on vacation to give your boys surfing lessons.

Dima, I agree that so much in this world depends on whether our nations work together or work against each other. But that requires a mindset geared to solving problems, not to grandstanding on them.

I also agree that under Bush, America has lost a lot of its credibility and has failed to consult with other nations to make them work together to meet global challenges. My administration will seek out the views of others and work with those who are prepared to join the team.

There is a broad and rich agenda for Russia and the United States to cooperate, and I will move as fast as I can to reengage with you on strategic arms control and WMD proliferation. But I will need a partner who wants to solve problems, not make flowery proposals that are impossible to implement or would create more problems if they do get implemented.

Many people in Washington have been scratching their heads to decipher what you meant by your proposal to sign a new Pan-European security treaty. We can’t figure out what you guys are after other than to devalue NATO and dissolve the OSCE. But for what purpose? Do you want another OSCE, or do you want a European United Nations where Russia, Germany, France and Italy hold the controlling stake?

Judging from the way your people have been describing your proposal, it looks more like an old-fashioned non-aggression pact. We had one a hundred years ago –the Kellog-Briyan Pact—and it did not work. This is so pass?.
I have a better idea. What if we invite Russia to join NATO, before any other enlargement? Would you take this offer up seriously (I hope we convince other NATO folks that it makes more sense to have Russia in NATO, than against NATO) or would you just dismiss it out of hand as our propaganda? Joining NATO gives you veto power over security decisions in Europe and beyond, while the new treaty, if it ever gets to that, will only give you a microphone. Your pick.

Dima, you might find my administration difficult to deal with because, unlike Bush, we might be prepared to call Russia’s bluff. You will have to show that you can bring value to the deal, that you are prepared to compromise and listen to our concerns just as we would be prepared to take into account yours. It’s a two-way street.

A productive relationship should be built on trust, which is now missing between Russia and America. We in the United States should stop treating Russia as an Evil Empire, while you should stop blaming America for all of your nation’s problems.

We have not destroyed your stock market! You have wasted years to develop the Russian financial system to make it less dependent on the stampedes of international speculators. And we have not forced your oligarchs to borrow abroad against collateralized equities with inflated values, so that now you have to rescue them with state money.

America is in a serious mess, indeed. But America can rescue itself without Russia, while Russia cannot rescue itself without America. So stop listening to idiots who promise an inevitable demise of America. Start working with us to pull us all out of this global economic disaster.

I hope you will get it all figured out by the time we meet early next year. In the meantime, whenever you feel sleepless in the Kremlin, drop me a line at my secret email address.

Best,
Barack
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