No breakthroughs, but a definite change in tone was apparent as Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush met in Sochi on Sunday for their last face-to-face meeting as presidents.
“I’d like to thank the US president that he responded to my proposal to meet here, in Sochi so as to sum up the results of our nearly eight-year joint work,” Putin told a joint news conference following the meeting, which saw the two leaders sign a “strategic framework” pact which calls for deeper cooperation. “I believe that George will agree that this result is positive on the whole,” Putin added. No deal emerged to temper Russian opposition to US plans to install ten anti-missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.
Bush repeated his insistence that “the system is not aimed against Russia”.
But Putin said Russia wants to be an equal partner in the globe-girdling anti-missile network planned by the Pentagon or at least have permanent on-site inspectors who are able to verify that it cannot be used to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
He said that discussions will go on in efforts to find a compromise that will defend the world against terrorist nuclear missile threats without undermining Russia’s security. “I am cautiously optimistic about a final agreement. It seems to me that this is possible,” Putin said.
In an unexpected development the two leaders agreed to revive stalled arms control talks, which could lead to extending the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, due to expire next year. Experts say the friendly tone and mutual respect on display in Sochi is sharply at odds with the harsh, mistrustful rhetoric that has marked much of the two leaders’ relationship over the past eight years. “We spent of a lot of time in our relationship to get rid of the cold war. It’s over,” Bush said.
Bush also met for 20 minutes Putin’s successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who is set to be inaugurated on May 7. He described him to journalists as “a smart fellow”.