112ec4f35ea58210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q4Obama and the dancing bear012ec4f35ea58210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Obama and the dancing bearThe United States must have hoped that Hillary Clinton's trip to Russia would further Barack Obama's ambitions of a thaw in tensions between the Kremlin and Washington, but matters have not gone according to plan.<p>The United States must have hoped that Hillary Clinton's trip to Russia would further Barack Obama's ambitions of a thaw in tensions between the Kremlin and Washington, but matters have not gone according to plan. Despite the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev's apparent openness to stronger sanctions against Iran at the UN General Assembly, his tune has changed in the three weeks since. And while there appears to have been progress towards a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, Russia is preparing to deploy its next-generation warhead, despite the US cancellation of the missile defence shield it was designed to counter: not a wholly positive message.</p>
<p>It is hard to say what exactly is behind Mr Medvedev's apparent about-face, but it is probably partly due to history. Despite attempts by the Obama administration to "reset" relations with Russia, latent mistrust from the Cold War makes real progress difficult to achieve. And a detente is made doubly difficult by a power divide within the Kremlin. Although Mr Medvedev is the nominal head of state, arguably the real authority lies with the hugely popular former president and current prime minister, Vladmir Putin. At the very least, the president would be hard-pressed to make decisions that his prime minister opposed.</p>
<p>That Mr Putin was not in Moscow to meet Mrs Clinton is a statement in itself. He was in Beijing to sign deals worth $3.5 billion and to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, a body designed to counter the dominance of the West in world affairs. While Mr Obama has been encouraging Russia to look West, it has looked mostly East.
This apparently confused foreign policy is partly due to Russia's attempts to reclaim its former global influence, but mostly it is about money. One need only look at the massive loans and long-term gas contracts secured during Mr Putin's trip to China for proof of this. Its reticence to impose stricter sanctions on Tehran is also connected to Moscow's financial interests. Russian companies would almost certainly suffer should the UN impose a stronger sanctions regime on Iran.</p>
<p>This is, of course, a concern for Mr Obama, and the region. Should diplomacy fail to extract nuclear concessions, short of a military strike there are no good options for punishing Tehran without Russian and Chinese support. But Iran's continual flouting of its international obligations is also highly embarrassing to Moscow, so the best leverage the US may have is Iran itself. Russian foreign policy has come to resemble the proverbial dancing bear: powerful but a little clumsy. And as the proverb says, you don't stop dancing until the bear does. Russia has a vital role to play in world affairs, and Mr Obama must help Moscow to find it.</p>