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Historic Opportunity For U.S.-Russia Relations

The upcoming G20 summit in London, and the first face-to-face meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents, will become Dmitry Medvedev's most important foreign policy event yet, reports CBS News Associate Producer Alexsei Kuznetsov.

The Russian president is full of determination to pursue a wide diplomatic agenda – from coping with the global financial crisis to mending fences with the new us administration.

Medvedev's summit with Barack Obama is expected to provide a historic opportunity for the U.S. and Russia to re-establish trust and work toward a genuine strategic partnership on thorny issues like missile defense, non-proliferation and the war in Afghanistan.

"Without trust, no issues can be resolved. Especially issues as important as those that divide the two big nations," says Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "So, I think that there is indeed a desire to show good will and at least rhetorically, at least on the surface to demonstrate that there is a desire to improve the relations."

But should Russia's words be taken at face value? Is the man saying them capable of following through on his promises?

"What we have seen lately has been a series of friendly moves of friendly statements or signs, almost immediately followed by something not so friendly," Lipman says.

(AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Last November, President Medvedev was among the G20 leaders who signed a joint declaration in Washington, vowing to reject protectionist measures and not to create new barriers in trade.

Three weeks later, Russia's cabinet issued a decree doing exactly what Medvedev promised not to do. In a move to protect the country's struggling auto industry, the Russian government dramatically raised customs duties on imported cars.

Watch Alexsei Kuznetsov's report on what the G20 summit could mean for U.S.-Russia relations.
The Kremlin likes to repeat that Russia is a reliable energy partner. But three months ago – when negotiations with Ukraine broke down President Medvedev gave the order to shut off all gas supplies to Ukraine, including transit gas to Europe. As a result, thousands of households were left freezing in the middle of an unusually harsh winter.

Last February, Medvedev expressed optimism about the future of U.S.-Russia relations, signaling Moscow's readiness for cooperation and dialog with Washington.

"The conversation should be open, honest, and I hope productive," Medvedev said. "Our colleagues have sent signals that they want to work together. We are also looking forward to doing that."

But at the same time, Russia appears to be seriously complicating the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan – a $2 billion Russian loan to Kyrgyzstan – likely influenced the decision to close an important U.S. air base there.

Medvedev may be bringing to London the Kremlin's proposals on anything from boosting cooperation to introducing a new global reserve currency. But before going ahead and pressing the "reset" button on U.S.-Russia relations, President Obama should carefully study his counterpart's track record and remember that words – just as appearances – may be deceiving.

In 2001, President George W. Bush said that when he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye he "got a sense of his soul." After that, U.S.-Russia relations proceeded to deteriorate to their lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, the future of U.S.-Russia relations is in the hands of two new presidents. They won't get a second chance to make a first impression on each other, and their first personal meeting may set the tone of these relations for years to come.

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