Amid the fabled sea-and-mountain scenery of Sochi, the two outgoing presidents will share a few hours of candid conversation likely to touch on the cold-war-era START arms control treaty, set to expire next year, and possibly Kosovo and Iran – in addition to missile defense.
But any experts say the accord they plan to sign would be rather thin without substantive progress on at least one major issue.
"The strategic framework is a strange document that sounds impressive, conveys the idea of dynamic forward movement in the relationship, but is legally nonbinding," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading foreign-policy journal. "The problem that faces them is to produce some real achievements."What does all this mean?
Well, will the verification provisions of the START I agreement be renewed? The US intelligence community certainly hope so, although the more ideological members of the President's administration oppose this. Will the Moscow Treaty limits be extended beyond 2012? Weak as they are, that would be a good thing. Will there be progress on the CFE Treaty? Maybe. NATO has showed some give, and it is absolutely in Russia's interest to reduce conventional force levels across the NATO area.
There are a raft of issues that could benefit from some real diplomacy between these two leaders and their successors. After 7 1/2 years of dismissing arms control as worthless, perhaps the Bush administration can undo some of the damage they have done to global security by providing a basis for future nuclear arms reductions before the President retires to Crawford.