In a political culture that runs on signals, this one was not hard to read. When Mr. McFaul arrived in Moscow in mid-January, he was met by a Bronx cheer from Russian television — most notably a segment that ran on Channel One’s prime time newscast, titled “Specialist in Revolution,” that accused Mr. McFaul of having been sent to Moscow to topple the government of Vladimir V. Putin. The cozy days of the “reset” were evidently over.
But an abrupt change in tone was set last week, muting the anti-American talk that began 11 months ago, when Mr. Putin first accused the State Department of stirring up protests against his rule. The shift has been acutely felt in the United States Embassy, which, as relations foundered over the past year, found that senior Russian businesspeople regularly refused invitations.
By contrast, a Tuesday luncheon at Mr. McFaul’s residence was attended by a half-dozen major entrepreneurs and industrialists.
There is no doubt about it: a channel of communication has opened between Moscow and Washington, at least for a while. It suggests, first, that the Russian authorities were deeply relieved that Mitt Romney did not win, and, second, that in Russia, story lines can be changed and harsh language switched off when there are deals to be made.
“It’s the same pattern, both here and in the U.S. — the election campaign is a period when any rational discussion is absolutely out of the question,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. “Both sides know that the election campaign is something special. So you don’t need to pay special attention to what has been said.”
Mr. Putin takes a pragmatic approach in his dealings with the United States, a fact underlined by the record of the last year. He cast domestic political opposition as largely the work of the State Department and its hirelings. Then he took steps to institutionalize the distrust of foreigners, like a law requiring nonprofit groups receiving overseas financing to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and expanding the legal definition of treason to include assisting international organizations.
But around the same period, at the risk of irritating voters during a tense presidential campaign, he agreed to let NATO use a Russian airfield as a logistics hub for moving troops and cargo into Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has done his own balancing act with the reset policy, which “delinked” American protests over Russia’s human rights record from bilateral efforts on Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear nonproliferation.
This worked well in 2009, when Dmitri A. Medvedev, then Russia’s president, was introducing cautious reforms. But a new round of cooperation will occur against a more contentious background, as Russia enforces restrictive new laws and begins criminal prosecutions of political activists.
“This continued delinkage is going to be put to the test,” said Samuel Charap, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s not going to be as politically possible.”
Though the list of bilateral projects is thinner than it was four years ago, Russia is in the position to provide Mr. Obama with something fundamental to his desired legacy: a deep second round of nuclear cuts. United States negotiators argue that Russia has an interest in trimming its aging stockpile, in part because it is investing trillions of rubles in modernizing its nuclear forces.
So far, the Russian side has said it will discuss cuts only if it has a guarantee that a planned European missile defense system would not be so extensive as to eliminate Moscow’s nuclear deterrent. But Mr. Charap, who recently left the State Department, said Russian language had been softening.
“I think they are waiting for us to put something on the table,” he said. “And waiting for the boss to opine.”
Mr. Putin has asked for a personal meeting with Mr. Obama, and in a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Mr. Obama accepted his invitation to visit Russia, the Kremlin announced. It will be the third meeting between the two, and — at least for Mr. Putin — a pivotal one. Their relationship got off to a sour start in 2009, when Mr. Obama publicly praised Mr. Medvedev at Mr. Putin’s expense, saying Mr. Putin “has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.” In May, Mr. Putin stayed home from the Group of 8 summit meeting, which Mr. Obama had promoted as an opportunity “to spend time” with the Russian leader.
Mr. Putin was said to be disappointed by the Western reaction to his decision to return to the presidency last year, and by Washington’s criticism of Russia’s handling of antigovernment protests, which was seen, an official said, “not to be very loyal.” But analysts say he has a healthy respect for Mr. Obama, in part because of what happened at their first meeting: Mr. Obama listened quietly to his litany of complaints about United States policy and went on to overhaul missile defense plans in Europe, said Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
“I do not think that Obama’s rather reserved nature is an obstacle to forming a solid — but not buddy-type — relationship,” he said. “For Putin, the key to a lasting relationship is: you promise something, you deliver.”
For now, Moscow will simply have to adjust to the new friendliness. Mr. McFaul has been busy this week saying thank you — to the Ministry of Emergencies, which has pledged to deliver 27 tons of blankets for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and to television viewers who wrote to compliment him on his late-night talk-show appearance.
It would be a good idea to enjoy the honeymoon, said Mr. Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs. He noted that in the post-Soviet era, Russian and American leaders have made it something of a postelection ritual to turn over a new leaf. But it never lasts, he said.
“If we look at the relationship since 1991, it’s the same cycle all the time, between kind words and inspiration and deep crisis,” Mr. Lukyanov said. “Yeltsin, Clinton, Bush, Putin, Obama, it’s the same pattern.”
Original article on The New York Times