Is the Kremlin turning dovish in its most recent confrontation with the West? After two months of high tensions following Russia's invasion of Georgia, there are signs that President Dmitry Medvedev is finally trying to rebuild diplomatic bridges.
Russia's already agreed to pull back from self-declared "buffer zones" around the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and last week it allowed 200 EU observers to start supervising that withdrawal. An informal working group, led by Medvedev's deputy chief of staff, has also been discussing measures to repair damaged relations. One olive branch under consideration, according to Kremlin-connected commentator Konstantin Remchukov, is to allow more Western participation in Russian gas- and oil-exploration projects like the Shtokman gas field under the Arctic Sea. Another possibility would be to fire some of the more-hawkish ministers, notably the abrasive Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Moscow's retreat has been spurred by a lack of foreign support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as a stock-market crash following the invasion. The crash showed that Russia is inextricably linked to the world financial system, which is dominated by Western money. Still, Russia refuses to renounce its recognition of the breakaway republics, or its insistence on placing military bases there. But it seems the Kremlin is realizing that it has too much to lose from a total breakdown in relations with what Putin still calls "our Western partners."