January 28, 2009 / 1:31 PM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX - The big issues in fraught U.S.-Russian relations

(Reuters) - Russia has suspended plans to station missiles on Europe’s borders after detecting a shift in Washington’s policy on its proposed missile defence shield in Europe, a Russian news agency reported on Wednesday.

Analysts said the move, if confirmed, would show Russia is extending an olive branch to the new administration of President Barack Obama, and could lead to a new dialogue in other areas where Moscow and Washington have differences.

The following are the main disputes that have come to define U.S.-Russian relations:

MISSILE SHIELD

The administration of former President George W. Bush angered the Kremlin with its plan to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and establish a radar base in the Czech Republic.

The Bush administration said the system was needed to protect against rocket attacks by “rogue states,” specifically Iran and North Korea.

Moscow has countered that neither state has missiles with the range to hit Europe, and that the shield is actually designed to intercept Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It has promised to retaliate if the shield plan goes ahead.

NATO EXPANSION

Russia has fiercely resisted proposals — led by the United States — to bring ex-Soviet countries Georgia and Ukraine into the NATO military alliance.

Both states are in a region on Russia’s borders where the Kremlin says it has “privileged interests.” It says further NATO expansion will bring Western military might closer to its borders and hang a new Iron Curtain across Europe.

NATO has said Georgia and Ukraine will join eventually but has declined to give them Membership Action Plans, which would have set out a road map for their accession.

Some analysts say the Obama administration will be less inclined to push for the two countries to join.

STRATEGIC ARMS CONTROL

Moscow and Washington disagree over what should replace the START-1 nuclear arms reduction pact when it expires at the end of this year.

The Bush administration said it wanted to replace the treaty with a less formal agreement with fewer strict verification requirements.

Russia says the treaty is the cornerstone of post-Cold War arms control and that letting it lapse without finding an adequate replacement could upset the strategic balance.

Talks to find a compromise deal foundered in the last days of the Bush administration, so the task of negotiating to resolve the dispute fall to President Obama.

IRAN’S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS

Russia and the United States agree world security will be threatened if Iran acquires nuclear weapons but they disagree over whether Tehran is actively pursuing a weapons programme. Tehran denies seeking a nuclear bomb.

Moscow has used its veto in the United Nations Security Council on a number of occasions to water down or defeat U.S.-led efforts to impose tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Diplomats say that despite their differences, the fact that Russia and the United States consult on the issue has helped maintain pressure on Tehran.

Russia, with its close diplomatic and economic ties to Iran, could play an important role in any attempts by the Obama administration to re-launch a dialogue with Tehran.

AFGHANISTAN

Russia, still haunted by the Soviet Union’s failed invasion of Afghanistan, shares the United States’ interest in seeing stability there.

Russian officials believe that unless the Taliban are contained, a militant Islamist insurgency could spread through the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, to the north of Afghanistan, and ultimately reach Russia.

The Kremlin can help NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan by providing them with a safe transit route across Russia to re-supply their forces. That is especially needed since trucks delivering goods to Western forces in Afghanistan via Pakistan were repeatedly attacked by Taliban militants last year.

Discussions about transit were put on hold when, in response to Russia’s short war with Georgia last year, NATO suspended some contacts with Russia. The alliance said this week it would resume high-level contacts with Russia and Moscow said it was willing to talk again about transit routes.

Obama has said he will send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to turn the tide of the Taliban insurgency, and securing Russia’s help could be a crucial factor in this.

Compiled by Christian Lowe in Moscow; editing by Andrew Roche

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