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Putin's invite to Obama: a formality or a good omen?

Many in Moscow see Putin's invitation to Obama to visit Russia as diplomatic decorum unlikely to warm a chilly relationship. But others suggest that the Russian leader may be ready to deal.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (l.) shakes hands with the head of Russia's presidential council on human rights, Mikhail Fedotov, during a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow Monday.

Yuri Kochetkov/AP

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Barack Obama has agreed to hold a summit meeting in Moscow soon, after Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly called him up Tuesday night and extended the invite.

Some Russian experts say it's a measure of how quickly unusual things can happen in a political system in which a single figure, Mr. Putin, holds so many strings of power in his hands.

The prevailing view in Moscow is that the bilateral US-Russia agenda is too badly stalemated, especially on the critical issue of missile defense, for any breakthroughs to occur in what most agree is an increasingly troubled relationship. In this view, Putin is just going through the motions of making nice with the newly reelected Mr. Obama, and no one should expect anything more than a few photo ops and well-meaning rhetoric from the meeting, whose date has yet to be set.

But others argue that fresh and dramatic departures may be coming, and that people should have guessed it last March when an open mic at a Seoul, South Korea, meeting caught Obama telling then-President Dmitry Medvedev to ask Putin to "give me space" until after the November US presidential election. "This is my last election," Obama told Mr. Medvedev. "After my election I have more flexibility."

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