On Monday (May 13), Washington and Moscow announced that they had reached agreement on a strategic arms treaty Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush can sign when they meet in Moscow later this month. The treaty will require the two sides to cut their arsenal of nuclear warheads from 5,000-6,000 to 1,700-2,200 by 2012. The very next day came word that Russia and NATO had agreed to create a new council, on which Moscow would sit as an equal with the Western alliance’s member countries. Not a bad two days for President Vladimir Putin, at least in terms of getting his decision to tilt Russia’s foreign policy westward externally validated.

True, the Russian side’s reaction to the arms agreement breakthrough was something less than euphoric, largely because Moscow had been unable to convince Washington to budge from its insistence that decommissioned warheads be permitted to be stored rather than destroyed–a position that caused Russian nationalists, hardline and otherwise, much irritation. On top of all this, the treaty is good for only ten years and either side can opt out with ninety days’ notice. Nor was the NATO agreement greeted with wild celebration in official Moscow, particularly because it was generally viewed as a kind of consolation prize to Russia for the NATO’s impending expansion eastward, which–much to Moscow’s chagrin–will include admission for the Baltic states. Still, both the arms agreement and the new relationship with NATO, if less than earth-shattering, are nonetheless important symbols of Russia’s continuing integration into the community of developed nations, which has apparently become Putin’s top priority. In any case, given the correlation of forces in today’s world, the Kremlin had little choice but to grin and bear it.