Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Analysis: The cost of friendship

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Inside the Beltway, Washington folk are euphoric when a foreign leader becomes an ally, and such was the case when Russia's Vladimir Putin took the American side in the war on terrorism shortly after Sept. 11.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has proclaimed a sea change of historic proportions in Russian foreign policy — and there has been no shortage of media commentators who agreed.

There are reasons for such a view. Putin declared his support for the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks shortly after they occurred. When Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned the former Soviet republics of Central Asia not to offer their territory for American use, Putin overrode him and told the republics they should cooperate with the United States. Putin thereby accepted a U.S. military presence in a region Moscow views as its very own sphere of influence.

Putin also offered to share intelligence on the situation in Afghanistan, and there was a noticeable softening of tone in Moscow's opposition to probable NATO expansion up to Russia's border.

On the American side, concessions have also been made. One is the toning down of criticism of the Russian military campaign in Chechnya, although it continues to be conducted with a brutality worthy of continued attention. The Bush administration also postponed tests of components of the proposed anti-missile defense system that the Russians dislike so much. The White House also let Congress know it was time to end the Johnson-Vanik resolution on trade with Russia, which was adopted when the Soviet Union was restricting Jewish emigration in the 1970s. Although Johnson-Vanik has no practical effect on trade with Russia, it is regarded as an unsightly relic of the Cold War.

However, as next week's summit between President Bush and Putin at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, has come closer, a note of caution has been heard increasingly on both sides.

When Putin was interviewed Wednesday evening by Barbara Walters on ABC, he spoke both about taking a flexible position on the ABM treaty and, in regard to missile defense, on "building international security as we understand it," that is, as Russia understands it.

A week before the Putin interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, warned that two grand illusions have grown up that obscure a realistic appreciation of the global consequences of Sept. 11. "The first," he said in the Washington Post, "is that the emergence of a broad coalition against terrorism marks a shift away from U.S. preponderance in world affairs toward genuinely cooperative interdependence."

"The second is that since Sept. 11 Russia has made a historic choice to become part of the U.S.-led West, thereby becoming America's ally."

On Nov.2, the same day his comments appeared in the Post, Izvestia published an interview with Brzezinski in which he said it was still not clear if Russia is willing to become a partner of the United States in building a more stable global order, or if it is still interested in diminishing American influence because Moscow seeks to create a multi-polar world

It remains an open question, Brzezinski said, whether Russia has made a historic choice in favor of the West or is seeking to exploit America's preoccupation to extract specific concessions.

At a recent meeting in Moscow leading Russian foreign policy experts drew up a long list of the concessions Putin should exact from Bush at the summit. One prominent participant confidently declared, "America is ready to pay a serious price to secure support."

Brzezinski also noted Putin's recent appeal to Germany to join Russia in creating a European global power that would stand on its own, apart from America.

At George Washington University, situated in Washington near the State Department, Muriel Atkin, who teaches history, dismissed the Russian offer to share intelligence. "The idea that Russian intelligence is going to provide the U.S. with a lot of useful information assumes that Russian intelligence, a) understands what's going on in that part of the world (Afghanistan) and, b) is actually going to pass off to the U.S. an accurate reading on what's going on there. And I think those are entirely unwarranted assumptions."

Condoleezza Rice, who holds the office Brzezinski once did, has warned, "We (Americans and Russians) believe that we are understanding each other better, that we're making progress, but I would caution against expecting any particular deal at any particular time."

Other administration officials warned against expecting too much from the meeting and it has come to look as if the palaver over current issues on which Washington and Moscow differ will continue well after Putin leaves Crawford. Secretary Powell has already announced he will be going to Russia in December.

Substantial advances in Putin becoming more of a pal depend not only on what he and the Bush administration can agree on. Another factor is how what may be agreed on looks in Moscow.

The trouble is Putin has opened a breach between himself and much of the Moscow elite. Pavel Felgenhauer, a much-respected Russian writer on military and political affairs, says the foreign policy elite is deeply disturbed not only by Putin's lining up with the United States but by two other moves of great symbolic importance. One was that he has announced he is giving up Russia's electronic eavesdropping post in Cuba. The other was his ending the Russian navy's use of the base at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam.

The result, says Felgenhauer, is that there is open talk in Moscow's political circles of grave mistakes by Putin, of the Kremlin unilaterally surrendering strategic assets, and of sacrificing Russia's true national interests in a fatal attempt to integrate with the corrupt West.

If, along with the base in Cuba, Putin abandons the ABM Treaty and with it Moscow's opposition to NATO enlargement, while continuing to support the war on terrorism, Russia may indeed become a close, long-term ally of the West, Felgenhauer wrote. He sees great advantages in this for Russia. "Ongoing economic reforms that have already drastically improved the local business environment make Russia ready to undergo a much-needed revolution of modernization by absorbing a lot of Western capital and technologies."

But to make this come about, says Felgenhauer, "Putin will have to replace a large part of his elite and intimidate the rest into total submission."

"Show trials, arrests and the ouster of high officials are inevitable, as has happened many times before in Russia when the country made a sudden U-turn and the existing elite was dismissed."

Bush can help Putin at home and give substance to a sea change in Russian policy. The president can do this by giving Putin something big to take home with him. It may be more flash and filigree than substance, but it must get across the message that being nice to the Americans pays off.

On Thursday, Bush told newsmen he had a number in mind for cutting back on strategic missiles, but would not say what the number was. It looks like this may be the goodie that Putin can take away with him and then follow up by making what he thinks is an appropriate cut in Russian missiles.

Bush might also be helpful in the area of trade, forgiving debts or arranging for mutually acceptable interpretations of the ABM treaty. There are a number of things that might be done to make Putin look good — without getting too much into the details, where the devils are.

Back to the Top    Next Article