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

New York Times
November 12, 2001
Transforming Relations With Russia

After a whirlwind of diplomatic meetings over the weekend in New York, President Bush turns his attention this week to one nation and one leader. Mr. Bush and President Vladimir Putin of Russia will spend three days at the White House and Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas trying to strengthen the surprisingly cordial relationship that has developed between the two men and their two nations in recent months. Though obstacles remain, Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin seem within reach of decisions that could open a new era of cooperation.

Mr. Putin gave a crucial boost to relations after Sept. 11 by providing strong support for Mr. Bush's campaign against international terrorism. He cleared the way for American military forces to use bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Central Asian nations that border Afghanistan and were once Soviet republics. Moscow has also helped to arm guerrilla forces in Afghanistan. In the talks that begin tomorrow, the two leaders can enhance their cooperation against Osama bin Laden and other terrorist threats and work to narrow their differences on arms control and other matters.

Although advisers to both presidents caution that no formal arms control agreement is likely this week, the two sides are moving ever closer to an accord. Moscow is apparently ready to accept the missile defense testing that the Bush administration wants to conduct, as long as Washington does not formally repudiate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. The treaty can probably be preserved if the two leaders agree on language permitting limited defensive systems. It would be a grave error for Washington to walk away from a treaty that has helped keep nuclear peace for three decades.

Agreement is also near on trimming arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons by more than two- thirds, probably to somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 warheads apiece. Currently, the United States has about 7,000 and Russia a little under 6,000. Such reductions would substantially reduce nuclear dangers and costs, including the risk of a warhead being accidentally launched or stolen as Russia's military infrastructure decays.

While they're at it, Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin ought to talk about ways to improve the inadequate security for Russia's nuclear weapons and materials. President Bush, who warned last week of Osama bin Laden's efforts to obtain nuclear bomb ingredients, should support Congressional efforts to add $100 million to programs that help Russia safeguard stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium.

Russia's relations with Iraq and Iran remain a source of friction. Iraq has exploited Russian support to evade international weapons inspections and cheat on United Nations sanctions. Russia has hoped that lobbying for eased sanctions will bring it new business contracts and repayment of Iraq's Soviet- era debt. These commercial considerations must be subordinated to the urgent need to curb Iraq's illegal biological and chemical weapons programs.

Similar concerns apply to Moscow's nuclear reactor and weapons sales to Iran. These deals have helped sustain Russia's struggling arms manufacturers and nuclear industry. Yet if Mr. Putin means to be a full partner in the struggle against terrorism, he must agree to restrict arms and nuclear deals with countries like Iran that refuse to cut their ties with international terrorists.

Mr. Bush made clear after his first meeting with Mr. Putin in June that he thought improved relations with Russia could be a centerpiece of his presidency. He has a chance to bring that goal closer to realization this week.

Back to the Top    Next Article