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Subject: "Harriman Institute Pre-Summit Roundtable"
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001
From: Alex Brideau <awb40@columbia.edu>

Dear Mr. Johnson,

We thought your subscribers might be interested in the Harriman Institute's pre-summit roundtable, held Nov. 7 at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University, and would appreciate it if you would post it to Johnson's Russia List. Thank you.


Alex Brideau
Harriman Institute

Summary of November 7th Harriman Institute Roundtable on "The Crawford Summit: Turning Point in US-Russian Relations?"

Reported by Alex Brideau

Participants: Professor Robert Legvold, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, Davis Professor of International Diplomacy, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University Professor Steven Solnick, Associate Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich noted three areas of significant change in the US-Russian relationship even before September 11, change that has been accentuated since then. These changes, according to Sestanovich, have created a new strategic environment. "I think this is a relationship which one could hardly have imagined in January, but one which has the look of not only of equality, but of cooperation that is taken for granted."

The first area of change is the domestic situation of the two presidents. Even before September 11, Bush faced decreasing criticism that his policy toward Russia was over-personalizing his relationship with Putin or that his administration was downplaying important issues. As for Putin, he has been able to consolidate power sufficiently to allow him to deal with the relationship without major interference from opponents.

Each side's approach to missile defense had also shown signs of evolutions before Sept. 11. Sestanovich believes that the intensified effort by the Bush administration to push the missile defense issue has "concentrated Russian minds." As a result, the Russian position has evolved to the point where Russia is looking more toward striking a bilateral deal with the United States rather than, as some had suggested might occur last winter, seeking to create an anti-missile defense coalition.

The third area in the evolving US-Russia relationship is the greater importance of economic issues. Visits to Russia by US economic and commerce officials reflected the increasing importance of this area for American officials. Russia has become one of the main areas of growth in the world economy, and Putin has been pushing reform measures that have been applauded by foreign investors.

The events of September 11 managed to both intensify the effects of these changes, and put them into a different light. One of the most important differences in the environment, Sestanovich noted, is the perception of a greater measure of equality between the two sides. The perception of Putin as he comes to the summit is one of a full partner, not someone who is taking instructions.

The Bush administration has made the relationship even more personal than it was before September 11, while Putin has demonstrated a generally free hand to guide Russia's policy. With regards to missile defense, although the Bush administration remains serious about missile defense testing and deployment, it has been willing to put off a renunciation of the ABM treaty, a clear success for Putin. On the economic front, US officials are looking for ways to give Putin more economic benefits, in particular by removing the restrictions on trade with Russia legislated by the 1972 Jackson-Vanik amendment, reflecting the importance of the constituency Russia has developed within the US business community, according to Sestanovich.

Despite the intensifying US-Russian relationship, Sestanovich warned of three "sleeper" problems that could yet undermine it. The most serious of these is the issue of non-proliferation. US officials have handled this issue quietly, but have not stopped the flow of Russian technology to problem countries; if the US has to impose sanctions against Russian entities, the claim to have achieved a new partnership will look more hollow. Similarly, Russia may object less to NATO enlargement that includes the Baltic states, which now seems increasingly likely, but it may be less prepared to expand its relations with NATO in this setting. The third question mark Sestanovich pointed to was the likelihood of a long-term American presence in Central Asia.

Professor Steven Solnick said that leading up to the summit "we are in a situation where Bush probably needs Putin more than Putin needs Bush."

Solnick noted that Putin's support for US military action in Afghanistan and against terrorism is not increasing Putin's support within his own country. In fact, many Russians are opposed to American actions, based on recent public opinion polls. In addition, the military is unhappy about allowing American forces on the ground in Central Asia, and the Russian military-industrial complex is worried about losing some of its traditional customers in the Middle East.

Still, Solnick noted Putin's growing strength in the year and a half since he was elected president. Unlike Boris Yeltsin in 1996, Putin has managed to capitalize on the electoral honeymoon that followed his victory at the polls in 2000. He has used that honeymoon to replace cadres, in a tactic similar to that used by Soviet leaders. He has been able to neutralize segments in Russian politics and society that might have challenged him. All told, in Solnick's estimation, Putin has emerged as the strongest Russian leader since Yuri Andropov.

As a result of his domestic political strength, Putin's expectations heading into the summit are probably modest despite the domestic criticisms of his assistance to the American effort. "I think what it means for the summit is, in fact, he's in no great rush to bring home concrete results, because he faces no immediate threat at home," Solnick noted. While Putin will expect tangible benefits in the long run, the United States has already provided him with some. In particular, Bush has already put significant emphasis on triggering new Western investment in Russia and has indicated a willingness to move quickly on bilateral and multilateral trade issues (including Jackson-Vanik and the WTO). Solnick also noted that the US use of bases in Central Asia may allow Russia to revive its influence in the region as a gatekeeper for American forces, even though Russia lacks the military capacity on its own to offer a security guarantee to Central Asian states.

Professor Robert Legvold said that the US-Russian relationship has the potential to take a dramatically new direction in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "I think that the US-Russia relationship is already on a fundamentally different footing from what it was five months ago, let alone at the beginning of the year," he said. "I think it may even be a historic turning point, depending on where things go from here."

This relationship was characterized by three negative qualities. The two countries had been growing apart, based on their frustration with the way the relationship was going. The two countries were increasingly disengaging from one another and were unwilling to deal with key strategic problems, such as missile defense and NATO enlargement. Furthermore, each side was beginning to view the other more as a problem than a solution to problems.

According to Legvold, the US-Russia relationship has changed since September 11th because of the strategic choice Putin made to align Russia in a fundamental way with the West, a decision that the country's leadership was unwilling to do after the failure of Yeltsin and Kozyrev's initial pro-Western tilt. This alignment goes beyond cooperation on the terrorism issue and into other areas. Legvold said that this decision on Putin's part appeared to be linked directly to what happened in September, and was not a move he would necessarily have made otherwise. The attacks established a common enemy for the United States and Russia that has galvanized both sides, something not seen since World War II, he noted.

As a consequence of these changes, the two sides have a new, more solid 7basis for partnership than they have had in the past decade. It also creates a different context for the controversial issues within the US-Russia relationship. While it is clear that Putin has taken the larger gambit, the Bush Administration too has reasons to meet him part way.

According to Legvold, the Russians want three things from the new relationship: reward, reciprocity and reassurance. One important agenda item will be the economy, which has been in the forefront of Putin's foreign policy. It will therefore be important to him to make progress with the United States in this area. At the summit Bush will almost surely stress that he is already pushing Congress to lift the Jackson-Vannik amendment. This is a pre-requisite for Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, another development the Bush administration is ready to promote. Debt relief for Russia is not likely to be a significant part of the conversation at this point, because Russia is so far in a position to meet its obligation in 2003. But, if oil prices fall much below $18.50 a barrel, Russia may yet need to seek assistance, and doubtless Putin would like to feel that Washington will lend support in that event.

Reciprocity applies to the contentious issues in the relationship, beginning with missile defense and the strategic nuclear balance, as well as NATO enlargement. While Putin is willing to make concessions on NMD testing, allowing the program to go forward, Legvold said this can only be in the context of a "three-legged stool." One leg would involve the renegotiation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty or possibly a different strategic framework; the second leg, a reduction of strategic arsenals to below 2,000 warheads; and only then the third leg, allowances for national missile defense. What is important for Putin is that the two sides together devise the new strategic nuclear regime, rather than having it dictated by the U.S. side. Similarly, Legvold noted that Putin might be willing to allow for the enlargement of NATO, including even the admission of the Baltic states, on the condition that the Russian relationship with NATO is transformed -- again as the result of mutual design. Legvold believes Putin is still unclear in his own thinking what this might entail, notwithstanding the growing talk both in Moscow and Washington of Russia joining NATO.

The third key quality that will be important to Russia if the new promising relationship with the United States is to go forward receives less attention and is more elusive: That is reassurance. Putin and even more the dominant portion of Russia's security elite worry that the United States may seek to transform its current military access in Central Asia into a permanent military presence. This is linked to the misgivings flourishing before September 11 that the United States and Russia were increasingly locked in a strategic rivalry within the post-Soviet space. Since the United States is not likely to disappear from Central Asia after the intense phases of the new Afghan war are concluded, the trick will be to find ways to reassure Moscow that the United States does not intend to exploit its new presence to put Russia at strategic disadvantage either in Central Asia or elsewhere in the post-Soviet space. In these new circumstances it is not an issue that can be left to take care of itself. The U.S. side, without yielding to Russian paranoia, will need to need to give it conscious attention, and seek ways to avoid actions inadvertently feeding Russian suspicion and, indeed, to find ways of working with one another constructively within this vast and critical arena.

Legvold cautioned, however, that the new US-Russia relationship is still vulnerable. What has the potential of being a historic turning point could yet be cut short, if national leaders in both countries fail to curb the "theologians" and unreconstructed elements (those whose suspicions of or indifference to the other side has not subsided) within their governments.

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