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

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
No. 211
November 13, 2001
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
By Sergei ROGOV, Director, Institute of US and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

Who could have imagined September 10 that Russian-US relations would change drastically over a two-month period? However, relations between two Cold War adversaries entered an entirely new stage during just several weeks. Previously, both countries tried hard to stop that increasingly greater alienation, regarding this as their long-term objective. However, Washington and Moscow have now become de facto allies.

Soviet-US confrontation had ended ten years ago, with many people expecting bilateral relations to thrive. Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton had even proclaimed Russian-US strategic partnership. However, all these hopes were subsequently dashed. The United States began to act as tutor, supervising Russian political and economic reforms and dictating specific terms for Russia's integration into the global market. The United States, which patronized Yeltsin and the so-called "young reformists," tended to disregard Russian interests during the solution of international problems. Such an arrogant approach entailed some extremely negative consequences. Among other things, bilateral strategic partnership didn't materialize. The expansion of NATO, the Kosovo war, the projected NMD (National Missile Defense) system, as well as disastrous consequences of Russia's IMF-backed and pro-American economic policy, entailed a profound and all-out crisis in Russian-US relations by the late 1990s.

Both Russia and the United States elected their new presidents last year; however, such changes apparently didn't herald an end to the above-mentioned crisis. Moscow, which no longer followed in Washington's wake, tried to implement a policy on the basis of its own national interests. Meanwhile the new US Administration didn't conceal its intention to act unilaterally. Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush Jr. negotiated in Ljubljana and Genoa, thus changing the atmosphere of bilateral dialogue. However, not a single issue dividing our two countries was settled. Subsequent "consultations" resembled a dialogue between deaf people. Russia and the United States were still in no mood to compromise on key economic issues, NATO's expansion and ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) issues.

The situation was altered drastically by the September 11 tragedy; in fact, the relevant US strategy aiming to ensure America's absolute superiority crumbled to dust. According to President Bush, the United States suddenly found itself in a state of war with an incomprehensible and not very vulnerable enemy, e.g. international terrorism. The shock, which was caused by terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, coincided with an incipient cyclic economic recession. America's entire economic, domestic and foreign policy is now determined by the aftermath of the September 11 outrage. Suffice it to say that US economic losses, which were suffered as a result of those horrendous attacks, totalled nearly 1.5 percent of the entire US GDP, or some $150 billion.

How can we win the war against international terrorism? Looks like, the Bush Administration doesn't have a clear idea of how this objective can be accomplished. The US Armed Forces continue to bomb Afghanistan; meanwhile terrorists keep mailing envelopes that contain anthrax spores all over the United States. In fact, this amounts to biological warfare. Meanwhile the afore-said air strikes don't seem to be very effective. One gets the impression that the United States will have to conduct ground operations. But won't this lead Washington into another Vietnam-style quagmire?

In the obtaining situation, President Bush regarded President Putin's support as something highly important. Washington merely wanted to obtain Moscow's consent to abrogating the ABM Treaty just two months ago. Right now, America needs Russian assistance in many spheres. The Pentagon wants to obtain Russian intelligence data, regarding this as a top priority. Moreover, the United States would like to receive expert advice on defending itself against biological weapons.

Therefore one can say that the United States and Russia now face a common enemy, i.e. international terrorism, for the first time since 1945. Naturally enough, the existence of a common enemy turns specific countries into partners and allies. The 200-year history of Russian-US relations knows many examples of this. The struggle against a common enemy creates substantial coinciding interests, to which all other goals are subordinated. The concerned parties should have other long-term interests for the sake of a lasting alliance. The list of such interests can include the non-proliferation of mass-destruction weapons.

Genuinely partner-like and even allied Russian-US relations would have tremendous significance for international security and for subsequent Russian political and economic reforms. Russia should not confront the Western world because it would otherwise fail to mature in the field of democracy and market economics. However, the existence of such prospects doesn't necessarily mean that these opportunities will be automatically translated into life. You see, we've got to solve quite a few difficult problems, also creating the relevant cooperation machinery. The latter should heed mutual interests even when such interests don't coincide.

First of all, Moscow and Washington should jointly define international terrorism. Russia used to refer to terrorists as freedom fighters not so long ago, with the United States calling them terrorists instead, and vice versa. By all looks, it won't be easy to coordinate our common positions here. However, one should not doubt the fact that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are our common enemies. In other words, both Russia and the United States perceive them as their mid-term (tactical) enemies. But will this amount to strategic interests, if the Taliban and bin Laden are defeated in no time at all?

Indicatively enough, but Washington has reassessed the Chechen situation after September 11, nonetheless continuing to criticize Russia for its counter-terrorist methods. At the same time, the US side recognizes the existence of terrorism in Chechnya, as well as Chechen bandits' ties with international terrorist organizations. US enthusiasm with regard to Albanian separatists in Kosovo and Macedonia has also abated. Moreover, Washington now tends to assess the Palestinian situation somewhat differently. But it's still premature to say that Moscow and Washington have coined a joint definition of international terrorism.

Nonetheless, one should emphasize the fact that Russia is now enlisting US services in fighting a seat of Islamic extremism and terrorism, and not the other way round. Mind you, Afghanistan and some other countries tend to destabilize Central Asian countries, Chechnya, as well as some other Russian regions. The situation for Russia would deteriorate considerably, if the Taliban and other organizations being supported by them manage to avoid defeat.

US presence in post-Soviet republics is fraught with many problems. First of all, will the United States withdraw from there? Second, won't it try and use former Soviet bases for hitting those specific countries, which are not considered to be enemies by Russia (such as Iraq and some others)? We still don't know the answers to these questions. That fledgling Russian-US alliance would crumble to dust, in case Moscow and Washington don't strike a deal well in advance.

The old-time agenda comprising economic problems, ABM issues and NATO, still remains. As of today, all these problems can be tackled in line with different approaches, with due account taken of the existence of vital interests pertaining to the struggle against international terrorism. One can, evidently, talk about a search for new compromise solutions where possible; or such compromise options would have to be put off in those specific spheres where the sides are too seriously divided. Doubtless, a changed US approach toward some key Russian economic problems makes one somewhat optimistic. US Congress has received draft legislation making it possible to start restructuring former Soviet debts. The US Administration and Congress are also discussing the possible abolition of the notorious Jackson-Vanick amendment. Moreover, the US side tends to comprehend the fact that Russia perceives specific WTO membership terms as something more important than the relevant deadlines for joining that organization.

As far as strategic arms are concerned, the Bush Administration is, at long last, finalizing its proposals as regards strategic offensive arms reductions. Quite possibly, specific ceilings exceeding similar Russian ceilings (1,500 nuclear warheads) by only a small margin will be suggested. Both sides are also likely to compromise on the ABM issue. Representatives of the Bush Administration have started saying for the first time that specific amendments, rather than the ABM Treaty's abrogation, are distinctly possible. Nonetheless, Pentagon chiefs keep opposing this rather vehemently. Should this happen, then our two countries would have to conduct some very serious negotiations (in place of "consultations"). Consequently, some bans concerning the testing of new weapons systems would be lifted. However, the possible deployment of ABM systems would be restricted well until the 2010 period. Moreover, the United States might conduct specific tests, without officially withdrawing from the ABM Treaty for the entire duration of the talks.

The situation with NATO's expansion seems to be less optimistic; however, chances for greater mutual understanding still exist here. Russia is ready to expand its cooperation with NATO, provided that Moscow becomes a full-fledged participant in the relevant decision-making process. This can scale down tensions. For its own part, the West should understand that NATO should delay the admission of the Baltics into NATO; this would make it possible to transform relations with Russia a great deal.

Back to the Top    Next Issue