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Moscow Times
November 19, 2001
Will Bonhomie Smooth Bumpy Road?
By Natalia Yefimova
Staff Writer

The backslapping has subsided. The barbecue grills have been packed up and put away. The three-day meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush is over.

Last week's U.S.-Russia summit, although short on tangible results, served as another step in reinforcing the two nations' new relationship -- one in which common interests and pragmatism, to a large extent, have replaced ideological incompatibility.

"Russia and the U.S.A. have overcome the legacy of the Cold War. Neither country regards the other as an enemy or a threat," said the presidents in one of six joint statements issued in Washington.

There is no doubt that the military campaign in Afghanistan and the conspicuous personal chemistry between the two leaders have created a solid basis for expanding this cooperation. But political analysts warned that the durability of the U.S.-Russian partnership would face many tests -- from resolving prickly issues like missile defense and NATO expansion to overcoming internal resistance to rapprochement and forming a new government in Kabul.

"The atmospherics at the summit were terrific," said Michael McFaul, a Russia specialist at Stanford University who helped prepare Bush for a previous meeting with Putin. "Putin has made a fundamental choice that Russia wants to be part of the West. ... But expectations on both sides weren't met in terms of deliverables."

Nonetheless, the presidents' three days of talks, meals and travel did yield some concrete results. First and foremost was Bush's announcement that Washington would slash its strategic arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 nuclear warheads, a lower threshold than the Pentagon had been willing to accept.

But observers ranging from U.S. weapons experts to Putin's Communist opponents criticized the lack of any formal document sealing the cuts.

"The agreements reached at the summit must have their logical continuation [in written form] ... to ensure that they are irreversible," Roland Timerbayev, chairman of the Moscow-based PIR Center for Policy Studies, told reporters and diplomats Friday.

Otherwise, Timerbayev warned, changes in political climate could nullify the plans announced in Washington last week. The cuts, he said, "must be drawn up as agreements that are subject to verification and binding for future administrations."

Some analysts were disappointed that, despite the seeming progress on arms reduction, Bush and Putin failed to reach a compromise on missile defense, specifically on the fate of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Washington wants to abandon in order to proceed with nonland-based tests of a national anti-missile shield.

Russia has insisted on keeping the treaty in place, although Putin has shown an increasing willingness to allow some U.S. tests to proceed.

In an interview Thursday on National Public Radio, during the unofficial leg of his visit, Putin reiterated this position: "We believe that the existing 1972 treaty can be used quite flexibly in joint efforts to increase the security of both Russia and the United States."

Vladimir Dvorkin, a senior fellow at PIR, said the lack of a compromise deal on the ABM Treaty reflects the pressure being exerted on each president by his respective military establishments.

But one U.S. analyst praised Putin for giving his consent to limited missile-defense testing. "Putin has really been wise to make a concession on this point because I think that the missile defense system is going to fall of its own weight," Bruce Blair, head of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said Friday on Ekho Moskvy radio.

"Offering the United States more flexibility to test ... in a sense accelerates the day when America realizes that this is a technically unfeasible project," he said.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that have drawn Russia and the United States into an unexpected military alliance, the conflict over the ABM Treaty has become just one small part of a much larger puzzle: redefining Moscow's role on the international security scene and its relationship with NATO.

The Kremlin has been lobbying actively for more decision-making powers on international security issues, and NATO members, while not backpedaling on the bloc's expansion, have made it clear that they understand Russia's concerns.

In a joint statement on the new relationship between Russia and the United States, Putin and Bush said the international community would "work on improving, strengthening and perfecting relations between Russia and NATO in order to create new, effective mechanisms for consultations, cooperation, joint decision-making and implementing coordinated joint actions."

The statement goes on to say that "to an ever greater extent, Russia and NATO members act as allies in the fight against terrorism ... and their relations must evolve accordingly."

Since the close of the summit there has been a flurry of NATO-Russia activity, with the head of the alliance, George Robertson, announcing Thursday that he would visit Moscow this week for talks on improved cooperation, and Putin speaking by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who proposed creating a close new partnership between Russia and NATO under the auspices of a Russia-North Atlantic Council.

McFaul warned that NATO enlargement to the Baltics -- which many Russians oppose -- without any parallel concessions to Moscow could heat up opposition to Putin's advances toward the West.

More importantly, McFaul said, he was nervous that Russia had unrealistic expectations about the speed with which it could be integrated into Western clubs such as NATO and the World Trade Organization.

Paradoxically, another potential pitfall in the new U.S.-Russia relationship comes from the same source that helped forge it: the battle against the Taliban.

With the Northern Alliance making unexpectedly rapid advances into Taliban-held territory, the need to cobble together a coalition government in Afghanistan has become a reality much earlier than anticipated. But Moscow and Washington have differences about the balance of power they would like to see in Kabul.

"These stunning military successes [of the Northern Alliance] have outpaced or outraced any formula for political resolution," said CDI's Blair.

"This euphoric moment in U.S.-Russia relations could sour very quickly because of our success in Afghanistan," McFaul said.

Although most analysts expressed the hope that the relationship between Moscow and Washington would not take a turn for the worse, all of them acknowledged that a number of groups in Russia oppose Putin's pro-Western policies -- among them traditionally conservative forces such as the Communists and the military -- and wanted to see tangible payoffs from the new relationship.

However, experts said that, considering the president's 70 percent approval rating, it would take a great deal to fan the smoldering disapproval into a flame of serious opposition.

"There is no especially serious area of conflict," said Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "Conflicts exist, but they are all within the normal range of political disputes."

Both Ryabov and Leonid Radzikhovsky, a political commentator for the Vremya MN daily, said that serious opposition to Putin could be triggered only by a significant economic downturn.

"If the standard of living starts dropping ... popular discontent is sure to rise. People voting with their stomachs will cut Putin's approval rating in half," Radzikhovsky wrote in his newspaper last week.

Perhaps the Bush administration understands this.

The presidents' joint statement on their countries' new economic cooperation was the longest of the six bilateral documents to come out of the summit and set in writing the mutual goal of speeding up Russia's entry to the WTO. Bush has also been pushing Congress to repeal the symbolic but humiliating Jackson-Vanik amendment, a prerequisite for WTO entry.

In its overview of the summit, the Strana.ru web site, which is controlled by Kremlin-connected political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, said that the common fight against international terrorism "is not enough to give a 100 percent guarantee that the current partnership with Washington is irreversible."

Nonetheless, the site's analysts called the progress made by the two countries since the beginning of this year "significant." And most other experts agreed.

McFaul said he did not believe the new ties binding Washington and Moscow were as "precarious" as some people feared.

"[I don't believe] that when the war is over we'll go back to playing balance-of-power politics," he said. "I think it's more fundamental than that."

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