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Deeper rifts drive U.S.-Russia Iraq split
By Christian Bourge
UPI Think Tanks Correspondent

WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- The disconnect between the United States and Russia over the U.S. invasion of Iraq is an indicator of further divisions between the two countries, according to analysts at a conference sponsored by an influential Washington think tank on Thursday.

Celeste A. Wallander, director of the Russia/Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at the forum, which was sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, that although the administration of President George W. Bush has shown that it is willing to forgive Russia's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Moscow's active attempts to block the action and the lifting of the United Nations embargo on Iraq present major problems. These problems involve not only the relationship between the United States and Russia, but also some overall issues in developing U.S. foreign policy.

"I think there are significant long-term impacts on the American-Russian relationship," Wallander told United Press International. "Russia was clearly trying to use the U.N. Security Council and its veto for leverage over the United States," she said. "Not only is that not likely to work, but doing so for power reasons -- as opposed to substantive reasons -- is pretty transparent. It helps justify the (incorrect) view that the United States should not be working through multilateral institution like the United Nations."

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged his country's support in the war against terrorism in the aftermath of the Sept.11, 2001, attacks, a move that brought the two nations closer together. However, with Bush scheduled to travel to St. Petersburg this month to meet with Putin, few dispute that the U.S.-Russian relationship has been damaged by Moscow's opposition to the war in Iraq.

Allegations of military and intelligence cooperation between the Russia and Saddam Hussein's regime have further complicated the issue. While some Americans feel that Russia's role in actively opposing the Iraq war was a diplomatic an possibly a military -- betrayal, Russian experts say there is also a widespread sense of resentment among Russian political elites based on a feeling that the Bush administration is an ally unwilling to provide the support needed to ensure Russia's domestic and foreign policy goals.

Nikolai Zlobin, director for Eurasian and Russian programs at the Center for Defense Information, said that the seriousness of the rift between the two nations should not be downplayed. He noted that the framework of U.S.-Russian diplomacy is a holdover from the cold war and is designed to serve the perspective of another historical era, not the realities of contemporary geopolitics.

"We should not ignore the seriousness of how this happened and look at this as a misstep in Russian-American relations," Zlobin said about on picking up the pieces of the relationship after the war in Iraq. "Iraq should be a very dangerous sign for us to start to think (about these problems)," he said.

Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the liberal-centrist Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that Russia's actions are at least partially a reaction to its loss of imperial power, which has declined precipitously, along with its economic and political power, in the years since the end of the Cold War. He said this has resulted in an identity crisis in Russia, with Russian leaders often giving in to American positions on issues that involve both nations.

"What is really going on (most of the time), is (Russian) accommodation to a (U.S.) hegemony, said Kuchins at the AEI forum.

"That has been the pattern since the collapse of the Soviet Union, broadly speaking," he said.

Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI, said that Russia's opposition to the war in Iraq represented its leadership's succumbing to the so-called "French syndrome," the temptation of a formerly great power to try and show it still matters in the world.

Aron, Kuchins and other analysts agreed that the U.S.-Russian conflict over Iraq is symptomatic of problems underlying other serious disagreements that divide the countries. These include America's anti-dumping tariffs on steel imports and issues surrounding Russian ascendancy to the World Trade Organization.

Nevertheless, they also say there are fundamental priorities on which U.S. and Russian interests remain aligned. These include the needs for strong counter-terrorism policies, for the reduction of nuclear stockpiles, and for an increasing trade in energy products.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that these interests have minimized the impact of the war on U.S-Russian relations. "I think in general the relationship has been marginally weakened but that it is no worse than that," Carpenter told UPI.

"We will still have many occasions on which to cooperate with Russia, particularly against Islamic terrorism in Central Asia," he said. "There are still far more cases where American and Russian interests overlap than where they conflict."

Kuchins and Aron also said Russian leaders understand the need to focus intently on economic growth. They argue that this ensures that Putin's team will do whatever it can to keep close ties with the strongest economic power in the world, the United States.

"Certainly people around Putin -- and Putin himself -- understand that in the end only partnership (with the United States) will allow Russia to be a great power," said Aaron.

Another major issue that illustrates the rift between Russian and U.S. foreign policies is Russia's support of Iran's nuclear energy program. While Russia needs sales of nuclear equipment to Iran to prop up its failing nuclear industry, the United States views Iran's program as a violation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

The United States also views Iran's development of nuclear energy capabilities as dangerous because the technology could be used to develop nuclear weapons, and because nuclear material could be transferred to Islamic terrorists. The Russians do not see Iran as a terrorist threat in the same way the U.S. government does because Iran lacks solid links to transnational terrorists, such as al-Qaida, that have ties to the Islamic Caucasus states along Russia's southern boarder.

Wallander said the United States and Russia are coming up on a real clash of views on Iran, and said she doesn't know how the problem can be solved unless one side backs down. While Russian fears about losing Iraqi oil business after the fall of Saddam Hussein regime can be easily addressed by allowing Russian companies to bid for post-war oil contracts, there is no easy way to address the economic concerns of Russia's flailing nuclear energy industry.

"I see Iran in some ways being much more difficult than Iraq is," said Wallander. "Iraq doesn't have to be a zero sum game. It seems to me that Iran is fundamentally a zero-sum game."

Aron said the United States should avoid the temptation to sweep the issues that underlie these policy problems under the rug in the name of political expediency. He called instead for a thorough review of U.S. and Russian policies toward each other in order too minimize future problems.

"Without such a thorough review from top to bottom, from Bush and (national security adviser Condoleezza) Rice all the way to the bowels of the State Department and (Russian) Foreign Ministry, I think we will not proceed with rebuilding the relationship in a fundamental way," said Aron.

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