May 14, 2003
By Andrei Zlobin
Terrorist Acts in Chechnya and Saudi Arabia may bring Moscow and Washington Closer Together
Nikolai Zlobin: relations between our countries are the lowest they have been in the last ten years.
Late last night, US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Moscow. Shortly before his visit, two major and similar acts of terrorism took place on opposite ends of the earth. The bloody events of the past few days can help Moscow and Washington to forget the tactical differences that have arisen over the Iraqi crisis, and concentrate on the strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Americans expect that after Colin Powell negotiates with his Russian colleague Igor Ivanov, he'll also be received by the Russian president. On the eve of the planned May 31st visit of George Bush to St. Petersburg, it's important for Washington to understand Moscow's current mood. As Nikolai Zlobin, director of Russian and Asian Programs at the US Center for Defense Information, told the newspaper "Vremya Novostei": "Americans got a bad impression of the meeting between Putin and Tony Blair at the end of April, and were unhappy with the statements Putin made there." At the meeting, Putin berated American hypocrisy, and their inability to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was the formal reason for starting the war. "While in Moscow, Putin will try to figure out if Putin's statements were part of a serious political platform or a PR campaign designed to pacify his domestic audience," said Mr. Zlobin. Moreover, according to the American expert, "Bush has no plan regarding Russia other than to visit St. Petersburg. Washington will be awaiting Putin's presidential speech, whose content will also play a role."
Undoubtedly, Igor Ivanov and Colin Powell will touch upon the theme of stabilizing the Middle East. Powell arrived to Moscow, by the way, directly from that region. In the Russian capital, the Secretary might receive a gift from the Russian lawmakers: today, the lower house of the parliament will discuss the ratification of the Russian-American treaty on reducing strategic offensive potentials. Earlier, the lower house of the Parliament shelved the discussion of the question, protesting against America's invasion of Iraq. Now, after America's military victory, the Duma can ratify the agreement with a clear mind, although the Communists are still threatening to vote against it. Vladimir Putin, speaking yesterday in the front of parliament faction leaders, emphasized that the agreement is "the most important document in the sphere of strategic stability". The president assured the audience that "differences in concrete questions of the international agenda should not lead to the appearance of a legal vacuum in these vitally important areas."
Powell's visit to Moscow after Russia's explicit rejection of invading Iraq may be seen as a noble gesture of the victor, one who is not being judged and is in a position to forgive. Is the US ready to forgive Russia's principled anti-war position? "Such an approach is not receiving very positive feedback in Washington," says Nikolai Zlobin, "Yes, the national security advisor Condoleezza Rice suggested the following formula: punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia. But Congress has once again put off reviewing the Jackson-Vanick agreement. Moreover, at the end of last week I was present at a discussion of whether President Bush should even go to Russia." But whatever these discussions conclude, the result is already known: Bush will go. Powell has already arrived. If we take into account America's determination to constantly maintain contacts with Russia, and high-level ones, that once could dispute Mr. Zlobin's conclusion that relations between our countries are "the lowest they have been in the last ten years."
In Moscow, Mr. Powell will also discuss the American resolution to lift Iraqi sanctions, and UN's participation in post-war reconstruction. Here, Russia has another opportunity to declare their economic interests in Iraq, and the Americans have a chance to judge how far they're willing to go in cooperating with Russia in the war against global terrorism.
Translated by Seva Gunitskiy