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Moscow Times
June 3, 2003
Festive Frolics, But Few Results
By Vladimir Frolov

Vladimir Frolov, deputy staff director of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times. The views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the position of the committee or any of its members.

Now that the celebrations in St. Petersburg are finally over, it is time to take stock of the results that the frantic round of summitry has produced.

It is safe to say that both the Russia-EU summit and the meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush will be remembered more for their positive atmospherics than for any substantive progress on major issues.

The Russia-EU summit looks particularly disappointing. On the two issues of most importance to Russia -- reform of Russia-EU cooperation structures and the "road map" for visa-free travel -- progress was extremely modest, to put it mildly. On the issues most important to the EU -- Russian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and accession of future member states to the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, or PCA -- headway was imperceptible. And on Russian entry to the WTO, there was no forward movement to speak of.

The decision to transform the PCA Cooperation Council into a Permanent Partnership Council -- a high-level consultative body that will meet more frequently and involve not only the foreign ministers but also the heads of other government agencies -- is obviously a welcome step in the right direction and an improvement on existing arrangements. But it falls far short of Russia's more imaginative proposals for a wide-ranging permanent consultative body spanning different levels of EU decision-making and including Russian participation in some meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in Brussels. This would have made it possible for Moscow to be consulted at the earliest possible stage on EU decisions affecting Russia -- thus enhancing the two sides' ability to find mutually acceptable solutions in a timely manner.

Regarding the prospect for mutual visa-free travel, the summit failed to reach an agreement on establishing a special working group to produce a "road map" of concrete steps for reaching this objective within a reasonable timeframe. The noncommittal phrase included in the joint statement was actually borrowed from a similar document prepared for, but not released at, the November 2002 summit in Brussels.

Even modest French and German proposals to create simplified visa-regimes for some categories of citizens -- for example, students -- have failed to garner support (the statement refers only to finding flexibilities within the Schengen rules). The fierce opposition by some EU member states, particularly our Nordic neighbors, to any practical moves toward a visa-free regime with Russia is incomprehensible and in the long-term counterproductive.

The all-smiles Putin-Bush meeting was more important not for the publicly released joint statements, which are mostly bland and inconsequential, but for the content of the private discussion between the two presidents. Here we have two novel developments.

One is an agreement to expand and strengthen the high-level channels of communication between our governments, particularly between the presidential administration in Moscow and the National Security Council in Washington. This is a very important and welcome step that would allow both presidents to communicate more effectively, bypassing, if necessary, their foreign policy bureaucracies. The Iraq crisis clearly demonstrated the need for our leaders to be on the same wavelength when underlying policy assumptions and overall objectives are not well understood and open to question.

But the new channels of communication, while useful, will not automatically solve the problem of diverging worldviews, if neither side demonstrates good will and an effort to take the other's point of view seriously. If the Bush administration uses the new channel in the familiar "my way or the highway" manner and if Moscow regards every U.S. move with traditional suspicion, nothing good will come of it. It will also be important for the Bush administration to overcome the growing credibility gap created by their somewhat careless treatment of the facts regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and their use thereof as a legal basis for war.

The second important development is the likely discussion of a new counterproliferation initiative by the Bush administration. In his address in Krakow, Bush announced the Proliferation Security Initiative -- a multinational effort to develop legal tools and specific military capabilities to interdict cargo ships and planes believed to be carrying WMD, their components, means of delivery or means of production. The idea is to stop WMD proliferation in its final stage, before the delivery of deadly cargo is taken by a rogue regime or terrorist group, when traditional nonproliferation tools have failed. It is a novel approach, obviously not without risks, that offers a means to actually do something about the WMD threat before it's too late. While Washington has offered participation in the new effort to some of its closest allies (Britain, Spain and Poland), it is obviously interested in getting Russia on board too. It seems to be in Russia's national interest to take a very serious look at what the Bush administration has to offer. This could give some very specific content to U.S.-Russian cooperation in a high-priority area, as well as strengthening Russia's ties with key U.S. allies in Europe.

There's also a lot of truth in what Putin said about the gradual convergence of U.S. and Russian views on Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. On Iran, the milestone development will be the upcoming meeting of the IAEA board of governors and the agency's report on the Iranian nuclear program, including its recent discovery of clandestine components. The IAEA findings will be an important legal basis for Russia to review its nuclear power projects in Iran.

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