Russia-US Relations: Neither Obstacles
Nor Impetus for Development

(RIA Novosti, by Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee) — I think Vladimir Putin and George Bush will make an inventory of Russia-US relations in Bratislava. The two countries cooperate in the war on terror, in efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking, and AIDS, as well as in the Middle East peace process.

They apparently need each other in these spheres, but declarations are regrettably more frequent than joint actions. The results of the actions that are taken often engender contradictions. For example, the US military presence in Central Asia, though it has many positive aspects, is limiting Russia’s influence in the region. The presence of American troops means that Moscow is no longer tackling problems single-handed, which affects its formerly indisputable leadership in the region. Russia does not support the war in Iraq, while the US divides terrorists into "good" and "bad." As a result, the level of bilateral relations is lower than is needed for effective anti-terrorist efforts.

Russia-US interaction in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is not impressive either. The idea of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is to prevent the emergence of new nuclear states and the proliferation of dual-purpose nuclear technologies. Prevention has not worked so far, as North Korea’s statement on its nuclear weapons recently showed. And there is a battle of Russian and US interests with regard to the provision of nuclear technologies to Iran.

The bilateral energy dialogue is so far limited to declarations, though the US would like to diversify its crude market. But it wants control over global resources even more.

So, there are no visible obstacles to the development of Russia-US relations, but there is no clear impetus either. The coincidence of interests and partnership are two different things. Russia and the US are facing two questions: Should they change anything in their relations? And if the answer is yes, then are they ready to do this?

Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush are expected to answer these questions in Bratislava, the more so that their agenda is not limited by anything. At least, President Bush did not say in his inauguration speech that relations with Russia were deteriorating. Moscow is also talking about promoting partnership. In other words, the key issue on the Bratislava agenda will probably be the development of relations, which both parties seem to want.

The contradictions between them are mostly concerned with the CIS and stem from the fundamental differences in their world outlook. The top Russian leaders call for creating a multipolar world, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thinks such a world would be dangerous and vulnerable. Russia is demonstrating its resolve to strengthen its status as the regional power in the CIS, while the US is a global power that is maneuvering between leadership and hegemony. US troops are deployed in 120 countries, i.e., nearly everywhere, which is why regionalism is not what Washington wants. This is the root of contradictions on the amorphous territory of the CIS, whose unity is unquestionable only geographically, for many reasons.

The American leadership is concerned about Russia’s role in the former Soviet countries, which engenders accusations of authoritarianism, the inevitable imperial policy, and so on. But the situation in the zones of frozen conflicts – Transdnestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Karabakh – has taken a bad turn and Russia finds it difficult to deal with it without the assistance of the global community. On the other hand, the US and the EU cannot do anything (other than destabilize situation) in the CIS without Russia either. And the US administration is aware of this, despite its harsh rhetoric.

Georgia is one of the stumbling blocks in Russia-US relations. Knowing that some people in the Georgian administration would like to use military force to settle the Abkhazian and South Ossetian problems, Georgian troop training under the American Train and Equip program is a source of concern for Moscow.

These and other contradictions will certainly be discussed in Bratislava. The two presidents will spotlight the so-called nuclear file of Iran and measures to stop terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons. Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush will undoubtedly exchange opinions on the situation in the Middle East, including recent elections in Palestine and Iraq, and discuss Russia’s accession to the WTO.

Since the US has advanced a doctrine of bringing democracy to the world, the two leaders will probably speak about Yukos, media freedom and Russia’s political reforms. The doctrine of bringing democracy to the world is questionable, as formal democracy without liberal roots cannot guarantee that a "democratic" but incompetent state will not launch a war or harbor terrorists.

One more aspect can be added to Russia-US relations: cooperation in emergency management, which is crucial in view of the recent tidal wave in Southeast Asia.

On the whole, the US administration is continuing the policy of Mr. Bush’s first term, with a promise that it will be more flexible than the one pursued by the previous administration that was dominated by neo-conservatives.

In other words, America will gradually abandon the role of a global dominator acting without any regard for the world community, and will try to become a leader who respects the opinion of other states and international institutes. If this promise comes true, the Russia-US agenda will grow considerably.

In addition, the Kremlin hopes Mr. Bush will confirm his participation in the celebrations of 60th anniversary of victory in WWII in Moscow. This is important for our relations.