U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions are at their low­est ebb since the end of the Cold War. While Rus­sia is no longer the tractable ally it was un­der Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, it is pre­ma­ture to con­clude that Vladimir Putin is lead­ing Rus­sia on a path to­ward in­evitable an­i­mos­ity. With Rus­sia nei­ther avowed friend nor en­emy, Wash­ing­ton needs a solid un­der­stand­ing of what kind of re­la­tion­ship it can re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pect with the Krem­lin, and how to work to­ward that re­la­tion­ship.

One view is that what the United States can ex­pect and should work for with Rus­sia is “nar­rowly de­fined strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion, not full part­ner­ship, not close and in­ti­mate friend­ship, but mean­ing­ful strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion on key is­sues which the United States needs to ad­dress,” Dmitri Simes, the found­ing pres­i­dent of the Nixon Cen­ter and a re­spected ex­pert on Rus­sian re­la­tions, told The Wash­ing­ton Times in an in­ter­view two weeks ago. Wash­ing­ton needs to un­der­stand that it is deal­ing with a more na­tion­al­ist and resur­gent Rus­sia — a Rus­sia “that is not in­ter­ested in any­body’s guid­ance re- gard­ing do­mes­tic af­fairs,” said Mr. Simes.

Wash­ing­ton should fo­cus on en­hanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion on two key se­cu­rity fronts: coun­ter­ing rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ism and check­ing the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram. Rus­sia, Mr. Simes noted, “is afraid of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism no less than the United States.” The prospects for co­op­er­a­tion against rad­i­cal Is­lam are, like the gen­eral state of re­la­tions, less aus­pi­cious now than in 2001. The chal­leng­ing task of restart­ing those ef­forts can be­gin with in­for­ma­tion shar­ing be­tween intelligence and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. While a dif­fi­cult un- der­tak­ing, the in­for­ma­tion shar­ing that be­gan in the af­ter­math of the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks can be started again, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Simes.

Rus­sia now ac­cepts that the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram has a mil­i­tary di­men­sion, Mr. Simes said, and “ex­actly like the United States, Rus­sians won­der what will be the im­me­di­ate pur­pose of the Ira­nian en­rich­ment pro­gram.” Rus­sians also come to the con­clu­sion that Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions are deeply trou­bling, and this pro­vides the ba­sis for Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion, even though it may not be to the ex­tent that Wash­ing­ton wants. The suc­cess of Pres­i­dent Bush’s stop in Moscow in Novem­ber will be mea­sured in terms of Rus­sia’s sup­port for Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ac­tion against Iran.

Rus­sia feels en­ti­tled to have some spe­cial in­flu­ence in the post-Soviet sphere, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Simes, but “Rus­sians pretty much have ac­cepted that what­ever they think, they can­not stop in­de­pen­dent na­tions in the re­gion join­ing the Euro­pean Union or NATO.” Ge­or­gia poses a unique case, how­ever, and to avoid po­ten­tial fric­tion, it’s im­por­tant for the United States to not “iden­tify too closely with Ge­or­gian po­si­tions” on the two dis­puted en­claves of South Os­se­tia and Abk­hazia — a dis­pute which does not in­volve U.S. in­ter­ests any­way.

“If we did not have se­ri­ous ex­ter­nal threats like non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, like ter­ror­ism, an ar­gu­ment could be made for a kind of nor­mal but dis­tant re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia,” said Mr. Simes. But like Mr. Simes, we be­lieve the United States does not have this lux­ury.

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