White House treads carefully on cutting ties with Moscow
The Bush administration has ordered a review of U.S. defense cooperation programs with Russia but is not about to draw up “mindless lists” of penalties that could alienate the Russian people while leaving Moscow’s troops in Georgia, U.S. officials said Sept. 2.
Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, also called Russia’s accusation that “foreign navy ships” are delivering weapons to the former Soviet republic under the guise of humanitarian aid “complete nonsense.”
“The first order of business should not be some sort of punishment,” Mr. Fried said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Russia has to decide how much it wants to isolate itself from the world. We don’t want to have a bad relationship with Russia. We’ve never wanted that.”
Some prominent U.S. political figures, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, have called for expelling Russia from the Group of Eight major industrial nations.
However, after Russia sent troops into Georgia last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked her advisers to “think this through in a serious way,” Mr. Fried recalled. “Don’t draw up mindless lists. Think where we need to be at the end of this administration and the beginning of the next administration,” he said Miss Rice told her staff.
The European Union failed to reach an agreement Sept. 1 on imposing sanctions for Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, but it suspended talks on a new partnership accord with Russia.
Mr. Fried, who flew to Brussels late Sept. 2 to consult with EU officials on “next steps,” said, “We applaud the EU’s intention to send a sizable monitoring force to Georgia. We hope they do it soon. We think getting more internationals in Georgia is important.”
In another show of support for the Tbilisi government, Vice President Dick Cheney left Washington on Sept. 2 for a visit to Georgia and other nervous Russian neighbors, including Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had ordered a review of military cooperation agreements with Russia as part of a wider evaluation of relations in response to the continued presence of Russian troops in parts of Georgia.
“Clearly, Russia’s military operations in Georgia give not just the United States, but the entire international community, cause for concern regarding the direction that nation is going,” Mr. Whitman said.
The review, he said, encompasses the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a program to combat the proliferation of nuclear, biological, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction.
However, the most prominent program administered by the agency — known as Nunn-Lugar — will not be affected, said Mark Hayes, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Lugar and Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat, were the prime architects of the program, which has provided nearly $6 billion since 1991 to support the safe destruction of weapons and security for weapons facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia.
“In the past, despite any ups and downs that the United States and Russian have experienced at the top level, the Nunn-Lugar program has always remained steady,” Mr. Hayes said.
New world order
Georgia sent troops into the enclave of South Ossetia on Aug. 7 in an attempt to regain control of the republic, which had declared independence from Georgia on several occasions. Russia retaliated by sending troops into South Ossetia; another disputed enclave, Abkhazia; and Georgia. Despite agreeing to a cease-fire brokered by France last month, Russian troops remain in parts of Georgia.
Before the Russian incursion, Mr. Gates said, the United States thought it could have a “long-term strategic dialogue” with Russia. But the invasion has called into question the entire premise of U.S.-Russia talks, he said, adding that ties could be negatively affected for years.
Mr. Whitman said the Pentagon is putting on hold talks with Russia on strategic nuclear arms and missile defenses, such as a plan to build a missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russia has threatened to counter through military means.
Other activities subject to review include: Partnership for Peace exercises, several bilateral military exercises, several naval exercises and tabletop exercises, in which participants study strategy around a table or in a classroom.
The partnership program included reciprocal exchanges and officer visits, plus occasional Russian military training exercises in the United States that were funded by the International Military Education & Training program, known as IMET, Mr. Whitman said.
The Bush administration also is putting off implementation of an Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, or the so-called “123 Agreement,” which was approved in May.
Henry Sokolski, director of the private Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center, said the overall review marks a major shift in the Pentagon’s view of Russia.
“With Moscow’s invasion of Georgia — a country that sent 2,000 troops to help the U.S. in Iraq — Russia transformed itself from being one of America’s strategic partners to being one of a number of America’s strategic competitors,” Mr. Sokolski said in an interview.
Cliff Kupchan, a Russia specialist at the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, said the United States was partly at fault for the crisis because it sent “mixed signals” to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili before the fighting.
“In private, we were urging restraint, but in public, people from both parties were egging him on. We as a nation got too close to him, and after seven years of building Russian rage, Russia came down on him,” Mr. Kupchan said.
Mr. Fried insisted that Washington’s warning to Mr. Saakashvili against the offensive on the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, was “unambiguous and quite clear.”
A senior U.S. official said there should have been “a clear highlevel warning to the Russians,” but the Bush administration did not issue one because it “didn’t think they would invade Georgia proper.”
Mr. Fried echoed other U.S. and European calls on Moscow to fully respect a cease-fire and to pull all its troops out of Georgia, and said the West is struggling to figure out how to “make clear that [the Russians’] acts against Georgia and threats against other neighbors are unacceptable” without antagonizing the Russian people.
In Moscow, where he has met recently with senior Russian officials, Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Nixon Center in Washington, said that Russia might veto any new U.N. resolution against Iran and stop cooperating with the United States on Afghanistan if the West tries to punish Russia for its actions.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying during a visit to Uzbekistan on Sept. 2 that there will be an “answer” to the presence of NATO ships in the Black Sea, although it “will be calm, without any sort of hysteria.”
“We don’t understand what American ships are doing on the Georgian shores, but this is a question of taste, it’s a decision by our American colleagues,” Mr. Putin said, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. “The second question is why the humanitarian aid is being delivered on naval vessels armed with the newest rocket systems.”
Mr. Fried said the Russians are “trying to delegitimize any military support for Georgia — a country that Russia has attacked,” adding that U.S. “military cooperation” with Georgia will continue “carefully” and “responsibly.”
The Georgian government “made a mistake” by attacking Tskhinvali in early August, Mr. Fried said.
“The Georgian case is basically, ‘Look, our people were attacked, our villages were being shelled, we’d been subjected to months of provocations from the Russians,’ and that’s basically true. But that doesn’t mean that their decision was a wise one,” he said.
Mr. Fried defended the U.S. policy of “embracing Russia” since the collapse of the Soviet Union, saying it was a “good strategic call” by three presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“It’s not the fault of the West for reaching out to Russia,” he said. “But it is Russia that has made this so difficult.”