October 26, 2001

Political Trade Offs


Political Trade Offs

Dateline: October 26, 2001

As part of President Putin's ongoing efforts to strengthen Russia's place in world affairs, critics are saying that he has given too much, too soon to the Bush administration. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (Sept. 11, 2001), Putin was the first world leader to get a call through to President Bush. In the days that followed, Putin offered airfield access for US humanitarian and cargo flights into Afghanistan. He also offered to share intelligence regarding the Taliban and rebels such as Osama bin Laden. Putin has been an outspoken supporter of the US War on Terror and his endorsement is critical to the US military position in Central Asia.

It is essential that Putin obtain something in return from the US. There is a list of things the US could do as payment, if you will, for Russia's support and cooperation; membership in the WTO, forgiveness of Soviet debt, halt to NATO expansion, endorsements for Russia's war against rebels in Chechyna and/or amendments to the 1972 ABM Treaty that will not allow the US to pull out and build their missile defense shield (NMD).

The issue of ABM vs NMD has been the greatest sticking point in Russian - US relations over the past several years. Washington is in the process of testing and building a missile shield which is in direct violation of the 1972 treaty which it considered antiquated. The Bush administration has indicated that it will continue work on the shield in January, 2002, with or without a deal with Russia. Moscow continues to insist that the ABM Treaty should not be nullified. However, it is not clear what sort of amendments Russia would agree to.

When it comes to the US led attack on Afghanistan, public support in Russia is less than enthusiastic. Many citizens fear that this effort will drive refugees into the Central Asian former Soviet states and Russia itself. They, also, believe that attacks on rebel groups and their supporters, such as the Taliban, will intensify troubles with the rebels in Chechyna and, most recently, Georgia. Still another worry is the future role and presence of the US in Central Asia. By opening up their country to US forces, Uzbekistan runs the risk of retaliation from the Taliban and/or various terrorist groups. It is unclear whether the US will stay and help protect Uzbekistan once they no longer need the latter's hospitality.

It is feared that if Putin does not get concessions from Bush and soon, his popularity at home will drop dramatically, the US will go forward with its NMD program and Russia will be seen by the world as a child who will do anything to gain favor, even if it is nothing more than a mere pat on the head. Most Russians do not trust the west and observers such as Anatoly Utkin, an adviser to the foreign affairs committee of the Duma, say that a grave mistake was made by not securing concessions up front. Utkin said, ``In American political society there is no culture of gratitude. It's a more businesslike approach.'' (AP)

The eyes of the world will be on Washington, DC and Texas in mid-November when Putin and Bush conduct what is sure to be an intense summit. It is anticipated that the two leaders may arrive at some agreement on ABM vs NMD and equal reduction of both country's nuclear stockpiles.

Discussion regarding the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan may be on the agenda. Russia and the US differ on who this government should include. Basically, both leaders are repositioning themselves to their best geopolitical advantage. Russia insists that there should be no Taliban participation in the new Afghan government while the US favors the involvement of Taliban moderates.

Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Dmitry Rogozin, said, "Russia is in a much better position to understand the situation in a country where we've already been" (Observer.com). He went on to point out that the US is wrong to think that a democratic government, by US standards, can successfully be implemented in an Asian state.

A certain level of distrust, especially on military points, remains between Russia and the US. The US is suspicious of the close relationship between Moscow and the Afghan Northern Alliance. Moscow is less than thrilled with the US presence in Uzbekistan and fears that American troops will not leave once their business with Afghanistan is completed.

Another issue at hand is Putin's intention to close down the old Soviet era bases in Cuba and Vietnam. Again, many believe that this should not be done without conditions and significant concessions from the US. The bottom line is, Russia deserves something in return from the US. To date, the only visible concession is the US postponement of two missile tests associated with their defense shield. Moscow, while appreciating the gesture, hopes it is an indication of more significant concessions to come. If Putin walks away from the November summit with more than tokens and promises to talk more, Russia stands to gain greater influence and respect in the global community.

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