Sunday, July 16, 2006
G-8: Chill in U.S.-Russia Relationship
Speaking at the group’s briefing Friday evening, Nixon Center president Dimitri K. Simes noted that a major breakthrough would be needed to get the U.S.-Russia relationship back on track. Many had expected that an announcement of a Russo-American agreement clearing the way for Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization would provide such an impetus. In the aftermath of Saturday’s presidential press conference, it was clear that the Petersburg summit was not going to lay the basis for a rejuvenated U.S.-Russia partnership, despite the upbeat tone adopted by President George W. Bush.
As Simes noted, “A senior Russian official pointedly told us that the Russian government was disappointed with the Bush Administration’s lack of flexibility on the last technical issues blocking the way for an agreement on the WTO.” This official expressed the sense that, in President Vladimir Putin’s mind, the fact that the United States—the only country still holding out on Russian accession—was not prepared to make concessions was quite revealing.
“It was the U.S. attitude, rather than the importance of the technical issues, which led the Russians to say no,” Simes noted.
Putin and other Russian senior officials were also apparently offended by what they viewed as a patronizing tone and inflexible attitude adopted by U.S. officials attending the “Drugaya Rossiya” alternative conference. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried was quoted in the Russian media as flatly declaring, for example, that the question of independence for Kosovo would set no precedent, “period”, as he stressed, even though the Russian position is that independence for the province raises the possibility that other separatist regions in the greater Black Sea region, notably the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, should receive similar consideration. The sentiment shared by a number of Russian officials was that “this is not the way anyone should be able to talk to us,” Simes said.
Senior U.S. officials were also clearly frustrated and less than pleased with the results of the discussion. The most anyone was prepared to say was that the talks “could have been worse.”
The democracy question is also contributing to this. Taking into account that the “Drugaya Rossiya” conference included extremists like Viktor Anpilov, leader of a faction of radical communists who have advocated violence in the past, and Eduard Limonov, the head of the “National Bolsheviks”, a militantly anti-American group whose party uses Nazi-style insignia (and whose “young stormtroopers” were delegated to serve as security for the gathering), it is not surprising that all mainstream opposition parties—the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko and Rodina—refused to take part in the event. As a result, Putin has interpreted the level of American participation in the event as a sign that Washington is concerned less about democracy but about challenging his authority, which clearly did not put him in a mood to be accommodating at the summit.
On the other hand, the Russian pretense that it is committed to democracy, that they only want to do it “Russian-style”, is beginning to run increasingly thin.
One senior Russian official told us that Putin is not looking for confrontation with the United States, but that making concessions for the sake of partnership with the U.S.—walking the extra mile in the name of improving U.S.-Russia relations—is increasingly losing currency in Moscow.
This is the crux of the matter. The USG has been willing to suspend its hostility to Russia only on condition that a continual flow of Russia concessions is forthcoming. The Russian government, rightfully, have concluded that our outright hostility is less of a burden to them than our "friendship", on present terms. And since the USG are not willing to alter those terms by mutual concessions and mutual agreement, be prepared for steadily increasing difficulty in US-Russian relations.
Nicolas, a smart move on behalf of the Nixon center would be to try to figure out what incentives the US can actually offer Russia in exchange for quite a long list of concessions we want from them. Personally, I would explicitly tie WTO access to transparency and accountability in government.