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Analysis: Soul-Searching in Kennebunkport

Council on Foreign Relations

June 29, 2007
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner

Caviar from the Caspian Sea will be flown in to the land of lobster as what might be the final meeting between Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin gets underway in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s been a rough ride for the two leaders, both of whom came to power as unknown entities unversed in diplomatic formalities. Not long after Bush gazed into his Russian counterpart’s soul in the summer of 2001 and liked what he saw, relations deteriorated. Russia opposed the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq and what it viewed as Washington’s meddling in elections in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004. Washington opposed Russia’s rollback of democracy and what it saw as Moscow’s meddling in Georgia and Ukraine. The latest sore spot to emerge is the U.S. plan to stage a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Given the litany of grievances, experts are not optimistic anything of substance will emerge out of the Kennebunkport meeting. Putin’s counteroffer to stage a missile system in Azerbaijan as opposed to Poland and the Czech Republic drew a lukewarm reaction from U.S. defense officials. Bush will also try to enlist Putin’s support for stricter sanctions against Iran, but Steven Pifer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is doubtful (PDF) because “the Russians have a very different set of geopolitical and economic interests in Iran.” Finally, on Kosovo the two sides have also grown further apart, as the Kremlin digs in its heels in opposition to a UN Security Council resolution (AP) that offers phased-in independence for the Serbian province. “Domestically [Putin] cannot make a concession on Kosovo for fear of appearing weak and inconsistent,” (RussiaProfile.org) writes analyst Vladimir Frolov.

With all this in mind, some experts say the Kennebunkport summit is meant primarily to cement the outgoing presidents’ legacies.

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