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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

SLUG: 7-37524 US-Russian Relations After Iraq

DATE=MAY 28, 2003









HOST: Relations between the United States and Russia were badly shaken by Moscow's opposition to the war in Iraq and by allegations of Russian military and intelligence cooperation with the regime of Saddam Hussein. Do such differences represent a return to cold war animosity, or a temporary setback on the road to a US-Russian strategic partnership? This edition of Dateline written by Jaroslaw Anders, looks at the state of relations between Washington and Moscow in the wake of the Iraqi campaign. Here's Steve Ember.


JA: Even though Moscow recently backed the US-sponsored United Nations resolution to lift economic sanctions on Iraq, analysts say much more is needed to repair strained relations. U.S. Russia ties may get a boost on June 1st when President Bush travels to St. Petersburg to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the city built by Tsar Peter the Great to bring Russia closer to the West. Yet George W. Bush will visit a country whose leader opposed him on the war in Iraq and whose diplomatic and military establishments publicly express their disapproval of American foreign policy. Opinion polls conducted shortly before the start of the Iraq war reflected that over 70 percent of Russians felt that the United States, NOT Saddam's Iraq, was the main threat to the world peace. Some analysts worry that without a serious debate on the differences between Washington and Moscow, President Bush in St. Petersburg may become a "prop in President Putin's pageant."

Immediately after the attacks of 9/11 Russia expressed her full solidarity with the United States in the global war on terrorism. How could things have soured so quickly? Some experts say Russia suffers from "post imperial syndrome" --a former superpower's envy of the current superpower, America. Yet Leon Aron, director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that internal political considerations played a large role in provoking Russian opposition on Iraq. Speaking at a recent panel organized by AEI, Mr. Aron said that President Putin is worried about upcoming parliamentary elections in which the pro-reform faction "United Russia" may face considerable competition from the communist party.

TAPE: CUT 1, Aron :49

"First of all, there was the political calendar I mentioned. Siding with the United States unambiguously, or even assuming the Chinese sort of silent dissent opposition would have in my view very seriously damaged the position of United Russia in the critical December elections. Prior to Iraq already the United Russia was pretty wobbly, going head to head with the communists, but there was a series of local elections losing ground to the communists in local elections, mayoral elections, gubernatorial elections, where the United Russia was less than stellar. For Putin to assume a position more amenable to us would have meant opening the flank of the United Russia, and giving to the communists an enormous advantage in the elections."

JA: Apart from the elections, professor Aron points to the attitude of Russian political elites, who even before Iraq believed that Russia did not get enough favors from the United States in return for Moscow's pro-American stance after 9/11. Unfinished business on issues like trade and consular relations between both countries and restructuring Russia's debt, surfaced during the debate on Iraq. Professor Aron believes that Russians came to the conclusion that they had very little to gain from siding with America in the Iraqi crisis.

TAPE: CUT 2, Aron :41

"All of that, I think, in the end meant that by early 2003 America had neither carrots nor sticks. We had either cashed in or thrown out the chips that we had with Russia, and that is of course another lesson, that is no matter how good you feel about the relationship with another major power it is always good to have something tangible, that either can be withdrawn or bestowed. With the expansion of NATO to the former Soviet Union, with the exit from the ABM, there was very little that Russia stood to lose, or to gain actually, from being nice to the United States."

JA: Leon Aron believes that despite the disagreement on Iraq, the fundamentals of the US-Russian partnership have not been severely damaged. Those fundamentals include the common interest in combating terrorism, management of nuclear stockpiles, and mutually beneficial oil trade. Russian politicians also understand that the only way for Russia to play an important role in world affairs is through some form of alliance with the United States.

Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment for International peace agrees that the Iraqi dispute, like earlier disputes over NATO expansion and the ABM treaty, will prove just a "blip" on the screen of US-Russian relations. Speaking at the same Enterprise Institute session he said Russia's need for the United States and the West to rebuild its economy and its international position supercedes such differences.


"To recover as a major power sometime later in the first half of this new century, Russia has to focus like a laser beam on economic development, rebuilding national infrastructure, transforming its political and economic system, to make it more compatible not only with the post-industrial West, but also with emerging major developing powers such as India, China, and others."

JA: Therefore, Andrew Kuchins says a rupture with the West, is not in Russia's interest. But is Russia capable of acting as America's reliable strategic partner? Professor Kuchins believes that the allegations of illegal arms transfers to Iraq, if proven, could undermine the American-Russian trust that exists at the leadership level.

Another participant at the American Enterprise session, Nikolai Zlobin, director of Eurasian and Russian programs at the Center for Defense Information, is less optimistic about the possibility of overcoming the present US Russian rift. He says the main obstacle is Russia's lack of a coherent foreign policy, which is currently driven more by internal politics than by strategic national interest. Dr. Zlobin also criticizes the United States for its lack of consistent policy toward Russia. He says both sides ignore serious problems, such as the Russian involvement in the Iranian nuclear program, Russian concerns about losing influence in Central Asia, and Moscow's fear of Pakistan's nuclear capacity.

Tape: CUT 4, Zlobin :39

"So when we talked about partnership with Russia, I think we kind of assumed that we must have partnership, that we should be partners and we don't have any other choices. I do not see today any solid basis for that partnership. We can cooperate on certain issues, like sometimes we can cooperate on fighting world terrorism, although we also see terrorism quite differently. We have different understanding of international law. After Russia became a weak country it definitely started to respect international law. I think that our relationship is reversible. We should not take it for granted that our relationship is irreversible and it cannot turn in a bad way. Iraq should be a very dangerous sign for us and a point to start to think."

JA: Former US ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, believes that US Russian relations can and should be improved. He would like to see the United States work more closely with Russia on a more rapid reduction of nuclear weapons and on adopting a less aggressive mutual military posture. Russia and America, he says, are no longer strategic opponents, but their military and security bureaucracies sometimes behave as if the Cold War was still going on. Ambassador Matlock told the AEI audience that cooperation with the West is still the only option open to Russia.

TAPE: CUT 5, Matlock :09

"I do think that Russia really has no rational course in the future except with the West and the United States."

JA: Ambassador Matlock says the present divisions between the United States and some European countries pose a problem for Russia, which needs both America and Europe:

TAPE: CUT 6, Matlock :17

"If the west is going to be divided, it is a problem for Russia, and I think that it is more of a problem than it is an opportunity. Though there will be those who would see opportunities. Right now, I suspect, that given the divisions in NATO that Russia may have more influence than some of the members."

JA: Ambassador Matlock suggests that both Russia and France should be invited to bid, together with Americans and British firms, for oil contracts in Iraq. Such a move, he says, would not only satisfy Russian concerns about the debts owed to it by Iraq, but also help American credibility in the Middle East. American hegemony will be easier to accept, Ambassador Matlock says, when the United States works cooperatively through the international system.

TAPE: CUT 7, Matlock :24

"I think that we are in a world where every country has certain degrees of weight and influence in certain areas, and this will vary, and to feel that the US can do it alone and can do it without persuading most of the rest of the world that it is operating legally and in the common interest, is in the long run going to make it much more difficult to carry out American interests."

JA: Political observers note that despite Russian opposition on Iraq, Washington has refrained from sharp anti-Russian rhetoric while voicing much stronger dissatisfaction with France and Germany. After the end of hostilities in Iraq, President Putin even made some conciliatory gestures. Just last week, Moscow signaled it might be able to collaborate on a defensive missile shield that the Kremlin once violently opposed. Analysts say that both countries recognize their common interests in the war on terrorism, the Middle East peace process and in other areas of mutual concern. As for Russian attitudes toward the United States, opinion polls show that despite current animosity, average Russians are more inclined to identify America with such notions as wealth, power, progress, and liberty than with violence, inequality, imperialism or racism. Analysts tend to agree that the rift over Iraq should not be ignored, but that its significance should not be exaggerated. They say that as long as Russia continues its evolution toward democracy and free markets, disputes such as the one over Iraq are likely to fade away. This Dateline was written by Jaroslaw Anders. I'm Steve Ember in Washington.

ANNCR:[Voice out at 9:30]

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