PRAGUE, 1 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- By coincidence, President Bush’s State of the Union address and President Putin's press conference fell on the same week this year.
Both leaders devoted much time to foreign policy, providing an opportunity to contrast their views. Putin's approach could best be summarized as: "maintain the status quo," or "evolution, not revolution." Bush, on the other hand, continued to encourage what some label "revolutionary" change. You might call it a reversal of Cold War roles when Washington tried to contain communism and Moscow tried to export it.Stability Above All
When asked about whether Russia should maintain close ties with Uzbekistan's leaders, in the wake of the massacre at Andijon in May, Putin replied: "We don't need a second Afghanistan in Central Asia and we will act very carefully there. We don't need a revolution [in Central Asia], what we need is evolution that would help consolidate the values you just mentioned, while averting outbursts such as the one we witnessed in Andijon."
Among the major political achievements claimed by Putin in 2005 was what he termed the restoration of stability in Chechnya, capped by November elections that reestablished a bicameral parliament.
Putin also defended Russia's close ties with Belarus's President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, once again emphasizing long-term relations and stability. "Special relations between Russia and Belarus have been developing for centuries. There is no comparison between them and the relations Belarus has with France or any other Western European country," he said. "Please don't forget that. We remember that now and will remember that in the future."Working For Change
Bush, in his address, told Americans he will continue his activist foreign policy, including pursuing the war on terror, continuing his course in the Iraq war, and continuing efforts to spread democracy in the world. Some aspects of his foreign policy, particularly the handling of the war in Iraq, have contributed to his current low approval ratings among the American public. But Bush warned that isolationism would only make the United States weaker and less secure.
"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline," Bush said. "The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership. So the United States of America will continue to lead."
Bush specifically mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq: "We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders -- and for the others, their day will come. We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan -- where a fine president and National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy. And we are on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory."
And he had some harsh words for the leadership in Tehran: "The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon -- and that must come to an end."
At the same time, he assured Iran's people that America stands with them. "Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country," bush said. "We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."Energy Consumer Vs. Supplier
On the domestic front, both Putin and Bush devoted considerable attention to energy policy. Saying America is "addicted to oil" imported from abroad, Bush called for new technology and energy efficiency to wean the United States from its dependence on Middle Eastern oil by 2025.
Putin, for his part, defended Russia's policy of raising natural-gas prices to what he called world-market levels, saying Moscow could no longer afford to subsidize its neighbors. "[Russia has been using] nonmarket pricing methods, or in fact subsidizing the economies of the former Soviet republics at the expense of Russian consumers, Russian citizens, for 15 years," he said. "Subsidies to the Ukrainian economy alone cost Russian citizens $3.5 billion annually. For comparison, as far as I remember, the U.S. provided $174 million worth of aid to Ukraine last year."
On the issue of maintaining the status quo, Bush and Putin did reverse roles when it came to the economy. Bush expressed the hope that America will continue to retain its economic preeminence in the world. Putin, by contrast, criticized those in the United States who he said are trying to "hold Russia back." He assured his constituents that Russia is ready to join the World Trade Organization and will make the most of its chairmanship of the Group of Eight of the world's most industrialized countries.
Lapsing into one of the colloquialisms for which he is famous in Russia, Putin said that those who do not want to see Russia prosper as a great power deserve only one answer: "To heck with you."