RFE/RL: Putin's trip to the United States comes in the wake of several pointed foreign-policy moves from Russia's leadership in a variety of areas. It almost seems as if Moscow is intentionally trying to agitate Washington on the eve of the summit. Do you agree with this?
Andrei Piontkovsky: This all began rather earlier -- with Putin's speech in Munich. And it reached a crescendo with the comparison of the United States and the Third Reich on Victory Day. It is true, though, that official Moscow later backed away from that. But, yes, this is what is called the aggressive style of Russian diplomacy. Moscow is intentionally creating a confrontation with the West -- partially as a result of its own psychological complexes and partly for domestic consumption. The image of the West as the enemy is the only instrument for legitimizing the authorities -- who have no ideology -- and attracting voters to it.
"There won't be any progress, but there won't be a major collapse either. After Putin compared the United States to the Third Reich, any meeting that passes without such comparisons is going to seem like a success."
RFE/RL: Does Washington understand the reasons for Moscow's harsh rhetoric?
Piontkovsky: In official circles there is a sense of confusion. They don't understand what is behind the psychological attacks. And the format of the visit -- an invitation to the Bush family estate -- seems like an effort to somehow talk over and dispel this misunderstanding in an informal, even friendly atmosphere.
RFE/RL: Do you think they'll manage this?
Piontkovsky: I don't think so. A significant portion of the Russian political class is invested in this confrontation with the West -- at least in the virtual sphere of ideology and propaganda. There is a sense of euphoria in Moscow -- first, euphoria over their own power, a flexing of Russia's oil-and-gas muscle, and, second, euphoria over the weakness of the West, particularly the United States, which is obvious. The United States is bogged down in Iraq and has many foreign-policy problems. But Moscow is influenced by the rather strange combination of a long-standing inferiority complex and, at the same time, a complex of megalomania.
RFE/RL: If you were a foreign-policy adviser to the U.S. president, what would you say?
Piontkovsky: The thing is that relations with Russia do not lie at the center of American politics and Washington isn't so much looking for strong moves as for any move. However, I would try seriously to draw Russia into a joint missile-defense project. What Putin has offered is just a propaganda step, as if to say: "Ahh, you don't want to abandon your radar in the Czech Republic and Poland after our Azerbaijan proposal, so that means your sneaky intentions toward Russia are clear." It is necessary to somehow draw the Russian security and foreign-policy community into a serious discussion of these matters. Because all experts understand that the U.S. missile-defense proposals definitely do not pose any danger to Russia's deterrence capabilities.
RFE/RL: Do you think there might be some progress on one of the controversial questions of U.S.-Russian relations -- like Kosovo or missile defense or something else -- just to hold up to journalists and pundits after the meeting? Or is Putin just not interested in having anything to show?
Piontkovsky: There won't be any progress, but there won't be a major collapse either. After Putin compared the United States to the Third Reich, any meeting that passes without such comparisons is going to seem like a success. I think that they will create some kind of working group on missile defense.
In addition, there is one matter that Moscow is very interested in where Washington might compromise to create the illusion of success. That is cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power. Moscow needs an agreement for legal reasons because without it, they cannot realize the plan that was announced four years ago to import spent nuclear fuel. Taiwan and South Korea, the main potential clients for Russia in this dirty business, cannot export their spent fuel without the agreement of Russia and the United States, because the fuel originally came from the United States.
AN RFE/RL VIDEO PRESENTATION: The Czech Republic responds to the U.S. missile-defense proposal.