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Russia: Roundtable Discusses Benefits, Drawbacks Of U.S. Cooperation

  • Francesca Mereu

A roundtable discussion this week in Moscow brought together Russian lawmakers and political analysts to discuss how -- in the six months since Russia joined the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition -- Moscow has benefited from the new partnership. Participants also questioned where President Vladimir Putin's pro-Western policy will lead the country next.

Moscow, 4 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In the days following the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised many by joining the U.S.-led fight against terrorism, offering to share intelligence and open air corridors for humanitarian flights to Afghanistan.

Now, a month and a half before Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush meet in Moscow for a Russia-U.S summit, Russian political analysts and lawmakers are asking whether the seemingly warmer relations between the two countries have in fact improved. They are also questioning where the Kremlin's pro-Western line is leading the country. Both topics were discussed this week in Moscow at a roundtable devoted to post-11 September Russian-U.S. cooperation.

Among the participants was General Leonid Ivashov, a former Defense Ministry director of international military cooperation and now deputy director of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems. Ivashov says both the Soviet Union before, and Russia now, have always wished for a strategic partnership with the U.S. But Ivashov says that what came after 11 September cannot be called a real partnership between Russia and the U.S.

"In my opinion, there wasn't and there couldn't be any partnership. It was just an emotional reaction to the September 11 tragedy. [At the time,] there just was some irrational hope that [Russian-U.S.] relations would improve radically. But in attempting to adjust Russian policy to U.S. policy, we just wanted to solve a series of Russian problems. And maybe in some way, the Russian political elite naively hoped to improve its personal image [abroad]."

Ivashov says the U.S. and Russia cannot be good partners because their economic, military, and geopolitical interests differ too much. He says the two countries look at the world, both in terms of its present and its future, in entirely different ways. He describes Russia's view as more "multipolar," and willing to consider cooperation with countries like China and India to balance U.S. influence.

Aleksandr Shabanov is the deputy chairman of the Duma's (lower house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee. He says the U.S. has always followed its own political course and won't change track to meet Russia's needs. He also says Russia will never be able to achieve an equal footing with the U.S., which he says has grown too powerful.

"[The U.S.] has such a dominant position in the world in every way. How can you have equal relations with such a supreme power? Of course it's impossible. We shouldn't have illusions and even think about it. Present-day Russia and its elite have to accept it."

Aleksandr Livshits is a former finance minister and deputy premier. He resigned after the 1998 financial crisis and the following year founded an economic policy think-tank. Livshits says many hoped the new relations between Russia and the United States in the wake of 11 September would bring economic benefits.

But he says the U.S., which recently passed new steel tariffs aimed at protecting its domestic industry, is trying to destroy the Russian steel market. Moreover, he says, Washington has not yet lifted the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanick trade barrier, which is a major obstacle to Russia's hopes of joining the World Trade Organization. Livshits says Moscow and Washington have discussed the issue for many years, but without results.

"[Russia's] status as a market [economy] is an issue that has been discussed for some seven or eight years. I've witnessed, on several occasions, our first president [Boris Yeltsin] looking at [former U.S. president Bill] Clinton and saying, 'Bill, where's our status?' We were verbally promised that the issue about our economic status would be considered, but instead, Kazakhstan [got Jackson-Vanick lifted]. Now the U.S. and the European Union are preparing plans whereby the status will be given to Russia but not extended to Russian enterprises. Do you understand what that means? [It means] Russia without its factories."

Vyacheslav Nikonov is a former political adviser to the foreign intelligence wing of the Soviet-era KGB and currently runs the Politika Foundation think-tank, which has close ties to the Kremlin. In contrast to many speakers at the roundtable, he says good relations with the United States and the West may work to Russia's advantage.

"If you have good relations with the U.S. and the West, you don't have to waste all your energy defending yourself against the West; you don't have to waste your energy fighting against international terrorism. It is prestigious to have good relations [with the U.S. and the West], and, what's more, it gives you the chance to be a member of some clubs [like the Paris Club of foreign lenders]. Of course [the West] won't allow us to get into some [of its] exclusive clubs, but we are allowed to take part in the G-8 meetings. [Good relations with the West] give you the advantage of taking part in the international economy. Moreover, you can count on investments, even if at the same time you need to build up a good climate for investments in the country. This is a domestic task, but also a foreign policy task."

Nikonov, however, criticizes Russian foreign policy. He says Russian policy lacks a cohesive strategy for developing relations with the West. Moreover, he says, Russia still does not understand what it wants from the United States and the West in general.

"Our political elite, with their incessant ambitions, are continually getting all huffy with the Americans even in matters that the Americans don't have anything to do with. One example is the defeat of our team at the [Winter] Olympic Games."

Aleksei Arbatov is a lawmaker from the liberal Yabloko faction and the deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee. He says he does not approve of the way the United States has behaved since 11 September, but he says Russian analysts and lawmakers should put themselves in America's shoes before casting final judgment.

"A good way to fight against such [anti-U.S.] emotions is to imagine how we would have behaved if what happened in the U.S. had happened in Russia. I believe that we would have behaved in a tougher way and that we would respect less [than the U.S.] the interests of other countries."

In addition, Arbatov says, Russia -- while often criticizing U.S. and EU policy -- has never offered a tangible alternative.

"We are rightly against NATO enlargement, but what can we offer in exchange to the Europeans for their security? Absolutely nothing. The same situation concerns the Balkans. Did we at the time offer some real alternatives to that terrible crisis that disturbed us so much? No, we didn't offer anything. Where we don't offer a convincing alternative, there will be an alternative [offered] that is not ours."

Arbatov believes that it would be against Russia's interests to create bad relations with the United States. But he says Russia should steer clear of what he calls the "America-centric" nature of Russia's domestic and foreign policy since 11 September. He says, instead, "Russia has to orient its relations toward those countries that have good relationships with the U.S. but are sometimes critical of U.S. policy" -- like South Korea, Japan, India, and EU countries.

But Arbatov says Russia must think carefully about its own policy. "We'd like to be at the same level as the U.S. and the West, but inside our country we are not behaving according to Western standards," he says, citing the lack of press freedom and human-rights violations in Russia's war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

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