WASHINGTON, March 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In early 2001, President Bush said after his first meeting with Putin that he had looked into the Russian's soul and found a man he could trust.
Bush probably wouldn't say that now, according to Jack Kemp, a retired American politician who is co-chairman of the CFR task force that wrote the report on the future of U.S.-Russian relations. He made the comment on U.S. television on March 5.
A Retreat From Democracy
The CFR study says that Russia has been retreating from democracy. It argues that power in Russia has been increasingly centralized in Moscow, and that Russian judges are increasingly coming under the influence of political leaders.
Further, the task force says, Putin has adopted a foreign policy that is often at odds with the West. It points to Russia's efforts to get U.S. forces out of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as its apparent use of its energy resources to intimidate pro-Western neighbors such as Ukraine and Georgia.
Most recently, the CFR cites Putin's invitation to Hamas, the militant group that won Palestinian legislative elections in January, to visit Moscow for talks. The United States and European Union regard Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Some Positives Highlighted
The report says such issues create increased friction between the United States and Russia and that the idea of a strategic partnership between the two countries no longer seems realistic.
At the same time, the report refers to positive developments, such as Russia's stand against other Islamist militant groups. It points to Russia's proposal to take over uranium enrichment for Iran in an effort to ensure that Tehran's nuclear program cannot be used to produce atomic weapons.
The study says this development is a positive reversal because, until recently, Washington viewed Moscow as a key enabler of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The CFR report was written by a task force under the co-chairmanship of Kemp and former Senator John Edwards, a Democrat who sought the vice presidency in 2004. Kemp is a Republican who ran for the same position in 1996.
Taking A Tougher Line
The task force recommends that the United States be more prepared to oppose Putin strongly when necessary. For example, it urges Washington to help Russia's former-communist neighbors become more integrated into Europe by compensating for the political and economic pressures that Moscow puts on them.
As for Russia's apparent stall in democratic reform, the report says Bush and his top aides should not merely voice concern, but should increase support for nongovernmental organizations working for fair elections in the coming years.
Edwards, appearing on March 5 with Kemp on the same television program, deplored what he called the "de-democratization" of Russia and Moscow's "bullying" of its neighbors. But he said it is essential that the United States maintain cooperation with Russia on major global issues ranging from the spread of HIV/AIDS to weapons proliferation.
The report was issued just before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was to arrive in Washington on March 6 for meetings on March 7 with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Group Of Eight Could Become Seven
It also comes three months before the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized economies, which will be held in St. Petersburg with Putin as host. Some say Russia has not earned the right to be a member of the G8.
Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) has urged a boycott of the summit. And in the March 5 television appearance, Kemp avoided using the term "G8." Instead he referred to "the seven industrial democracies plus Russia."
Kemp said that if Russia doesn't cooperate economically and politically with the rest of these counties, they could exclude it and revert to the G7 format.