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Russia: U.S. Election Expected To Chill Relations Further

The Russian media expect tougher scrutiny of Russia's human rights record with a Democrat-controlled Congress (epa) PRAGUE, November 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russian media today are predicting a chill in U.S.-Russia ties following the results of the November 7 U.S. elections, which appeared to hand both chambers of Congress to the opposition Democrats and have led to the surprise resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Many Russian newspapers predict the changes to the U.S. Congress will mean increased criticism of Russia's human rights standards, and a deterioration in cooperation on foreign-policy issues like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. RFE/RL correspondent Claire Bigg spoke to Aleksandr Golts, a political and defense expert for the Moscow-based "Yezhednevny zhurnal."

RFE/RL: Relations between Washington and Moscow have significantly cooled since U.S. President George W. Bush famously said in 2001 that he peered into the soul of his Russian counterpart and liked what he saw. In your opinion, will the Democratic Party's victory in congressional elections improve bilateral relations, or on the contrary bring a new chill?

Aleksandr Golts: I think that relations are more likely to cool. It's hard to imagine that the Democrats, once in control of the Congress, will help Russia reach its two main goals -- the abolishment of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and approval to join the World Trade Organization.

RFE/RL: So you think the new U.S. Congress will block Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO)?

Golts: It's absolutely obvious that the Democrat-controlled Congress will not allow U.S. approval of Russia's entry into the WTO.

The Russian press today is voicing concern that Washington's policy toward Russia will harden, given that a number of prominent Democrats have strongly criticized President Vladimir Putin. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, for instance, is set to take over the helm of the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives. Do you share this view?

Golts: The key posts in Congress are now occupied by people who all these years have retained a consistent anti-Putin stance. Congressman Lantos has consistently said that Russia in its current conditions has no place in the G8 [Group of Eight leading industrialized countries], and has again and again denounced human rights violations in Russia. Being the head of the International Relations Committee will enable him not only to gain a larger audience for such declarations, but also to take concrete action. And considering that Russian leaders interpret any critique as some kind of global conspiracy to humiliate Russia and prevent it from getting back on its feet, I think that relations between our countries will continue to deteriorate.

RFE/RL: How will the Democrats' victory and the subsequent resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld affect the already bumpy cooperation between Russia and the United States on international issues -- for instance the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs?

I don't think they will have much influence in this respect, because there have been clear contradictions with the Bush administration in this sphere. I don't think things can get much cooler than they already are.

Russia's Democratic Development

Russia's Democratic Development

Demonstrators speak with local politicians in Butovo about the destruction of a local forest in July 2006 (RFE/RL)

IS RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY MANAGING? Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Western powers seek to pressure Russia under the pretext of concern over its democratic development. He has said Russia is ready to listen to "well-intentioned criticism," but will not allow anyone to interfere in its internal affairs. The Kremlin has been criticized for stifling political oppostion, increasing central control over the media, and cracking down on the work on nongovernmental organizations.


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