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Russia: Observer Says Bush-Putin Friendship 'A Myth'

Will friendship overcome all obstacles? Not likely, according to David Satter (file photo) (official site) WASHINGTON, July 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As the July 1-2 summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush approaches, RFE/RL Washington correspondent Vladimir Abarinov asks former "Financial Times" Moscow correspondent and author David Satter what he believes will be accomplished at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport.

RFE/RL: What do you think will be the main topics of discussion when Presidents Bush and Putin meet in Kennebunkport?

David Satter: Well, the agenda is likely to consist of two questions. One is the American radar in Eastern Europe -- the radar and antimissile installation in Eastern Europe. And the other is the question of Russia's relations with Iran. And it doesn't appear that there will be progress from the American point of view on either of those questions, because [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov has said that Iran is not a threat and they (Russia) will restart their cooperation with the Iranians concerning the Bushehr nuclear-power station, on the one hand.

And the United States is unlikely to agree to Russia's suggestion that the U.S. share the Qabala radar station in Azerbaijan. So it doesn't appear that, at least as far as these two questions are concerned, there is very much that can be done. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the United States is not going to raise the question of Russia's overall behavior and the general growth of authoritarianism in Russia.

So, as a result, the best I think that can come out of all this -- or the most that can come out of this -- I would say, is some type of anodyne communique in which the sides say that they had a frank exchange and will consult further on various questions.

RFE/RL: Do you think President Putin is aware that his country is increasingly being perceived by the West as undemocratic and authoritarian?

Satter: Very much so. I think that people are becoming more and more realistic about what Russia is, and the Russian authorities have no one but themselves to blame. For example, they have refused -- they have made it clear that they don't intend to comply with the request from Great Britain to extradite Andrei Lugovoi.

And there's no move to put him on trial in Russia itself, although there is talk that they are going to have a trial in absentia of Boris Berezovsky. Things like that, even if people don't know all the details, create the impression that this is a country which does not consider itself to be bound by any rules -- either ethical or legal -- and of course that makes an impression on people.

RFE/RL: Will the personal relationship between Bush and Putin facilitate the finding of common ground on some of the issues on which Russia and the United States disagree?

Satter: Well I don't believe their leaders are close. I think that this so-called friendship is just a myth. This is a device of manipulation that the Russian side uses to limit the options and freedom of speech of the American side.

It's ridiculous when the head of state says, as Putin said, that in reaction to the United States' plans to install an antimissile system in Eastern Europe 'a friend would not behave that way.' This is clearly an attempt to use Bush's susceptibility and his (Putin's) illusion that a personal relationship can take the place of a more serious consideration of the national interest against Bush.

So, I think that the Russian side knows perfectly well that there is no true friendship. What there is is the imitation of friendship which is used -- and rather unskillfully -- to prevent the American side from expressing itself fully and, in certain circumstances, is used as a device for trying to influence the American position.

RFE/RL: Will the presence of former President George Bush, father of George W. Bush, at the Bush family estate have a positive influence on the talks?

Satter: I'm not sure if he has any more influence with the Russian side than the younger Bush. After all, the younger Bush is supposed to be Putin's great friend, so he should be able to influence him. And if he can't influence him, why is it that we can expect his father to do so.

I think that the only thing that will really influence the Russians side, and help to resolve some of the problems in U.S.-Russian relations, is the ability of the United States to speak frankly about the real situation in the world and the real situation in Russia.

And, in this respect, it's important not to take the Russian demands and claims too seriously -- and to indicate to the Russians that we understand that there's an element of theater.

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