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U.S./Russia: Former U.S. Ambassador Assesses Summit

James Collins, former U.S. ambassador to Russia (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) July 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- There were smiles and sunshine and seacoast, but what exactly did the Bush-Putin summit succeed at, and fail at? RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher asks James Collins -- the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1997-2001, and now the director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington -- to tally the wins and losses.

RFE/RL: Many of the post-summit press reports said that Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin basically had a great time, and enjoyed good talks, but no major agreements were announced. Is that your impression?

James Collins: Well, I don't think that's quite correct. First of all, they completed negotiations and completed, or signed, depending on how you put it, a "Section 1-2-3 Agreement" on Friday [June 29]. Now, this is a big deal.

RFE/RL: How important is it?

Collins: The 1-2-3 Agreement is a framework agreement under which any U.S. cooperation on civilian nuclear matters takes place with another country. And to have this agreement means that we now have open the opportunity for our whole civilian nuclear communities in both countries to work together. And that has not been the case up till now.

There have been all kinds of restrictions and caveats and problems on information sharing, how information is handled, what can be disclosed, etc., etc., etc. And so what this means, it looks like we are really taking a major step ahead in the area of civilian nuclear cooperation.

RFE/RL: Can you put the significance of that "major step" into some kind of historical context?

Collins: My view of this is that it is the nuclear equivalent of what we did in space at the beginning of the '90s, when we broke down the barriers and got our two space communities into the same tent, and were able to produce the space station and a whole host of other things in civilian space cooperation.

It was very, very significant. And here's the context: there is going to come a large expansion of nuclear power generation, globally. If we don't have a new international framework for that, we're all going to have problems with proliferation, how do we manage the spent nuclear fuel, etc.

This is going to make it possible to get serious people to sit down and talk about how to deal with this. And that's going to be essential if you're going to have an international framework for the next generation of nuclear power.

RFE/RL: What about the biggest issue at the summit -- Russian opposition to U.S. plans to establish radar defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic? What's your impression about what happened on that front?

Collins: I don't think they came to any agreement about eliminating the Polish and Czech programs. But on other things it was quite interesting to me that, first of all, Putin put forth some new ideas about additional facilities that could be made available for missile defense.

He also raised the idea of activating -- finally -- this "information fusion center" in Moscow. He also proposed the idea that we ought to be discussing missile defense jointly and that we ought to expand that discussion to include the Europeans and the NATO-Russia Council.

But what all of this really suggests to me is that the Russians have made the point that "we want to talk about missile defense and how it's going to develop for Europe." And the president [Bush] here has basically said, "Interesting -- we think that's a good idea, etc." What it seems to me did come out of this is a sort of commitment to a much expanded dialogue, to include the Europeans now.

RFE/RL: Bush said he and Putin had made "great strides" in laying the foundation for future Russian-U.S. relations in terms of nuclear security. What was he referring to?

Collins: There is a commitment not only to have working groups discuss missile defense but apparently follow on to the strategic arms treaties. So START I will run out in, I think, 2012, and there's a whole range of discussions that need to be undertaken if we're not simply to lose the entire framework within which the sort of arms control arrangements have been conducted.

And while it isn't so much about reducing numbers [of weapons] now -- although one might hope that would be a part of it -- it's about all of the confidence-building [measures] of inspections and all this kind of thing.

So, I think it is good news also that they have agreed that they will begin some serious discussion on these topics.

RFE/RL: What's your take on the Iran issue? It doesn't seem like the United States got Russia to agree on any specific course of action to dissuade Tehran from pursuing its nuclear aims.

Collins: I don't think they did, I think they -- they didn't disagree, but they didn't agree either on the next steps, was what I took away.

RFE/RL: But a lot of the media has cast it as, "U.S., Russia United On Iran."

Collins: Well I think they are, up to a point. I don't think there's disagreement on two fundamental points. One is: it's not a good thing for Iran to have nuclear weapons. And secondly, that Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons. I think they agree on those points.

The question is, what do you do about it? And the Russian position, I would say, was: "Let's keep working in the [UN] Security Council."

I don't know whether [the U.S.] side with [Putin], put forward some specific suggestion or not. My guess is that the most that came out of it was that they would, in fact, agree to continue working in the Security Council. Iran didn't strike me as a particularly divisive issue in this meeting.

RFE/RL: Neither leader mentioned Kosovo in their post-summit statements. What should we conclude from that?

Collins: The way they left it essentially was to kick it to the secretary of state and foreign minister.

This is [what national-security adviser Stephen] Hadley [said]: He said basically, "look, we want our secretary of state and foreign minister to supervise and continue those discussions to see if we can find a solution on the way forward."

Now, what I would say is: they didn't agree on anything. But they also didn't have a confrontation over it, or a closed door, is what it seems to me. Essentially what they're saying is "let's continue talking."

RFE/RL: And that's what Moscow wants to do, isn't it: keep talking? But Bush and other U.S. government officials have said they want the issue of Kosovo's independence to be solved sooner rather than later.

Collins: I'm not quite sure there is a clear position here beyond discussing it. Because when [U.S.] Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] left Moscow after her meeting with Putin some weeks ago, she essentially made a statement to the effect of, "No one wants an agreement that isn't acceptable to all parties."

Well, that pretty much says, "you better continue talking." So I just think the key point here is that no one drew a line in the sand and that they would continue to have the ministers work the issue.

RFE/RL: Bush emphasized his "future relations" with Putin. But both men will leave office in the next 18 months. How important is it that these two leaders get along in the future?

Collins: Well there isn't a long future. I mean, they're going to have a couple more meetings at most. I think it probably was what they said, they probably had a pretty good and frank discussion and meeting, they seem to get along pretty well.

I think it's interesting now frankly to watch how Putin plays this when he gets home. Because there's a sort of, "We're friends and we talk frankly and we're candid and so forth," and I would say, a largely positive atmospheric from this meeting from both of them, you know, in the way they wanted to talk about it, is in some contrast to the way Putin's been talking at home, and I think it will be interesting to see what he does when he goes home.

But the fact of the matter is he doesn't take home anything either, frankly, very substantial. Although, at least he can say now, "at least we're engaging on these subjects, of missile defense and the future of the arms control agreements and so forth."

RFE/RL: What were they expecting back in Moscow, do you think? Just for Putin to hold his ground on issues like Kosovo and missile defense?

Collins: Well I think they wanted to be sure that he held his ground and that he made clear that just having a missile-defense system that excluded Russia was not something they found acceptable and that they were going to put on the table things that made an alternative to that possible.

From what I know of this subject there are two levels of complications. There are real technological complications. Then there's just the question of trust, and political trust, and whether you can come to terms, as they did, say in the space program earlier -- when all of these same arguments were made: "You can't trust the Russians, how they'll steal our technology, etc."

Well, as it turned out, they're the ones who can keep putting rockets up. But the point is, it took some real knuckle-rapping by the leadership of the space programs on both sides, by their own people, to force them to make common cause on a "third project."

Well, we face much the same thing on the nuclear side, I think the missile defense is much the same thing.

The Russian Perspective

The Russian Perspective

Fyodor Lukyanov (RFE/RL file photo)

'A SYMBOLIC RITUAL.' RFE/RL's Russian Service asked FYODOR LUKYANOV, the influential editor of "Russia In Global Affairs," to comment on the July 1-2 summit. Below are excerpts from that interview.

There is no reason to expect a radical turnabout because a radical turnabout in U.S.-Russian relations requires a profound rethinking of those relations and the emergence of some sort of strategic course. The problem is not in the personal relations between the two presidents or in the sum total of various factors of conflict. It is in the fact that since the Cold War no working models of interrelations have emerged. The relations that arose in the 1990s, for various reasons, didn't work. What we are seeing now are the consequences of the crisis of the 1990s model.

Serious work is required in order to develop solid, stable relations. And neither side is currently in a position to do this serious work with a long-term perspective.

[Bush] needs to save his foreign policy from total collapse. He has absolutely nothing to boast of. And if we add to the Iraq drama the final turn of relations with Russia into confrontation, then that will definitely complicate still more the position of the Republican Party and turn Bush into a foreign-policy monster. So, it seems to me, that he has a very short-term problem -- preventing a final collapse, preserving until Putin leaves the feeling that, "yes, we have many problems, but we are still partners; we are in dialogue, etc., etc."

This summit is, definitely, a symbolic ritual, all the more because it is taking place in a symbolic venue. This is the place where the father of the current president conducted serious negotiations concerning the end of the Cold War. Inviting Putin here, of course, is particularly symbolic. Both sides need to demonstrate that a process is going on. "Yes, we have complicated relations, but we are continuing to look for answers." And this is the state that should be maintained until the terms of both presidents come to an end.


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