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U.S.: Analysts Urge New Policy Towards Russia

American analysts say U.S. policies are at least in part to blame for the troubles besetting Russia today. But rather than assigning blame, they told a forum in Washington on Tuesday that the American government can learn from its mistakes to mount a new and constructive relationship with Russia for the next 100 years. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 7 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A group of foreign policy experts say the U.S. must examine its policy mistakes with Russia over the past decade in order to build a meaningful policy for the next century.

The specialists offered their analyses on Tuesday at a forum on Capitol Hill in Washington sponsored by the Hudson Institute, a foreign policy think tank. Presiding over the forum were two members of the U.S. Congress, Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) and Congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania).

These experts agreed that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a double standard when dealing with the West. The theory is most succinctly put by Constantine Menges, director of the Program on Transitions to Democracy at George Washington University in Washington.

"I would begin my few minutes with my sense of the strategic objectives of the current Russian regime, which I believe, currently, are to counter the United States abroad while at the same time maintaining the flow of Western funds to support Russia -- in other words, to have it both ways."

Another analyst present was Paul Wolfowitz, the dean of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He noted that Russia is reaping tens of millions of dollars for helping Iran with its missile program. At the same time, it is accepting hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. to participate in the American space program.

"It may make a lot of sense to the Russians if they can have both of those things, but it makes no sense from the point of view of the United States, and we should ask them to choose, we should make them choose. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to choose between the rewards of working with the United States and the rather puny rewards of working with the Iranians. The problem is that we've gone along with excuse after excuse that has allowed them to have it both ways."

The policy analysts agreed that Western leaders had high hopes for Russia when Boris Yeltsin took over after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1992. Now, they say, it is up to U.S. leaders to examine how they may have contributed to the problems that Russia poses. And each participant recommended that the American government set up a commission to study what mistakes have been made over the past decade and how the West can learn from these mistakes.

Most of the analysts tended to take a positive approach to the friction between Washington and Moscow, but Menges took a bleak approach. He noted that the forum was being held on the 56th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France during World War II. He said that war began because of a failure to see how Germany would evolve after its defeat in World War I.

"There was the opportunity for Germany to have become democratic. It didn't. And when the dictatorship succeeded, there was a need to have competent policies to deal with it. And I say that because I think we understand that Russia has 6,000 operational strategic nuclear warheads. Today, as we sit here."

One recurring theme throughout Tuesday's forum was that Washington seemed to be more interested in supporting an individual -- Yeltsin -- rather than a political, economic and legal structure that would promote democracy and individual liberties. As a result, they said, Russia is now governed by a man who seems to put stability over democracy, and central governmental control over individual freedom.

But Wolfowitz said it would be a mistake to overstress the importance of U.S. influence. He said Russia faces difficult choices, and it is up to the Russian people to decide.

"Those choices, as I think have been correctly pointed out, depend on internal developments in Russia. And those internal developments are largely in the hands of the Russian people."

Wolfowitz said one of these choices is whether to become great as Japan and Germany did after their defeat in World War II. He said their method was to have exemplary political and economic structures.

But Wolfowitz said Russia may instead seek greatness by trying to be a colonial power, increasing its wealth by terrorizing its client states. But this, he concluded, could only leave Russia impoverished, backward, and uneducated.