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Russia: Moscow Conference Explores Possible New 'Strategic Partnership'

A Moscow conference sponsored by the U.S. Free Congress Foundation and the Democratic Choice of Russia party yesterday assembled specialists of both countries to discuss ways of reviving a U.S.-Russian strategic partnership. RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports on the discussions.

Moscow, 7 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The one-day meeting addressed in particular the question of how to revive a U.S.-Russian strategic partnership turned dormant after almost two years of cool relations. The period was marked, on Russia's part, by sharp criticism of NATO's intervention in Kosovo last spring and by an equally sharp rejection of U.S plans for a national missile defense, or NMD, shield. On the U.S. side, Russia's second bloody war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya has been the chief factor in the cooling-off.

The roundtable was organized by the U.S. Free Congress Foundation, the American University in Moscow and the Democratic Choice of Russia party. Most participants from both countries said that the resolution of major bilateral political and economic differences was a condition for re-establishing a partnership in the strategic and disarmament spheres.

Some speakers noted that even 10 years after the end of Cold War, new bilateral relations had not really been worked out. Washington-based Heritage Foundation political analyst Yevgeny Volk said: "The Russian-American partnership is still heavily guided by the Cold War paradigm. But," he asked, "are the political elites of both countries ready to change it? No," he said, citing a number of reasons -- but especially the political views of Russia's elite which, he said, have not adapted to Russia's new geopolitical place.

"The idea of a superpower which is mainly based on [its] nuclear potential rather than on economic might and on political stability is still capturing the mentality of the Russian political elite, which acts or tries to act as a superpower equal to the United States. In fact, this legacy of the Cold war is very strongly influencing Russian foreign- policy decision-making -- and especially it was seen under [former Foreign Minister Yevgeny] Primakov, with his concept of a multipolar world."

Volk added that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking to continue this policy.

Free Congress Foundation member Bill Lind criticized both countries for approaching defense issues from a Cold War perspective. Instead of concerning themselves with missile shields, Lind said that both Russia and the United States should cooperate in combating what he regards as the world's current major threat -- the use of biological weapons by terrorist groups. Lind said: "It is far more likely that the weapon of mass destruction will come by shipping container or Federal Express than by missile and is more likely to be a genetically engineered biological weapon [than a nuclear one]."

But Fritz Ermarth, a former CIA and National Security Council official, said that missiles remained a threat because they are so widespread. He allowed, however, that in the post-Cold War era, the main question is: "Why do we need nuclear missiles?"

"We can imagine saying that this [nuclear deterrent] is a positive legacy [from the Cold War, but] that is undesirable forever. So let it last for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years -- but then we should have a transition to a situation in which no civilized country need or can base its national security on weapons of mass destruction." Other participants called attention to a long list of obstacles in cooperation between the two countries. U.S. speakers criticized the strong support given by the Clinton administration to Russia despite its obvious democratic failings. Russian speakers, in turn, spoke of NATO's "hasty" expansion to the east which they saw as unnecessarily creating a rift between alliance members and non-members.

One participant, Yuri Ossipyan -- a physicist from the Russian academy of Science and a former adviser to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev -- said that the West had missed a unique opportunity to secure a partnership with Russia by underestimating its technical and scientific potential. That potential, he said, could have been put to use in common projects such as laser and other high technology.

Some U.S. participants advocated a tougher attitude toward Russia, saying that its democratic development should be a prerequisite to further cooperation between the two countries. Ermarth said that for a broader strategic partnership to prosper, it was imperative that Russia develop "a stable, genuinely democratic, law-governed state."