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Russia: Experts Assess Putin One Year On

Two Washington experts on U.S.-Russian relations say Vladimir Putin's first year as Russia's elected president has been marked by an anti-American tone and the beginning of a long-term effort to recover Russia's great-power status. Our correspondent K.P. Foley filed this report.

Washington, 9 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Two of Washington's leading experts on U.S.-Russian relations contend that Vladimir Putin's first year in office as Russia's elected president has seen the emergence of an anti-American tone and the beginning of a long-term effort to recover Russia's great-power status.

Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, and Stephen Blank, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, spoke on 8 May at a seminar examining the Putin presidency since his inauguration last May. The event was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based research group.

Ruble says Putin's leadership style and his concerns as president have become much clearer over the past 12 months.

"He clearly favors hierarchies, centralized administrative controls, and he wants to have order in the country."

The desire for order, adds Ruble, is not so unusual and is one that is shared by millions of ordinary Russians. However, Ruble says Putin's leadership style is much more centralized than that of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

An important area of concern for U.S. policy planners, says Ruble, is emergent anti-Americanism.

"We also detect an anti-American tone in some of Putin's policies and pronouncements and more importantly an anti-American tone in the discussions among the Russian foreign policy elites."

Ruble says that sometimes these anti-American pronouncements have been explicit. At other times, he says the sentiment has been cloaked in ambiguous statements about combating what Ruble says the Moscow elites call unipolarity. Ruble says unipolarity is a code word for American hegemony.

The U.S. expert says Russian statements about Russia's neighbors should also elicit concern.

"I think there is a sense that emerges from Putin's pronouncements, from the debate in general that Russian domination of the region is a normal state of affairs, one that's driven by history and by economics, and it's really the last ten years when neighboring states had more autonomy that are the aberration."

However, Ruble also said that U.S. officials "should not be overwhelmed" by these concerns.

"We need to recognize these trends but we also need to recognize that the foreign policy environment and the political environment within Russia has really been transformed over the last decade."

U.S. War College's Blank said he believes the "ultimate objective" of Russian foreign policy under Putin "is to recreate a kind of state that will have borders similar to that of the Soviet Union in the long term but not necessarily a Soviet form of organization."

"Russia is determined under Putin to recover its great-power status and even global-power status as a major player."

However, Blank contends this effort is being carried out by a state that cannot support itself by its own means or cannot defend itself by its own means. This predicament, he says, has led Russia to try and affect regional balances in major strategic areas of the world. Putin and his policy planners, says Blank, are trying to use these balances to constrain the ability of the United States to project power. Blank says Russia sees the U.S. as a threat to its interests.

Both experts, however, say the U.S. should not give up efforts to cooperate with Russia and to encourage democratic and economic reform there.

Ruble says there are many areas of potential engagement with Russian society, an engagement he says will pay off over the long term. Current events in Russia suggest the need for a policy of patience, he says.

The U.S., he says, needs to "look beyond the pronouncements of the foreign policy elites in Moscow," and "leave the door open" for the sort of Russia that the U.S. wants as a partner.