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Russia: Pre-Summit Conference In Moscow Looks At Probable Bush-Putin Highlights

The forthcoming U.S.-Russia summit from May 23-26 will test the stability of new ties between the two countries, according to a number of U.S. and Russian experts participating in a conference held in Moscow over the weekend. Russian President Vladimir Putin's show of support after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. has created a positive atmosphere that experts say the two leaders will try to capitalize on as they work to build closer ties during the summit.

Moscow, 20 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The basis for a long-term partnership between the United States and Russia is stronger today than at any time before in history. This is according to U.S. and Russian experts who gathered in Moscow over the weekend for a conference to discuss a new agenda for U.S.-Russian relations and priorities for the 23-26 May summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Clifford Kupchan, vice president of the Eurasia Foundation, was among the conference participants. He said this week's summit will be the last of its kind to focus on Cold War-era issues.

"I think the [U.S.-Russian] relationship will continue to grow closer and closer. I think the summit will be the last summit focusing on Cold War issues and it will move us toward issues of the 21st century, for example, the war on terrorism, the war against drug trafficking [in Central Asia], for example, cooperation on providing a more diversified energy source for the West. These are three examples of key issues that I think the summit will bring forward, where the two countries will cooperate," Kupchan said.

According to Kupchan, issues like the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction will continue to be very important for the U.S., because of Russia's relations with Iran. He added that Russia, in turn, will continue to press on economic issues like WTO accession, closer relations with the EU, and the energy sector. He pointed out that Russia may be looking to drum up sources of Western and U.S. technological support as it attempts to build economic credibility. But the U.S. is not likely to push economic issues to the forefront of the summit talks, he said.

Russia's emphasis on economic issues was reflected in a conference statement by Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the State Duma's international-affairs committee. Rogozin said he hopes Bush and Putin will not limit talks to security issues.

"First, we have expectations. And second, we hope to have surprises -- and, I hope, positive ones. For surprises I mean that [the two presidents] will focus not only on strategic security issues, but also on real life -- economics and social problems. The United States is a great power, and now the lack of serious conflicts between Russia and the U.S. paves the way for building this kind of cooperation. We'll be very happy if the two presidents give both Americans and Russians the possibility to achieve something positive in the economic sphere. I think we should try to reach farther and higher. I mean Russia [should try] to be part of the group of countries that have free-market links with the United States. The nearest U.S. neighbors, plus Israel and Jordan, are now among these. I think that Russia also could become such a country," Rogozin said.

Deputy Duma speaker Vladimir Lukin said security issues will continue to play a key role in U.S.-Russian relations, but that the nature of the relationship has changed for the better since the events of 11 September, which forced Russia and the U.S. to abandon remaining Cold War hostilities and unite against a perceived common threat.

"In the context of Russian-U.S. relations, the security question will continue to play a very important role. But the content has now changed. If earlier [during the Cold War], 99 percent of security problems were seen as the bipolar correlation between our strategic forces -- missiles, aircraft, and so on -- now this aspect, even if it still exists, is diminishing in quantity and content. We have begun to cooperate on these issues now. We are cooperating to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and -- this is the most important thing now -- we are cooperating in cases of extreme situations and international threats. Over the past 10 years, we didn't want to find points of contact, but after 11 September, destiny helped us to find them," Lukin said.

Andrew Kuchins is the director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said that in areas concerning nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, promoting cooperation with Russia -- one of the largest suppliers of such technologies -- is key. Moreover, he said it is necessary to gain Russia's cooperation on issues affecting Iran, Iraq, and North Korea -- famously categorized by Bush as an "axis of evil."

"[In] the war on terrorism, it has been clear that Russian cooperation in Afghanistan has been extraordinarily important. Obviously there are a number of differences that the United States and Russia have over Iraq, Iran, and the North Korea, but in order for the United States to be successful in these areas, partnership and cooperation with Russia are very important," Kuchins said.

Participants in the weekend conference were asked what people were expecting to result from the summit, and what could be considered an ideal outcome of the Moscow and St. Petersburg meetings.

Vladimir Frolov is the deputy director of the Institute for Applied International Research and an adviser to the Duma's international-affairs committee. He said Russian citizens hope the summit will restore the image of Russia and its president in the eyes of the world.

"For a normal Russian citizen, in my opinion, symbolism will have a very important meaning: gestures, statements, demonstrations, and Bush's respect toward Putin -- anything that will demonstrate that Putin is respected and Russia, as a country, is considered a good partner," Frolov said.

Celeste Wallander is director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International studies in Washington. She said a successful summit will be one that sees achievements on a wide range of issues.

"A successful summit is one that puts greater issues -- like the arms-control treaty and NATO-Russia cooperation -- successfully on the record, but that [also] seriously discusses the new agenda for cooperation in Eurasian security, and the economic agenda, which includes energy cooperation. [Moreover, it] also includes cooperation in other sectors of the Russian economy," Wallander said.

Wallander said the two presidents will not be able to achieve all those goals during this week's summit. But she said they can make it clear that they are serious about such issues of potential cooperation and identify officials on both sides who will work to promote them.