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Russia Report: February 24, 2005

24 February 2005, Volume 5, Number 8
By Victor Yasmann

When U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit down in Bratislava on 24 February, they will find that relations between the two countries have stalled in almost all aspects, despite the good personal rapport the two men have established since their first meeting in Slovenia in 2001. Although policymakers and analysts in both countries agree that relations have soured, they differ when it comes to explaining why.

U.S.-based politicians and observers argue that the deterioration in bilateral relations stems from a change in Putin's political course, namely, his suppression of the opposition and the independent mass media, his taming of the judiciary, and his nostalgia for the Soviet past. That nostalgia, these analysts say, has led to shortsighted attempts to restore Russian hegemony in the post-Soviet space and to interfere in the domestic affairs of Ukraine, Georgia, and other CIS countries. They also cite the ongoing war in Chechnya, all-pervasive corruption, and the Yukos affair as factors that have contributed to the souring of bilateral relations.

Russian political figures and analysts, however, tend to blame the downturn in relations on the "Cold War mentality" to which many key U.S. players remain hostage, on anti-Russia lobbying efforts within the United States, and on objective conflicts in the two countries' national interests. RTR commentator Nikolai Svanidze said on 19 February that although Bush and Putin enjoy cordial personal relations, the bureaucracies in both countries are hanging on to the Cold War habit of "perceiving each other with hostility." "Public opinion [in both countries] has accumulated a lot of mistrust, and the mass media also demonstrate a lot of mutual aggressiveness and mutual pleasure in the failures of the other," Svanidze said.

TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov on 18 February explained the souring of relation in terms of the active efforts of "anti-Russia lobbies" in the United States. "In the United States, Putin's opponents have initiated a campaign of pressure on President Bush to get him to toughen his position toward Russia and toward Putin personally," Pushkov said. Although generally Bush administration figures resist such pressure, Pushkov said, the impression is being created lately that more and more of them are adopting this mindset. Nonetheless, Moscow prefers to deal with Bush, who has chosen to have Putin "as a friend, not a foe," Pushkov said. "If, for example, Senator John McCain [Republican, Arizona], who still seems to be fighting the Vietnam War, were in the White House, we would already have a [new] Cold War between Russia and the United States."

Pushkov added that if one looks realistically at the global situation and ignores formulaic public declarations about "the joint fight against international terrorism," there is much more dividing the two countries than there is bringing them closer. It remains to be seen how long the good personal relations between the two presidents can survive a direct collision of national interests, Pushkov said.

The Yukos affair has been pushed to the forefront of attention over the last week since a group of U.S. Congress members linked the scandal to a call to suspend Russia's membership of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries. This idea was first advanced by philanthropist George Soros in a 13 February interview with the Austrian daily "Der Standard." Then on 18 February, Senator McCain and Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut), backed by three other Republicans and two Democrats, introduced a motion in Congress that called for Russia's G-8 participation to be suspended until Moscow "ends its assault on democracy and political freedom," reported.

Commenting on Soros's proposal, Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov told TV-Tsentr on 14 February that Moscow does not believe the threat is realistic. For one thing, Nikonov said, the G-8 is an informal group without its own charter, making it difficult to determine if there is more or less democracy in Russia than, say, Japan. Moreover, there is no precedent or procedure for suspending a country's membership of the group, Nikonov said. Suspending Russia would require the unanimous agreement of the other seven members, which is problematic. Finally, he added, Bush regards Soros in almost the same light that Putin regards former oligarch Boris Berezovskii and is unlikely to be sympathetic to any of his proposals.

Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) likewise attributed the slump in relations to conflicting national interests, RTR reported on 19 February. Kosachev noted that on 18 February, Putin received Iranian National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani in the Kremlin and expressed his willingness to continue Russia's assistance to Iran's nuclear-power program, despite the objections of Washington and Jerusalem. Putin also confirmed his plan to visit Tehran soon.

However, Kosachev added, Russia has no interest in seeing Iran become a nuclear power, as Iran is much closer to Russia than to the United States and "we are not suicidal." Moscow will continue developing the nuclear power plant at Bushehr and will ensure that it remains under reliable control. Kosachev added that immediately after the Bratislava summit, Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev will sign an agreement with Iran on the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr.

Kosachev also noted that the United States and Israel have raised serious objections to media reports that Moscow intends to sell the Strelets (SA-18) surface-to-air missile to Syria. Washington argues that the Syrian government is linked to Hizballah, which the United States has declared a terrorist organization, and fears that the missiles could fall into Hizballah's hands. However, Kosachev said that the missiles in question are mounted on trucks and can be easily monitored by satellites. Although Washington has argued that the SA-18 can be easily dismantled and handed over to terrorists, Kosachev countered that such weapons cannot be easily smuggled into a position that could threaten Israel. He even proposed that a panel of international experts be convened to determine whether the missiles can actually be removed from their trucks. Kosachev concluded by arguing, as Putin has, that the missiles in question are not the subject of any international limitations agreement and that Syria is not under any international weapons sanctions.

Kosachev also noted that improving Russian-Chinese relations could be a source of tension between Moscow and Washington. He noted that Moscow's relations with Beijing have improved markedly in recent months, and cited in particular that fact that a longstanding border dispute was recently resolved. He said that the driving force behind developments is China's booming economy and its drive toward becoming the world's No. 1 energy consumer. Earlier this month, China announced that it plans to double energy consumption within five years. Therefore, competition between the United States and China for energy resources is bound to increase and any aspect of Russian-Chinese relations -- including military cooperation -- will be seen by Washington through this prism, Kosachev said.

Although Kosachev did not mention it, the list of problems in U.S.-Russia relations would not be complete without reference to joint nuclear security. According to numerous Russian media reports in recent weeks, the United States purportedly intends to put forward a serious proposal on the joint monitoring of both countries' nuclear arsenals. That proposal reportedly entails combined teams of monitors from both sides observing "high-risk nuclear objects" in both the military and civilian sectors of both countries, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 February.

Those reports have set off real hysteria among Russia's national-patriotic forces, which consider the U.S. proposal tantamount to "a nuclear ultimatum for Putin," "Zavtra" publisher Aleksandr Prokhanov told Ekho Moskvy on 18 February. Speculation about such a pending U.S. proposal reached its peak on 11 February when the Foreign Ministry posted on its website ( a special statement stressing that "all speculation about the purported planned signing of an accord on international control over Russia's nuclear arsenal are groundless." The statement said baldly, "There are no such talks and there can be no such talks."

The same statement did, however, confirm that nuclear safety was on the agenda when Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited Washington in January, and it quoted Ivanov's comment that "combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is one of the clearest and most obvious lines of U.S.-Russian cooperation. Here we have no disagreements."

Despite the official denial, the topic continues to excite Russia's national-patriotic community. On 19 February, several Russian Orthodox and Cossack organizations held a demonstration in Moscow, calling on the Kremlin to "protect Russia's nuclear sovereignty" and to "organize a people's militia for the protection of Russia's nuclear arsenal," Ekho Moskvy reported. Military journalist Aleksandr Golts told the radio station that "foreign control over Russia's nuclear arsenal is a favorite fable of Russian patriots. In fact, the United States and Russia cannot even agree about Iran's nuclear program."

It is unlikely that the two presidents will manage to discuss such a wide range of controversial issues, given the tight schedule of the summit. According to media reports, Bush and Putin will meet in Bratislava for an initial one-hour session and then later, together with their delegations, for another 90 minutes. Bearing this in mind, most specialists do not harbor great expectations for the summit. "It will be good if the presidents do not quarrel openly," Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Aleksei Malashenko told on 21 February.

By Julie A. Corwin

As Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush prepare for their meeting in Bratislava on 24 February, officials on both sides might be hoping that the two leaders' much-heralded personal friendship reemerges.

Such fellowship could help smooth over recent difficulties, such as the clash over the Ukrainian presidential election, and foster efforts to weather what some analysts call a "major crisis" in U.S.-Russia relations.

Speaking at a conference on U.S.-Russian relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on 8 February, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a former aide to President Boris Yeltsin and head of the Polity Foundation, explained that Washington's support for Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ruffled feathers in Moscow.

"Actually, Putin sympathizes [with] Bush. He supported the U.S. president in the [November] presidential election openly -- to the dismay of some," said Nikonov. "He still has some personal affection for Bush, although I think the chemistry of their relations suffered somewhat because of Ukraine.... Actually, the Ukrainian situation made Putin furious about the rest of the world, not just about Bush -- about the universe, I guess."

In light of the anger over Ukraine and similar disgruntlement over U.S. support for Georgia's Rose Revolution in late 2003, analysts' expectations of what can be accomplished in Bratislava are not high.

"Bratislava, I don't think, will open up a new era in the U.S.-Russian relationship," Dmitrii Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center said at the same conference. "The mission of Bratislava as I see it is very different. We had a major crisis in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Bratislava is a chance for clearing the air somewhat and [to] talk about practical things that the two governments can engage in at the start of George Bush's second term and, if you like, at the start of a new term for Putin."

But expectations were similarly low when Bush met with Putin in June 2001 at the former's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Although only six years separates them in age, the two men were not expected to hit it off. Bush is the scion of a powerful political family, while Putin is the son of a machine-tool operator and a janitor/cook. Bush summered in the exclusive confines of Kennebunkport, Maine; Putin grew up in a collective apartment in the gritty urban environment of Leningrad.

While Bush's father headed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Putin labored at the Russian equivalent, rising only to a mid-level position after a 15-year stint. One was bred for political power; the other was plucked from obscurity and had power thrust upon him. Putin was virtually unknown at the national level some 18 months before Yeltsin anointed him as his heir apparent.

But the presidents did get along -- so well that Bush was prompted to make his now famous declaration that that he had "looked in Putin's eyes and got a sense of his soul."

A key to understanding the relationship between the two men lies in the fact that despite their starkly different origins, they share a central life experience.

James Richter, professor of political science at Bates College, has analyzed the two presidents' self-descriptions and found they agree on many of the personal qualities needed for effective leadership.

"There is one thing that stands out in both cases, and that is they [both] look back at some turning point in their lives," Richter said. "There is that one point where they found some self-discipline which turned their lives around, and they started a trajectory toward success. With President Putin, he was much younger. He was running around the streets with a bad crowd, and he discovered judo and a judo instructor. He became much more interested. And that sort of transformed his life. He went to college. And he went to university and he ended up in the KGB. With Bush, of course, it was a conversion experience, which led him away from alcohol and toward the presidency."

Both men appear to place a high premium on what might be characterized as "masculine" values such as personal strength, consistency, loyalty, and resolve. Both presidents stress loyalty in their appointments of cabinet members. Both maintain strict regimens of physical exercise and abstain from heavy drinking, and both men contrast such habits with those of their less-disciplined predecessors.

Of course, if these were the only characteristics that they shared, the first summit might not have been such a success. But, as Bates explained, both men appear to have taken their faith in the redemptive power of self-discipline and projected it onto matters of statecraft. From their notion of self-discipline, they seem to share a belief that it is only self-discipline -- only their being in control -- that separates order from chaos.

"It's only self-discipline that got them to go on the straight and narrow, otherwise there is dissipation," Bates said. "I think they generalize this, project this, to the world at large so it is replicated throughout their rhetoric. They say we have to be strong, because the world is dangerous out there. The world is lawless and chaotic."

Both men, according to Bates, use the rhetoric of danger to expand and centralize the power of the state -- not only to protect against terrorism, but also to discourage dissent and encourage their vision of moral self-constraint. At the international level, they are both seemingly distrustful of multilateral institutions.

"This self-discipline is also projected onto the body politic, which is Russia and the United States," Bates said. "And this control of the body translates into a kind of emphasis on sovereignty and the notion of being able to ensure the sovereignty of the state, so they both as a result are less willing to move toward multilateralism."

In an essay titled "Why Did Russia Welcome A Republican Victory?" Mikhail Rykhtik of Nizhnii Novgorod State University agreed with Bates's contention that Bush and Putin share certain conceptions. Both have a state-centric worldview. He wrote that Republicans "do not trust international organizations and fight for unlimited sovereignty when American national security is at stake.... Putin's Russia has the same attitude towards international organizations and a similar understanding of state sovereignty."

Issues of state sovereignty and self-determinism might come up at this summit. At a U.S. Senate hearing on 18 February, a panel of experts urged Bush to raise the topic of the quality of Russia's democracy with Putin at the summit. However, some analysts counter that putting such a topic on the agenda would only serve to provoke Putin's ire. Nikonov, who said he had spoken recently not only with Putin aides but also with Putin himself about the summit, said the Russian president would simply not respond.

"Putin does not see any problem with democratic development of Russia. He personally describes the recent developments in the country as the transformation from the failed democracy of Yeltsin to functioning democracy of Putin," Nikonov said. "And I can easily imagine the exchange on values and democratic developments between Bush and Putin in Bratislava. In my mind, Putin's response will be something to the extent that you'd better care about how they count votes in Florida. Putin really does not think that he has any problems with human rights."

However, Bates argued that Bush might well choose to raise "values issues" rather than purely pragmatic policy concerns.

"I think the United States tends to underestimate the importance of Russia, and so, as a result, it indulges itself in having a more values-based policy toward Russia," Bates said. "But yes, from Putin's perspective if they push the values, then Putin [and Bush] will [have] less and less a personal tie. But [Putin] will still deal with the U.S. in very instrumental ways. You can't really afford to alienate the U.S. It's just too powerful."

By Bill Samii

The proliferation danger posed by Iran is likely to be a major topic of discussion when President George W. Bush meets with President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava on 24 February.

In light of Russia's extensive involvement in the Iranian nuclear program, any efforts to persuade Moscow to disengage are likely to fail. And while nuclear cooperation could be the most important aspect of Iran's relationship with Russia, that relationship is multifaceted and complex.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss told the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in testimony on 16 February, is one of the most pressing challenges currently facing the United States. Goss went on to mention Iran's pursuit of a nuclear capability in this context.

Another intelligence-community leader, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, said in his Congressional testimony that Russia bears some responsibility for proliferation, not least in the case of Iran. Jacoby charged that Iran wants a nuclear-weapon capability because it wants to become the "dominant regional power" and it wants to deter a possible U.S. or Israeli attack. "We judge Iran is devoting significant resources to its weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and ballistic-missile programs," Jacoby alleged, adding that Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons "early in the next decade." Jacoby also predicted that Iran will be able to manufacture an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015 and that it will either develop or import a land-attack cruise missile within a decade.

Bush discussed the importance of diplomacy in resolving the proliferation problem in a series of 18 February interviews with European television stations, according to the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs website ( He told France's TV3 that France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States must work together to convince Iran that they do not want it to have a nuclear weapon, and they must work together to make other countries aware of this stance. "I think President Putin understands that the Iranians shouldn't have [a nuclear] weapon. I'm convinced, again, if the Iranians hear us loud and clear, without any wavering, that they will make the rational decision."

One must assume that Putin, as a presumably rational decision-maker, is reluctant to see Iran develop a nuclear-weapons capacity. Nevertheless, according to the DIA's Jacoby, the Russian government or Russian entities "sell WMD and missile technologies for revenue and diplomatic influence" and "[continue] to support missile programs and civil nuclear projects in...Iran." Jacoby added that "some of the civil nuclear projects can have weapons applications."

Bush will be hard-pressed to persuade Putin to disengage from the Iranian nuclear program. Russia is heavily involved in building a nuclear power plant in the southwestern Iranian city of Bushehr. The Bushehr project is worth approximately $800 million to Russia, and Russia also will profit from the provision of fresh fuel and the reprocessing of spent fuel. The Iranian nuclear sector also is a source of employment for Russian scientists and technicians, and Russian universities train Iranian specialists. Putin said after meeting with Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani in Moscow on 18 February, "Iran's latest actions convince us that Iran does not intend to produce nuclear weapons, and it means that we will continue our cooperation in all areas, including in nuclear power generation," RFE/RL reported.

From the Iranian perspective, the relationship with Russia is important in at least five ways. First, Russia is willing to cooperate openly with the Iranian nuclear program. For all Iran's claims of self-sufficiency and indigenous know-how, Iran still depends on overt and covert foreign assistance. Tehran has expressed an interest in having Russia build more reactors. Second, Russia serves as a counterbalance to the United States, which Iran regards as an enemy, and Europe, which Iran sees as a lukewarm ally. Tehran depends on Moscow's vote in international forums like the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors. Third, Tehran sees itself and Russia as the two major Caspian Sea powers. Iran is adamant that it is entitled to 20 percent of that sea's resources, although it has less than 14 percent of the shoreline. Although three Caspian littoral states --Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan -- have entered bilateral agreements regarding the Caspian Sea, Iran has not done so. (Neither has Turkmenistan.)

Fourth, Russia is a vibrant market for Iranian goods and a reliable trading partner. This is particularly important for the Iranian military, which is equipped with Russian aircraft, submarines, tanks, and other equipment. Russian firms are involved in the Iranian energy sector, too. Finally, Russia is a source of expertise in other, more exotic areas, including Iran's desire to have a satellite. The two sides signed a $132 million contract for the design, testing, and launch of the Zohreh satellite on 30 January.

But Tehran is willing to pressure Moscow, and it is no coincidence that Rohani's visit to Moscow preceded the Bush-Putin summit. Rohani twisted the screws a bit after his trip to Moscow, saying on 19 February, "We expect Russians to be one step ahead of Europeans, but they always follow the dominant trend in the IAEA board of governors," the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Bush and Putin are scheduled to have a 2 1/2-hour private meeting on 24 February, "The Washington Post" reported on 20 February. This could provide an opportunity for the U.S. president to urge his Russian counterpart to be more responsive to international concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

Putin is unlikely to satisfy any such request, although diplomatic boilerplate will disguise any serious disagreement. And that will be welcome news in Tehran.

24 February: President Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush to hold a summit in Bratislava, Slovakia

26 February: Russia and Iran to sign 10-year agreement under which Russia will supply nuclear fuel to the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and Tehran will agree to return all spent fuel to Russia

March: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Japan to discuss Russian-Japanese summit, scheduled to be held in Tokyo in April, according to many media reports

March: EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner to visit Moscow

March: President Putin to visit Ukraine

1 March. Government to submit new antimonopoly legislation to the Duma

6 March: Parliamentary elections in Moldova

14-17 March: International Olympic Committee inspectors to visit Moscow in connection with the city's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games

18 March: State Duma to select new auditors for the Audit Chamber

20 March: Legislative elections in Voronezh Oblast

20 March: Mayoral election in Chelyabinsk

April: Terms of Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev and Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov to expire

April: Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring new crew to the International Space Station

17 April: Krasnoyarsk Krai to hold a referendum on the question of merging the krai with the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs

9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

July 4: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved.