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Russia Report: July 5, 2007

No Claws Bared As 'Lobster Summit' Ends With Putin Proposal

By Heather Maher and Andrei Shary

All smiles: Putin and Bush in Kennebunkport

July 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Twenty-four hours in the brisk, salty air of Kennebunkport appears to have had its intended effect on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American host, President George W. Bush.

Bush and Putin claimed "a joint effort" helped land the Russian president a hefty striped bass during an early-morning fishing excursion.

The two presidents later let the fish go. For them, the bigger catch was the opportunity to show each other and the world that they are ready to set their differences aside and find common ground.

"Through the course of our relationship, there have been times when we've agreed on issues, and there have been times when we haven't agreed on issues," Bush said at an informal July 2 press conference, where the leaders looked relaxed and windblown."

"One thing I've found about Vladimir Putin is that he is consistent, transparent, honest, and is an easy man to discuss our opportunities and our problems with," Bush added.

Season Of Change?

The mood was a marked contrast to recent months, when hostilities between Moscow and Washington reached a fever pitch, with Bush accusing Russia of reversing democratic reforms and Putin criticizing the "unilateral" policies of the United States.

With the emphasis in Kennebunkport on cooperation, however, the two leaders played nice even on traditional issues of contention like Iran's nuclear program.

Bush said Russia "shares the same concern" about Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons.

The two leaders also discussed the controversial U.S. plan to base parts of a missile-defense shield in Central Europe.

Putin, who made a surprise proposal at the June G8 summit to share an Azerbaijani facility, yesterday repeated the suggestion and took it one step further.

"If need be, we are prepared to involve in this work not only the Qabala (Gabala) radar station, which we rent from the Azerbaijanis," Putin said. "If necessary, we are prepared to modernize it, and if that is not enough, we would also be prepared to engage in this system a new early-warning station being built in the south of Russia."

Broadening Talks

Putin also suggested that discussion of the U.S. missile-defense plans be broadened by including European countries and using the NATO-Russia Council as a platform for the talks.

Bush insisted components of the U.S. missile shield should still be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

But he praised Putin’s "constructive and bold strategic move," and said he was in "strong agreement" about working on the issue both bilaterally with Russia and with European countries through the NATO-Russia Council.

James Collins, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Putin’s proposal was a positive sign.

"What all of this really suggests to me is that the Russians have made the point that they want to talk about missile defense and how it's going to develop for Europe," Collins said. "And the president here [Bush] has basically said: 'Interesting -- we think that's a good idea, etc.' It seems to me that what came out of this is a sort of commitment to a much-expanded dialogue to include the Europeans."

Smiles, But No Decisions

Even if the proposal fails to evolve into an equitable resolution of the missile-defense standoff, some observers may be relieved at the summit's break away from the hostile rhetoric of the past several months.

Still, says Michael McFaul, a Russia specialist at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at California's Stanford University, a good relationship can only take you so far.

"I don't know if they believe this themselves or not, but they've said all along that their personal relations are excellent," McFaul said. "But now it's clear that these personal relations have little to do with decision making on things that are important."

For now, the two leaders have moved on to other matters -- Bush preparing for the July 4 Independence Day holiday in the United States, and Putin hoping to hear in Guatemala that the Russian city of Sochi is named as the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

NATO Wary Of Entering Missile-Defense Dispute

By Ahto Lobjakas

Putin (left) with Bush in Maine on July 2

July 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- NATO is reacting warily to Russia's proposal to build a joint missile-defense project as an alternative to the system the United States wants to install in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the idea at his summit meeting with President George W. Bush in Maine this week, but alliance ambassadors will not formally discuss Putin's latest offer when they meet on July 4.

NATO sources tell RFE/RL that informal exchanges may take place today over the ambassadors' traditional weekly lunch, but they say this will be limited to reiterations of national positions.

On July 2, during talks with Bush, Putin offered his host use of facilities in southern Russia in exchange for Washington dropping its current plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland.

Putin said his idea should be discussed in the NATO-Russia Council with the involvement of European nations.

Putin's offer expands on one he made at the G-8 summit in early June, when he suggested a radar base in Azerbaijan could remove the need for installations in Eastern Europe.

NATO officials privately said in June that the alliance views Putin's offer as a tactic to create and exploit divisions within the alliance.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, publicly disparaged the offer of the Azerbajani base, saying it was "too close" to Iran.

The possible U.S. missile-defense arrangements to counter what Washington perceives as a threat by Iran are viewed by NATO as a matter for the United States alone.

All alliance member states agree the threat exists, but the United States is the only member state with the resources and technology to respond to it.

Officially, NATO's concerns at this stage are limited to ensuring that some southern European allies, who would not be covered by the U.S. shield, receive adequate alternative protection. To this end, NATO is now studying ways of setting up a smaller "bolt-on" shield.

Energy Security

However, there is potential for discord within the alliance. Russia is viewed as an important strategic partner by the larger continental European allies, particularly Germany and France.

Russia is the EU's preeminent energy supplier and its cooperation in the UN Security Council and elsewhere is essential for key EU global objectives. Most of the "old" EU member states, therefore, dread the possibility of a long-term confrontation.

On the other hand, most new member states of both NATO and the European Union aggressively canvass for solidarity within the organizations to counter what they believe is an increasingly undemocratic and threatening Russia.

Observers say it is an open secret within NATO and outside the alliance that Poland and the Czech Republic are both primarily interested in hosting U.S. military installations as an additional security guarantee.

Poland and other ex-Soviet member states of NATO have been somewhat perturbed by the absence of a clear U.S. rejection of what they see as Russia's spoiling tactics. A day after Putin's initial counter-proposal at the G8 summit, Bush met Polish president Lech Kaczynski, but no joint declaration on the issue emerged. Kaczynski and Bush will meet again in mid-July.

On July 2, Bush said Poland and the Czech Republic must remain "an integral part" of the missile shield, but he did not address at length Putin's latest idea or the Russian president's attempt to enlist the cooperation of unspecified "European nations.”

NATO officials in Brussels have now entered a "wait-and-see" mode. All political decisions of any import are made in the 26 member state capitals, which are represented in Brussels by their ambassadors. Nominally, NATO operates by consensus, but in practice the United States calls most of the shots.

The Four Basic Considerations

Within the context of the missile shield, Washington will be guided by four basic considerations.

These are the need to ensure the best possible protection against the perceived threat from Iran, the imperative -- assumed by NATO allies -- of securing uncontested control over the missile shield, U.S. relations with its new eastern European allies, and the need to retain a good working relationship with Russia.

Within NATO, the United States will come under two, partly conflicting, pressures. One will originate from the Western European allies keen to avoid a strategic rift with Russia, the other from new Eastern European member states fearful that any concessions -- no matter how small -- will translate into a weakening of their positions vis-a-vis Russia.

'Surprise' Proposal Was Planned
U.S. analyst Glen Howard discusses what might be behind Putin's radar offer. more
U.S. Ships In The Caspian?
A Russian military analyst says Putin's plan could include basing Aegis-equipped U.S. warships in the Caspian. more
What Does It Mean?
It looks like Putin understands Russia is too weak to compete with the United States. more

Former U.S. Ambassador Assesses Summit

James Collins, former U.S. ambassador to Russia (file photo)

July 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- There were smiles and sunshine and seacoast, but what exactly did the Bush-Putin summit succeed at, and fail at? RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher asks James Collins -- the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1997-2001, and now the director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington -- to tally the wins and losses.

RFE/RL: Many of the post-summit press reports said that Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin basically had a great time, and enjoyed good talks, but no major agreements were announced. Is that your impression?

James Collins: Well, I don't think that's quite correct. First of all, they completed negotiations and completed, or signed, depending on how you put it, a "Section 1-2-3 Agreement" on Friday [June 29]. Now, this is a big deal.

RFE/RL: How important is it?

Collins: The 1-2-3 Agreement is a framework agreement under which any U.S. cooperation on civilian nuclear matters takes place with another country. And to have this agreement means that we now have open the opportunity for our whole civilian nuclear communities in both countries to work together. And that has not been the case up till now.

There have been all kinds of restrictions and caveats and problems on information sharing, how information is handled, what can be disclosed, etc., etc., etc. And so what this means, it looks like we are really taking a major step ahead in the area of civilian nuclear cooperation.

RFE/RL: Can you put the significance of that "major step" into some kind of historical context?

Collins: My view of this is that it is the nuclear equivalent of what we did in space at the beginning of the '90s, when we broke down the barriers and got our two space communities into the same tent, and were able to produce the space station and a whole host of other things in civilian space cooperation.

It was very, very significant. And here's the context: there is going to come a large expansion of nuclear power generation, globally. If we don't have a new international framework for that, we're all going to have problems with proliferation, how do we manage the spent nuclear fuel, etc.

This is going to make it possible to get serious people to sit down and talk about how to deal with this. And that's going to be essential if you're going to have an international framework for the next generation of nuclear power.

RFE/RL: What about the biggest issue at the summit -- Russian opposition to U.S. plans to establish radar defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic? What's your impression about what happened on that front?

Collins: I don't think they came to any agreement about eliminating the Polish and Czech programs. But on other things it was quite interesting to me that, first of all, Putin put forth some new ideas about additional facilities that could be made available for missile defense.

He also raised the idea of activating -- finally -- this "information fusion center" in Moscow. He also proposed the idea that we ought to be discussing missile defense jointly and that we ought to expand that discussion to include the Europeans and the NATO-Russia Council.

But what all of this really suggests to me is that the Russians have made the point that "we want to talk about missile defense and how it's going to develop for Europe." And the president [Bush] here has basically said, "Interesting -- we think that's a good idea, etc." What it seems to me did come out of this is a sort of commitment to a much expanded dialogue, to include the Europeans now.

RFE/RL: Bush said he and Putin had made "great strides" in laying the foundation for future Russian-U.S. relations in terms of nuclear security. What was he referring to?

Collins: There is a commitment not only to have working groups discuss missile defense but apparently follow on to the strategic arms treaties. So START I will run out in, I think, 2012, and there's a whole range of discussions that need to be undertaken if we're not simply to lose the entire framework within which the sort of arms control arrangements have been conducted.

And while it isn't so much about reducing numbers [of weapons] now -- although one might hope that would be a part of it -- it's about all of the confidence-building [measures] of inspections and all this kind of thing.

So, I think it is good news also that they have agreed that they will begin some serious discussion on these topics.

RFE/RL: What's your take on the Iran issue? It doesn't seem like the United States got Russia to agree on any specific course of action to dissuade Tehran from pursuing its nuclear aims.

Collins: I don't think they did, I think they -- they didn't disagree, but they didn't agree either on the next steps, was what I took away.

RFE/RL: But a lot of the media has cast it as, "U.S., Russia United On Iran."

Collins: Well I think they are, up to a point. I don't think there's disagreement on two fundamental points. One is: it's not a good thing for Iran to have nuclear weapons. And secondly, that Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons. I think they agree on those points.

The question is, what do you do about it? And the Russian position, I would say, was: "Let's keep working in the [UN] Security Council."

I don't know whether [the U.S.] side with [Putin], put forward some specific suggestion or not. My guess is that the most that came out of it was that they would, in fact, agree to continue working in the Security Council. Iran didn't strike me as a particularly divisive issue in this meeting.

RFE/RL: Neither leader mentioned Kosovo in their post-summit statements. What should we conclude from that?

Collins: The way they left it essentially was to kick it to the secretary of state and foreign minister.

This is [what national-security adviser Stephen] Hadley [said]: He said basically, "look, we want our secretary of state and foreign minister to supervise and continue those discussions to see if we can find a solution on the way forward."

Now, what I would say is: they didn't agree on anything. But they also didn't have a confrontation over it, or a closed door, is what it seems to me. Essentially what they're saying is "let's continue talking."

RFE/RL: And that's what Moscow wants to do, isn't it: keep talking? But Bush and other U.S. government officials have said they want the issue of Kosovo's independence to be solved sooner rather than later.

Collins: I'm not quite sure there is a clear position here beyond discussing it. Because when [U.S.] Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] left Moscow after her meeting with Putin some weeks ago, she essentially made a statement to the effect of, "No one wants an agreement that isn't acceptable to all parties."

Well, that pretty much says, "you better continue talking." So I just think the key point here is that no one drew a line in the sand and that they would continue to have the ministers work the issue.

RFE/RL: Bush emphasized his "future relations" with Putin. But both men will leave office in the next 18 months. How important is it that these two leaders get along in the future?

Collins: Well there isn't a long future. I mean, they're going to have a couple more meetings at most. I think it probably was what they said, they probably had a pretty good and frank discussion and meeting, they seem to get along pretty well.

I think it's interesting now frankly to watch how Putin plays this when he gets home. Because there's a sort of, "We're friends and we talk frankly and we're candid and so forth," and I would say, a largely positive atmospheric from this meeting from both of them, you know, in the way they wanted to talk about it, is in some contrast to the way Putin's been talking at home, and I think it will be interesting to see what he does when he goes home.

But the fact of the matter is he doesn't take home anything either, frankly, very substantial. Although, at least he can say now, "at least we're engaging on these subjects, of missile defense and the future of the arms control agreements and so forth."

RFE/RL: What were they expecting back in Moscow, do you think? Just for Putin to hold his ground on issues like Kosovo and missile defense?

Collins: Well I think they wanted to be sure that he held his ground and that he made clear that just having a missile-defense system that excluded Russia was not something they found acceptable and that they were going to put on the table things that made an alternative to that possible.

From what I know of this subject there are two levels of complications. There are real technological complications. Then there's just the question of trust, and political trust, and whether you can come to terms, as they did, say in the space program earlier -- when all of these same arguments were made: "You can't trust the Russians, how they'll steal our technology, etc."

Well, as it turned out, they're the ones who can keep putting rockets up. But the point is, it took some real knuckle-rapping by the leadership of the space programs on both sides, by their own people, to force them to make common cause on a "third project."

Well, we face much the same thing on the nuclear side, I think the missile defense is much the same thing.

In Global Politics, Putin Content To Play 'Spoiler'

Anne Applebaum (file photo)

July 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the "The Washington Post" newspaper and a regular commentator on Russia. Her most recent book, a history of the Soviet gulag system, won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2004. She spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Irina Lagunina ahead of the Kennebunkport summit about the state of U.S.-Russian ties.

RFE/RL: In recent months, Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of creating a unipolar world, upsetting the global security balance, and a host of other things. He even compared the United States to the Third Reich during his speech at the Munich security conference in February. And yet the Bush family is now receiving him in their family home, which is a very rare and personal thing.

Anne Applebaum: Unfortunately for Mr. Putin, it's an indication that when he gives speeches like that, they aren't taken very seriously. People in Washington now generally believe that Putin recognizes he has some ability to be a spoiler -- he can sort of wreck everybody's mood at summits and he can cause trouble in the West. He doesn't really have much power to do anything else. In fact, I think that speech was seen as a sign of weakness. If the only thing he can do to show how powerful and important he is is attack the United States in a kind of patently silly way, then this is not very serious.

"The main foreign-policy issue for the United States right now is Iraq. Maybe after that comes the Middle East. And somewhere down the list -- fairly far down -- is Russia. I happen to think that's a mistake. But that's how most people in Washington right now see it."

RFE/RL: How do Washington and the White House view what's going on in Russia? Do they see Russia shifting away from a democratic state into an authoritarian and nationalistic one?

Applebaum: I don't know how deep their contacts are in Russia and how profoundly they understand it. Certainly there's awareness in Washington, and I would say all over Europe now, that this is becoming really a very different kind of regime. Rightly or wrongly, there's some tendency to say: "Well, maybe this has something to do with the handover of power that's going to happen in the next few months in Russia. Let's wait and see what happens after Putin leaves office or doesn't leave office, and then we'll know what to do next."

RFE/RL: A lot of people, looking at the summit, say that without a concrete agreement on something -- missile-defense bases, for example -- the whole exercise will have been a failure.

Applebaum: If that were true, then most summits are failures. There are many, many meetings between statesmen that don't produce anything in particular. The expectations of Putin now are very, very low. People don't expect much is going to come from him, and there's very little being said to build up this summit. So I wouldn't declare it a failure just because nothing happens.

RFE/RL: The U.S. Congress and the White House see relations with Russia in different ways. How does Congress view Bush's personal relationship with Putin?

Applebaum: The Congress doesn't like most anything about Mr. Bush, so they're unlikely to like this either. Bush is unbelievably unpopular on Capitol Hill and disliked by both parties, including his own. One of the problems in general for anybody who is interested in America's relationship with Russia is that this is very much not a top-tier issue. The main foreign-policy issue for the United States right now is Iraq. Maybe after that comes the Middle East. And somewhere down the list -- fairly far down -- is Russia. I happen to think that's a mistake. But that's how most people in Washington right now see it.

RFE/RL: Can Russia and Vladimir Putin create real problems for the United States?

Applebaum: Russia is clearly interested in dividing up the Western alliance -- in separating and creating a bad atmosphere, for example, between Germany and Eastern Europe, as they did over the proposal to build a pipeline directly to Germany across the Baltic. Russia is interested in undermining Western policy in Iran. Russia is interested in possibly undermining Western policy in other places.

I hope that it's not going to get any worse than that. At the moment Russia isn't militarily or even economically powerful enough to do more than that. It could be in a few years; things could get worse. Much depends on what happens in Russia in the next 18 months. Yes, of course Russia could cause a great deal of trouble for the United States. I don't see right now why it's in Russia's interest to do that. I don't see why lining up nuclear missiles again, pointing at Western Europe, benefits Russia. However, insane politics do happen and people do make decisions that don't make sense.

RFE/RL: Perhaps part of the explanation is that the present regime in Russia feels it needs an archenemy, in the form of the United States, in order to shape public opinion.

Applebaum: Most of what Putin has done have been gestures that don't have any real significance. If Putin were actually invading Estonia, we would feel differently than about Putin teasing Estonia, or whatever it is that he does. The policy toward Estonia is shameful and terrible, but it's not an invasion. He hasn't even done anything yet that would inspire an actual Western military or even a serious economic response. And I assume that's deliberate, that what he's interested in is spoiling the mood, rather than actually causing trouble.

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