TCS Daily

Un-bear-able Relationship

By Melana Zyla Vickers - September 26, 2003 12:00 AM

Poland's leading politicians rush to President Bush's side, defending his Iraq policy with determination matched by no one but the U.K.'s Tony Blair. Their reward: Thanks, and the privilege of committing thousands of their troops to duty in Iraq.


Spain and Italy buck the trend among Western Europeans, sticking their necks out to support President Bush's war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Their reward: Thanks, and military duty for their soldiers, too.


Russia's leader Vladimir Putin lends succor to Iraq's Baathists, the U.S. enemy, votes against the U.S. on Iraq in the United Nations, moves to reconstitute the Ukrainian and Belarussian part of the Soviet empire, sells nuclear technology to Iran and advanced subs to China, dresses down top-ranking State Department officials as though they were his jackboot-polishers, shuts down all Russian independent media, and as recently as Saturday criticized U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the U.S. detention camps in Guantanamo Bay. Putin's reward: Yet another high-profile presidential summit starting this Friday, designation of Russia as a market economy and a U.S. partner, and, no doubt, more sweet nothings from the mouth of George W. Bush.


Bush can be forgiven for mistaking ol'Vlodya for a member of his fraternity: There's something in the White House water that generates a presidential weakness for bonding personally, and blindly, with other heads of state.


But why the smoke in the eyes affects Bush's national security team -- Cold Warriors such as NSC advisor Condoleezza Rice et al -- is utterly mysterious. The team appears to perceive that it is getting something in return for the administration's public displays of affection for Russia. But in reality, the U.S. has gained nothing from Russia since the ex-Soviets declined to throw the tantrum they threatened over the U.S. pullout from the ABM treaty two years ago, and in the fall of 2001 declined to cause the trouble they threatened for the U.S. in its invasion of a certain Central Asian state that had previously whooped Moscow's behind.


The best that can be said for U.S. policy toward Russia is it's designed to please the KGB men in power enough so that they don't do what they threaten to do. Call it the Gulag survivor's approach to foreign policy.


That's hardly becoming of Washington. Surely, the world's lone superpower can spend a little more time criticizing or even punishing Russia, and less time appeasing the terrible temper that the former Soviet imperialists advertise to such good effect. After all, there is no shortage of Russian actions that should by rights be objectionable to the United States:


  1. Putin's regime seizes every opportunity at the United Nations and other forums to oppose the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq. Russian government officials reportedly aided Saddam Hussein's regime militarily in its final days. And Russia shows no sign of joining a U.S.-led coalition to stabilize Iraq, as other East European nations such as Poland, Hungary and Ukraine have done.

  2. Putin's officials don't mince their words publicly lambasting U.S. officials. In the last week alone, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is aggressively and successfully promoting a mini-Soviet Union comprising Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, reportedly slammed brand new U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst for looking askance at the plan. And Vladimir Putin slammed deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Pifer for condemning human-rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya, implying Pifer was "retarded."

  3. Putin's Russia reportedly continues to sell advanced weapons and weapons technology, including submarines and surface-to-air missiles, to China, in a move that can only be seen to threaten the U.S.

  4. Putin's government continues to advance an $800 million deal with Iran under which it is providing technology that can assist the country in developing nuclear weapons.

  5. Putin's government continues its record of human-rights violations in Chechnya, using the new all-purpose cover of "counterterrorism," even though Russia's aggression in the region far predates any terrorist presence there.

  6. Putin's government has not substantively assisted the U.S. war on terror, and has attempted to pass off the arrest of one man in a trumped-up sting operation last summer as deep cooperation.

  7. Putin's government has effectively closed down all channels of independent media in Russia, ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. All television outlets cover pro-Putin material as their leading stories.

  8. Putin has promoted so many former KGB operatives to high office that the top ranks of government are now 25% state security apparatchiks.

  9. Putin's officials continue to use the legal and security apparatus to hound "oligarch" business owners who, while hardly clean themselves, lend financial support to pro-democratic political forces.


In the face of all this, the highest levels of the Bush administration are virtually silent. Putin is painted as one of the United States' greatest partners in the world.


U.S. officials counter that Russia couldn't really threaten the U.S. in any substantive way because it is a spent force. But there are other ways Moscow can undermine the U.S. than with the Red Army: Russia is cobbling friendships with potential U.S. foes, reconstituting its power where the U.S. is not paying attention, and feeding the flames of anti-Americanism with its criticisms of U.S. policies.


Perhaps the Bush team perceives that by tiptoeing around Russia's truculence, it will gain advantage in the area of energy, through a kind of U.S.-Russian partnership. Indeed, as U.S. dependence on Russian oil and natural gas grows, Russia likes to promote itself as a counterweight to OPEC states. U.S. officials may be calculating that by cozying up to Moscow, the U.S. is getting Russian oil on good financial terms and setting up energy-infrastructure plans that will let the U.S. slip from dependency on its current source of authoritarian-generated foreign oil (Saudi Arabia).


The trouble is that under this plan, the U.S. is heading toward a dependency on another authoritarian -- Russia. That's not a partnership, that's a bad situation in which a former enemy, which never paid a cent of figurative or literal reparations for the Cold War, and which continues to badmouth and undermine U.S. interests, gets the far better end of the deal.


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