Changing Partnership in Russia
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RAY SUAREZ: For the Camp David summit and the state of U.S.-Russia relations, we get two perspectives. Michael McFaul is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and an associate professor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Anna Vassilieva is head of the Russian studies program at the Monterey Institute of International Affairs; she was born and educated in Russia.
Professor McFaul, what were the two sides coming to Camp David in search of and when the talks were over, did anybody get what they were looking for?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Well it was a unique summit in that in past visits by Russians to Camp David it was usually the Russian coming to ask the Americans for something. So the last time Boris Yeltsin, if you remember, was there, he was asking for cash to help him with domestic reform at home.
This time around, it was Bush that was asking Putin for help. He wanted help on Iraq. He wants him to vote the right way, as he sees it, at the United Nations. And ideally he would like to see some Russian troops in Iraq.
He wants help with Iran where Russia supplies nuclear technologies that we think is contributing to the acquisition of nuclear weapons there, and he would like help on North Korea. That was the context of it. The reality was it was a very short list of deliverables.
In fact they said very nice things about all those things. But was there a treaty signed? Was there an agreement signed? Was there a protocol signed? We’re going to work with you on these issues? No. A lot of nice words, not much results.
RAY SUAREZ: Was that something that you would have predicted from the start, Professor Vassilieva, that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t give George Bush much joy on these issues by the time the talks were over?
ANNA VASSILIEVA: Well, I didn’t expect any major breakthroughs from the meeting, and I believe most of the analysts also did not. As to the joy that President Bush was supposed to receive from his two-day close communication with President Putin, I think there was a joy. This is a kind of a joy which we tend to underestimate, the joy of understanding the position of a leader of a major country.
We know that the two leaders have exposed their willingness to work together, and I think that it’s very important that even although obviously positions on Iraq, Iran, North Korea, are different… very different and the differences are important, the two sides, the two presidents still manage to agree that they can overcome those differences in order to achieve positive results in the future.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what kind of differences have they overcome in the years that they’ve managed this ongoing relationship?
It seems like a lot of these talks, whether it’s over the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty or talks about getting Russian help before the Iraq war, have ended kind of with neither side agreeing but still stressing that they get along well.
ANNA VASSILIEVA: Well, if you’re asking me, Ray, I should say that in the situation with Iraq, Russia was very straightforward against the unilateral action of the United States.
However, now the conversation revolves around the need of the United Nations to take a decisive action in terms of determining the program of political restructuring in Iraq and economic reconstruction. And, Russia said very unequivocally that it’s going to join the world community in both of those goals — assuming that United Nations works out this resolution. That’s the situation with Iraq.
As to the situation with Iran, the history… well, let’s just go back a few years and look at the attitude of Russia and Yeltsin towards Middle East and traditionally Iran and Iraq, those countries were in the sphere of very strong Russian economic interests. President Yeltsin tended to side more with Iran than Iraq on those issues. So we see now the very clear understanding of President Putin… of the position of the United States, and he agrees with the United States in the basic approach that Iran needs to be put under the additional protocol of IAEA, and if the inspections of IAEA inspectors would prove that Iran indeed is not forthcoming with the truth about its nuclear program, then I believe and President Putin makes it very clear he will have to review and change the whole policy of Russia towards Iran.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Vassilieva just stressed that Russia said it was on board in the weekend over at Camp David in wanting to limit Iran’s access to equipment, technologies, that could help it make a nuclear bomb.
Yet, it stepped far back from the kind of help the United States had said for the past two years it was looking for. Is that a more self-confident Russia, a more self-confident Putin who can say no –agree to small things and say no to big ones?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Absolutely. If you’re going into the room and the other side is asking you to do everything, you can walk away and say nothing. It’s a victory for you. Let’s remember that Mr. Putin is the only world leader that went to Camp David. This plays very well for him back at home. He doesn’t have to give anything and it’s a triumph for him.
From the Bush side it’s all well and fine to say we’re buddies. The president went out of his way to say this is a guy I like spending quality time with. I think that was his quote. I think that’s great. But when one looks at the concrete issues, I’m struck by the lack of willingness on either side to make real progress. This issue of Iran goes back a decade. It’s not something new. It’s been there this whole time. Since the last time these two gentlemen have met there’s new evidence, I think rather strong evidence, that suggests Iran is developing a nuclear bomb.
If his buddy Putin can’t say, well, more than just, well, we’ll look at the evidence and then we’ll cut off the program, then what are we really getting out of this relationship?
For instance, why couldn’t he have just said this is really disturbing — this new news — and we’re going to discontinue the building of this nuclear power plant until we have confirming evidence. That would have been an active thing; that would have been a proactive thing. Instead he just said that the basic thing that Boris Yeltsin could have said in 1994.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Vassilieva, why couldn’t he have said that?
ANNA VASSILIEVA: Because there is no proof. I mean there is a lot of rhetoric. Let’s go back to the situation before the U.S.-British campaign against Iraq. We see a lot of rhetoric. There is nothing yet presented in front of the commission at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna which states clearly that Iran indeed is developing a nuclear a military nuclear program.
So I believe that once that statement is made, there will be a time to act. And President Putin said that Russia is going to change its policy, economic policy towards Iran if it will be indeed proven that Iran is developing a military nuclear program.
And right now what we have, we have a history of a very intense economic cooperation. Russia is not interested in giving up this $800 million contract. Iranians are talking about five more nuclear reactors. And you know, Russians are interested in economic ties.
All I’m saying is that there hasn’t been yet a very clear proof or any proof at all, a factual proof that there is indeed the military nuclear program under development in Iran. Let’s see what will be Russia’s position if this fact will be proven.
RAY SUAREZ: Is Russia right now trying to find a way to be a player on the world stage? Does Russia matter as a world agenda setter any longer in the way it once did?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Well, it doesn’t matter thankfully in the way it did 20 years ago in that it was threatening with nuclear weapons in an anti-capitalist, anti-market ideology. It also doesn’t matter in the way it did ten years ago when had we been talking then, we’d be worrying about Russian instability, will it make it with the market system? Will it be oriented to the West or some other third way?
That said, Russia does still matter in that it has a pivotal place to play. Putin I think has made it very clear he wants to be part of the West. There’s no doubt about that. He really enjoys this position that he has carved for himself to have this personal close tie with the President of the United States and also to enjoy very cordial and friendly relations with the leaders of western European capitals. That’s where he is. He likes it.
Whether they can really deliver anything, that’s what I want to keep coming back to. It’s like okay we’ve said the nice things. It’s great we’re not in the era of 20 years ago and it’s great that Russia is more stable than before, but Bush has made a deal. He’s made a kind of strategic decision, ‘I’m not going to worry about what happens in Russia in terms of democracy, human rights, what’s going on in Chechnya, I’m going to say really nice things, in my opinion, way over-the-top nice things, and in return for that, my buddy Putin is going to help me on the things that matter to me: Iran, Iran, North Korea,’ the list could go on.
What I’m struck by is we’re not getting a whole lot out of that Faustian bargain.
RAY SUAREZ: Quick comment, Professor Vassilieva, in response?
ANNA VASSILIEVA: Well, I should say that we shouldn’t be personalizing too much this relationship.
MICHAEL McFAUL: I’m not. They are.
ANNA VASSILIEVA: President Putin is the one who is appealing to a pragmatic and basically unemotional approach. It’s interesting that Russian headlines came out yesterday with President Bush’s quote translated as ‘I love Putin’ rather than ‘I like the way it was presented.’ Again there is nothing wrong with that.
You know, Russia is still a player. Russia has a veto right in the U.N. Security Council. It’s in the interest of the U.S., which has Britain has its ally. It has the third vote that would support the position of the United States on the critical issues because China usually joins the majority so that’s important.
The anti-terrorism campaign is extremely important: Joint concerns in the preservation of regime of non-proliferation are very acute and both parties are working together towards that. Let’s be philosophical and let’s give some time to the development of the different approaches and see how the two leaders can come up with the decisions that the world is expecting from them. Time will show.
RAY SUAREZ: Professors, thank you both for joining us.