|FROM ADVERSARIES TO ALLIES|
The summit between President Bush and President Putin represents a significant milestone in U.S.-Russian relations. Is this change a result of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war against terrorism? What is at stake in a friendly alliance between former adversaries?
from Washington, D.C. asks:
Does Russia's poor GDP, prevalence of organized crime, failure to successfully implement market reforms, and war in Chechnya undermine any joint foreign policy initiatives between Russia and the U.S.?
Besides their nuclear arsenal and intelligence organizations, how much does Russia really matter to our current foreign policy beyond the immediate anti-terrorism concerns?
Russia is important to U.S. counter-terrorism goals because of its intelligence assets and geopolitical location.
Russia has provided extraordinarily important and detailed intelligence crucial to the success of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. In addition Russia's acceptance of U.S. bases in Tajikistan (which Russia could have vetoed given Tajikistan's dependence on Russia) has been important for the effectiveness of the military campaign in Afghanistan.
Finally, Russian supply and assistance to the Northern Alliance has been substantial, important to success of ground operations and coordinated with U.S. air operations.
But, Russia is also "important" for its weakness, as your question suggests.
If terrorists seek materials and knowledge to use weapons of mass destruction, Russia is their best bet because of the combination of Soviet capacity and post-Soviet disintegration. The disintegration of Russia's political system, economy and society make it a very problematic partner. Examples are too numerous to cite here, but one will illustrate: cooperation to secure Russia's WMD capacity and expertise is vital, but the poverty of people working in that sector combined with the lack of effective and legitimate political control risks U.S. assistance supporting Russian sales and cooperation with countries that support terrorist networks, such as Iraq.
Yet, the U.S. cannot effectively defeat terrorism without cooperation from Russia, so a way must be found to engage it without compromising of our primary objectives and values.
All of these issues should be of concern to the United States and they certainly underscore how far Russia has yet to go in its development, as well as its limitations and the constraints on Moscow's own ability to project itself internationally. However, improved relations between the U.S. And Russia are of considerable benefit to both countries. For Russia itself, good relations with the U.S. help to stabilize its international security environment and will enable Moscow to focus on its domestic economic and political agenda.
For the U.S., as in the Gulf War, Russia's support for the war on terrorism is not inconsequential. Moscow's assistance in the campaign in Afghanistan and its willingness to share critical intelligence material as well as offer logistical support should not be discounted.
Although Russia's influence has declined in this region over the last 10 years, it remains an influential player in Central and South Asia. It obviously has a long history of relations with the Central Asian states as the former imperial power, maintains military bases and troops in Tajikistan, and has close bilateral ties with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the other two states bordering Afghanistan.
In addition, Russia has been an active participant in the ongoing UN-sponsored peace process in the Afghan civil war. Russia also has close relations with three of the other neighboring powers, India, China and Iran, which complement as well as supplement the U.S.'s own relations (especially in the case of Iran).
It has a difficult relationship with Pakistan, which has been on the opposite side of the Afghan civil war, but both Russia's and Pakistan's pressure on their respective sides will be important in helping to stabilize Afghanistan in the coming months.
Beyond Central and South Asia, Russia also has a web of relations in the Middle East, which may be significant as the United States moves forward, and intelligence on terrorist movements globally through its still extensive security services.
First, Russia's GDP is growing at a brisk pace. Since 1999, it averages growth of 6 to 8 per cent per year. Thus, with all the negative issues you mentioned, such as corrupt bureaucracy, Russia seems to be turning the corner economically.
Having traveled to Russia many times in the last 13 years, I cannot say that it failed in market reforms. In 1990, people were standing in lines to cash their ration coupons, like in the U.S. during World War Two, or worse. Today, there is plenty of food and consumer goods in Russia. People can travel anywhere they want; they can read whatever they want; they are more free than under the communist rule. Russia came a long way indeed.
The war in Chechnya is a tragedy; the Chechens and the Russians have been at it for the last 230 years! Many thousands of civilians were killed or turned into refugees.
But there is a terrorist component to that war, with ties to Afghanistan, with kidnappings for ransom, and with millions of U.S. dollars channeled to radical Islamic Chechen factions, like the one headed by rebels leaders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, from the Arab Gulf countries and London mosques, for "Jihad" against the Russians.
As the U.S. is fighting the war on terrorism, Russia is a vital partner. Putin really "delivered" in Afghanistan. I very much hope that he will also recognize that we need to go beyond Afghanistan to destroy the evil network of murderers and West- haters, which is al-Qaida and many other radical Islamic terrorist organizations.
The real test is Iraq and Iran -- two countries which have historic ties to the USSR and Russia. I hope that Putin and his advisers understand that in this war it is in their interest to be staunchly on the side of the U.S., And it is in our interest to recognize Russia's legitimate claims in Iraq, such as that country's $7 billion debt from the 1980s to Russia, to ensure Moscow' cooperation in replacing Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.