Saunders.2003 - The U.S and Russia After Iraq By PAUL J...

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Unformatted text preview: The U.S. and Russia After Iraq By PAUL J. SAUNDERS HOUGH PRESIDENTS GEORGE w. BUSH and Vladimir V. Putin continue to express their desire to work together after sharp differences over Iraq, their governments have not yet managed to do so in a meaningful way. The two leaders seem likely to try to overcome their differences at their first meeting since the war on June 1 in St. Petersburg. Yet, even after that meet— ing, the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship will be somewhat uncertain. Before the flare up over Iraq, the United States and Russia enjoyed what some have described as their best relationship since Russian independence. Despite disagreements over the American withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the second round of NATO enlargement, the strong per— sonal connection between the two presidents and new cooperation in the war on terrorism had contributed to a sense of optimism that Washington and Moscow were finally on track to becoming real partners. As a result, Russia’s assertive opposition to the U.S.—British war against Saddam Hussein came as a particular shock to many in the United States (and confirmed the suspicions of those who were not shocked) «— and the impact has only been worsened by Moscow‘s thus~far obstructionist postwar conduct. Paul ]. Saunders is director of the Nixon Center. jUNE if? JULY 2.003 17 Policy Review Paul ]. Saunders Yet the relationship remains one of considerable importance to American national interests. The Kremlin’s cooperation in the war in Afghanistan — in sharing intelligence, stepping up its preexisting effort to arm the Northern Alliance, and setting aside earlier objections to a major US. military pres— ence in the region — significantly aided US forces in the field. And a strong and sustainable relationship with Moscow can serve important and even vital American interests in many other areas, ranging from the war on ter- rorism to non-proliferation and international trade and investment. Conversely, a weak relationship with Russia could embolden “rogue states” hostile to the United States, return the United Nations Security Council to its Cold War uselessness, and expose Americans to additional danger from ter- rorism and weapons of mass destruction. This raises two questions. What can be done to strengthen the U.S.- Russian relationship and put it on a more solid foundation? And, taking into account obvious and substantial differences with Moscow on some major international issues, how far can the relationship really go? What went wrong? NY DISCUSSION or improving the U.S.—Russian relationship should begin with an understanding of the status of the relation- ship today and analysis of “what went wrong” in American efforts to win Russian support for, or at least acquiescence to, the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, even before Iraq, neither Washington nor Moscow was satisfied with the progress in the relationship. American officials frequently complained that in the absence of Kremlin involvement, Russian govern— ment departments routinely obstructed effective collaboration. Russian offi- cials similarly grumbled that only the White House could force action from Cold War—era bureaucrats in the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. Analysts and commentators in both countries lamented excessive reliance on the personal relationship between the two presidents. Nevertheless, Amr:rican and Russian officials continued to declare their commitment to building a strong U.S.-Russian relationship, and — despite reservations about the American use of force and concerns that Russia could face more terrorism after a war — Moscow initially seemed inclined to accommodate the United States on Iraq, where Russian economic and other interests were significant but not first-order concerns. After their meeting in St. Petersburg in November, Presidents Bush and Putin issued a joint state- ment essentially reiterating the message of UN. Security Council Resolution I44I by calling on Iraq “to completely and immediately comply” with all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions or “face serious consequences.” Speaking to reporters, Putin expressed confidence that Russia and the United States could “achieve a positive result" so long as the process 28 Policy Review The US. and Russia After Iraq remained within the U.N. framework. As late as January 2.003, senior offi- cials suggested privately that Russia would be prepared to abstain in U.N. Security Council voting if a resolution were prepared that was sufficiently vague to allow for appropriate explanation to the Russian people, who were overwhelmingly opposed to an American use of force. By February, however, the Russian position appeared to have hardened substantially. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeatedly pronounced that Moscow would use its veto in the U.N. Security Council to block mea~ sures that “would open up the way, directly or indirectly, to settlement of the Iraqi problem through the use of force.” Ultimately, of course, the Bush administration decided not to seek approval of yet another Security Council resolution on Iraq. Both international and domestic forces drove the shift in the Russian position. Internationally, France {with help from Germany) made a very determined effort to seduce Moscow into opposing the United States, including intense communication with Russian leaders in advance of key Security Council deliberations. For example, in the to days prior to the February 14 report by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin met with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov on February 5, French President jacques Chirac spoke to President Putin on the telephone on February 6, and Putin and Ivanov traveled to Paris for talks on February 10. President Bush spoke to Putin on the tele— phone on February 4, before the French diplomatic blitz, and on February 14, by which time Ivanov was already in New York for the Security Council session. Similarly, in the crucial IO days before the March 7 Blix report, de Villepin and lvanov spoke by telephone at least every other day and met in Paris on March 5. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also spoke to Ivanov twice and participated in the Paris meeting. President Bush spoke to Putin on February 27 and late on March 6, but appeared to make little progress. Secretary of State Colin Powell met Ivanov only on the morning of March 7 and delivered a tough message that appeared to generate irritation and resentment on the Russian side rather than encourage support. The French effort to court Moscow was especially successful because Paris made clear that it was prepared to take the lead role in opposing the United States. This strong position by an American NATO ally considerably eased Russian concerns about alienating Washington. The fact that Germany — which also currently holds a rotating Security Council seat and, despite tension with the Schroder government, had historically been a closer US. ally than France — was similarly firm in resistance contributed to Moscow’s sense that it could stand up to the United States without rupturing the bilateral relationship and isolating itself from the West. These developments occurred at a time when Russians had begun to look toward parliamentary elections, to take place in December, and to a presi- dential ballot in March 2004. Though President Putin does not currently JUNE 15"]ULY 2003 :9 Paul ]. Saunders appear to have any viable challengers for reelection, his domestic agenda depends heavily upon maintaining control of the Russian parliament, partic- ularly its more significant lower house, the State Duma. According to a poll conducted by the respected All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) in late February and early March, 9 1 percent of the Russian public opposed the war and a considerable proportion expressed suspicion of U.S. intentions, while the Russian elite tended to dismiss the benefits of close rela— tions with the United States. Putin could have paid a substantial political price for even tacit support of the American position, especially given the French and German positions. A defeat of the pro—presidential United Russia bloc by the Communist Party, which remains the largest parliamentary fac- tion, could have sorely wounded Putin just three months before his own election day. Interestingly, a top Kremlin official visiting the United States in late February told a small group, including this author, that Moscow would have liked to support Washington on Iraq, but that the state of the bilateral relationship did not persuade Russian leaders that the U.S. would stand by them in dealing with the problems that war would create. Finally, the Kremlin — like many governments and observers around the world — might have made a fundamental miscalculation of the likely course of the war in Iraq. Writing in the Wall Street journal (April 15, 2.003), Pavel Felgenhauer, perhaps the country’s most respected media defense ana- lyst, described Russia’s lead intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), as “a leading party of the pro-Saddam lobby,” and Russian military officials routinely predicted a long, difficult, and bloody war in Iraq. Under the circumstances, top leaders could have believed that even if the United States launched military operations, it might still be persuaded to accept a diplomatic solution in the face of expected high casualties and increased domestic opposition to the war. In fact, prominent foreign policy commenta- tors now admit that Moscow had very different expectations of the war; for example, leading Russian foreign affairs analyst Sergei Karaganov of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy wrote in Moscow News (April 23- 2.9, 200 3) that “our intelligence services misled us — or we deluded our— selves — about the Iraqis’ ability and readiness to resist” U.S. forces. Notwithstanding his well-known pragmatism, President Putin may have been especially vulnerable to such self-deception as a result of his personal ties to the F513 and his close relationship to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. What now? 5 U.S. FORCES drew closer to Baghdad, President Putin made two widely publicized statements that appeared to demonstrate Russian interest in beginning to repair the damage to the U.S.- Russian relationship. Though he said that “nothing has changed in our posi- tion on Iraq,” Putin stressed that a U.S. defeat was not in Russia’s interest 3.0 Policy Review The U.S. and Russia After Iraq and gave a detailed list of reasons. He also said Moscow and Washington had to continue to work together on terrorism, non-proliferation, and other important issues. Domestically, the statements were a signal that, while the Russian president understood “the people who are unable to contain” their “emotions," the Russian media should scale back their vitriolic criticism of America and the war (something which in fact happened). Nevertheless, the degree to which the Kremlin is prepared to work with the Bush administration remains uncertain. After initially rejecting the idea of writing off or rescheduling Iraqi debt, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that Russia could be willing to consider such moves in discussions in the Paris Club. (Aleksandr Shokhin, a Yeltsin-era economic official and former chairman of the State Duma’s Finance and Credit Committee, was even more forthcoming, proposing that Iraq’s debt to Moscow be reduced by 80 percent.) Yet Putin rejected lifting U.N. sanctions on Iraq in favor of a temporary suspension until U.N. inspec- tors confirm that the country does not possess weapons of mass destruction. And he lashed out at British Prime Minister Tony Blair after a meeting in Moscow that was supposed to patch up their relationship: “The quesrion is, where is Saddam Hussein? Where are those weapons of mass destruction, if they were ever in existence? Is Saddam Hussein in a bunker sitting on cases containing weapons of mass destruction, preparing to blow the whole place up?” Though Russian officials seem increasingly inclined to work with Washington to end the sanctions, this statement, which could be interpreted as a gratuitous attempt to embarrass America’s closest ally, was not reassur- ing. Before the U.S.-Russian dispute over Iraq, many in Washington and Moscow had come to believe that Putin had made a strategic choice to purw sue a closer relationship with the United States. Though Russian officials continue to express interest in strengthening ties with the U.S., neither Americans nor even Russians yet have a clear view of the Russian governw menr’s current intentions. For example, in an assessment of the lessons of Iraq for Russia, Sergei Karaganov complained that his country “lacked a coherent strategic objective” in its approach to the war: Did we want to preserve international legitimacy or save the UN. Security Council or make friends with the Europeans and play them off against the United States or remain on good terms with the Americans? All of these objectives are justifiable if they are based on an underlying strategic line. There was no such line, however. This is not so much the problem of a particular crisis as of the entire foreign policy. Karaganov is probably accurate to credit the personal bond between the two presidents with preserving the relationship through the Iraq crisis — but both sides had already recognized before Iraq that the Bush-Putin relation- ship per se was not a sufficient foundation for a close and lasting partner- ship. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that the personal relationship between JUNE @jutv 2003 3: Paul ]. Saunders the two leaders did not suffer as a result of Iraq. This raises the question of what other basis there is for the U.S.—Russian relationship both today and in the future. Both before and after September 1 I, the Russian elite has generally derid- ed the benefits of the U.S.-Russian relationship to their country. Today, even some analysts who have been generally well-disposed to the United States in the past see little value in President Putin’s effort to strengthen ties with Washington; prominent television personality and commentator Alexei Pushkov — who earlier tended to support better relations with the US. — said recently in an interview that Russians should not be concerned about the consequences of the war in iraq because Russia “didn’t have anything to lose in its relations with the USA.” Some American observers have also sug- gested that Russia has gained norhing. This is wholly untrue. First and foremost, Russia gained considerably from the destruction of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. This also happened to be in the American interest, but it was a significant plus for Moscow, which had been unsuccessfully seeking U.S. cooperation against the Taliban for over three years. Russian officials were deeply concerned by the possible spread of Afghanistan’s form of radical Islam into neighboring Central Asian republics — and by al Qaeda’s direct support of Chechen rebel groups — and the Moscow-backed Northern Alliance had been losing ground in Afghanistan’s ongoing civil war. American military action made a major contribution to addressing these problems and did so in a time frame that could not otherwise have been achieved. President Putin has publicly acknowledged the benefits to Russia of the US. war in Afghanistan. Relatedly, the United States has come substantially closer to the Russian position on the war in Chechnya by acknowledging al Qaeda support for some of the Chechen rebels, officially designating three Chechen groups as terrorist organizations, and significantly muting criticism of Russian conduct in the region. On that last point, the American delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights did not co-sponsor a critical resolu— tion on Chechnya in the commission’s March session in Geneva, as it has done in previous years with similar resolutions] The Bush administration has also made a real and genuinely effective effort {in cooperation with U.S. allies in the Middle East) to cut off the flow of money to Chechen terrorists — something to which the Clinton administration more or less turned a blind eye despite numerous Russian requests. Taking into account that stabi- lizing Chechnya is Russia’s No. 1 security interest, this is not a minor step. The US. has also pressed Georgia firmly to drive Chechen rebels from de lThe U.S. did vote in favor of the resolution, which did not pass, but its declining of co— sponsor status was a notable gesture to Moscow. The final vote was 15 for and 21 againSt, with r7 abstentions; Russia’s new friends France and Germany each co-spon- sored the resolution as well as voted in favor of it. 3 J. Policy Review The U.S. and Russia After Iraq facto sanctuary in its Pankisi Gorge region and to seal its border with Chechnya. Finally, the U.S. has generally supported Russia’s controversial March referendum to approve a new constitution for the renegade province. Third, the Bush administration has taken a much more relaxed view of Russian involvement in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia than the Clinton administration. This has included both an end to aggressive official efforts to find energy export routes to bypass Russia and an end to attempts to discourage regional governments from hosting Russian military bases. Again, considering that the region is high on Russia’s list of strategic priori- ties, this is a meaningful acknowledgement of legitimate Russian interests. This is not to say that there have not been disappointments. For example, Russian officials feel that their government has repeatedly been promised by the Clinton and Bush administrations (including in the immediate after- The RMSSICIfl math of September 1. 1) that the Cold War—era elite has jackson-Vanik amendment would be repealed. For a variety of reasons, the U.S. Senate has not yet acted, generally though Senate Foreign Relations Committee . Chairman Richard Lugar submitted draft legislation derzded the to this end in Match. This has been a contmurng benefits Of the source of irritation, though Russra s ambassador to the United States, Yuri V. Ushakov, wrote in the U.S.—Russian Washington Post (April 3, 2003) that he considers . _ the issue to be America’s problem rather than his 76161151011551? t0 country’s, as it is more a symbol of lingering Cold War sentiment in the United States than an obstacle to trade. Perhaps more seriously, Russian leaders were disturbed by the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the second round of NATO enlargement, which included the three Baltic states. Neither issue would necessarily have been a significant problem in the context of an improving relationship, but both are added to the list of grievances in times of tension. From the U.S. perspective, Russia’s insistence on completing United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq prior to removing sanctions on the country seems illogical, opportunistic, and possibly unfriendly. Taking into account Moscow's frequent past efforts to ease or lift the sanctions on Iraq — and its persistent assertions that the presence of weapons of mass destruc— tion in Iraq was unproven — one would expect that Russia does not believe Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction. This would eliminate the need for sanctions, especially when the United States controls most of Iraq and when tens of thousands of American soldiers, rather than tens of inspectors, are looking everywhere for the weapons. The charitable interpretation of the Russian view is that it was an opening bargaining position in an effort to extract concessions; the less charitable interpretation is that it was intended to embarrass the United States. That would be a dangerous course for the their country. JUNE ti“ JULY 2.003 33 Paul ]. Saunders Kremlin, which has much m...
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