As George Bush visits Moscow for a historic treaty marking a new era of bilateral relations, what baggage does he bring with him and how much has President Vladimir Putin done for Russia?
On his first visit to Europe since September 11th, the declarations of George Bush leave no doubt that he is seeking another Grand Alliance (“I know America can’t win the war alone”), that he wants action, somewhere, somehow (“I understand there are some that would hope that the threat would go away, just on its own, but we’re going to have to act”) and that Iraq is in his sights (“The Iraq government is a dangerous government” and Iraq is a “danger to civilisation”).
There is mention of Iraq gassing its own population one decade ago (but no mention of other nations having used chemical weapons against other populations just two decades previously) and there is mention of a consultation of America’s allies in the event of an attack. However, there is also the statement that there are no plans for a war against Iraq, maybe not yet, or maybe because of the sizeable demonstrations which greet President Bush on his travels.
These demonstrations are basically against four points of US policy: the aggressive stance adopted in international trading relations, namely the steel tariffs which will cost thousands of jobs around the world, the mishandling of the climate change negotiations (Colin Powell has admitted that “Kyoto was not handled as well as it should have been”) and a Middle East policy which is seen to blindly support Israel, despite the fact that this country consistently flouts international law and UN resolutions and continues to sit on illegally occupied territories.
Yet what the visit of George Bush brings to Russia is far more important than the odd clumsy demonstration. What the visit of George Bush brings to Russia hails the success of the Russian diplomatic effort to bring the Russian Federation into the front line of nations and culminates in the recognition that the Russian Federation is a world power, that Moscow is a “must” on the list of capitals to visit and that the signature of Vladimir Putin on any document which bears serious weight in the international community is an absolute necessity to render it valid.
The visit of George Bush to Moscow is recognition by both countries that they can co-exist in a spirit of friendship and that they can debate issues which would formerly have led each one into separate corners of the international ring, with the rest of the world cringing in apprehension. For example, the USA is concerned at Russia’s arms sales to Iran and George Bush has even been quoted to have said “One way to make the case is that if you arm Iran you are liable to get the weapons pointed at you”, a reference to the policy of supporting Shah Reza Pahlevi to the hilt, only to see that the man was so far removed from his people that he had no idea of the hatred felt towards the Americans, and his regime, in the late 1970s, or maybe also a reference to the Iran Contra case, after the Islamic Revolution, in which a secret shipment of weapons was send by the USA to Iran, under a guise, when Iraq (already pumped full of weaponry) was getting too big for comfort.
Nevertheless, such issues can now be handled in a spirit of cooperation and respectful deference, but never indifference. A senior US official has spoken recently of a “long-term partnership, even a long-term alliance” between the Russian Federation and the USA.
The reason for this new spirit of mutual respect, in which the 1990s policy of riding roughshod over Moscow, whether it voiced a protest or not, has been substituted by a sharing of information and a series of trade-offs from a position of parity, is simple. The way the international community handles the Russian Federation today is witness to the brilliance and success of the policy of President Vladimir Putin and his team. Vladimir Putin has managed to put the Russian Federation into the limelight of international relations. He manages to reduce the arsenal of ICBMs by 66%, while retaining enough to destroy the planet many times over, yet reducing the costs of maintenance and therefore freeing money for other projects inside his vast country.
He manages to achieve a new relationship with NATO, in which both Russia and NATO view each other in an atmosphere of mutual trust and in which the Russian Federation gains the right to extensive consultations with NATO over policy.
He manages to play the game of give-and-take admirably, sowing the seeds to call in favours in future, such as international support for Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation and grants or subsidies to aid the sectors of Russia’s economy.
In today’s world, a visit to Moscow is as necessary as one to Berlin, Paris, London or Rome. But what has really been achieved is the following: it is done in a spirit of friendship and collaboration. No longer are the secret service agents needed, hanging out of a Nixon motorcade with automatic weapons pointed at the surprised faces of Muscovites.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru