George Bush and Vladimir Putin essentially became the first world leaders who understood that the tragic, apocalyptic events of 11 September 2001 had drastically changed the very concept of global security. At present, the safety of any, even the mightiest world power does not depend on the size of nuclear potential stockpiled in underground depositories, but on its willingness to co-operate with other countries in order to stave off new threats, especially the thereat of global terrorism.
In understanding this fact, Moscow and Washington have immediately changed the character of bilateral diplomacy.
The new formula is clearly seen in the Russia-US Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed during the Russian-US summit in May 2002. This concise and generally outlined document is nothing like the voluminous treaties of the past, such as START I where mutual suspicion filled every line of the text.
In some sense, the Russia-US Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty has probably less importance than another document signed by Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush during the same summit in May - the Joint Declaration on the New Strategic Relationship. It is a kind of a pledge announced by Russia and the United States to pool their efforts in the fight against new global challenges: terrorism, the proliferation of WMD, drug-trafficking and organised trans-national crime.
The declaration concludes with a call to increase the level of investment, trade and contacts between people, and we can risk calling this document the first charter of long-term partnership between Russia and the United States for the sake of global security. During the summit in Camp David on Friday and Saturday, both leaders will have plenty of opportunities to exchange their views on how effectively it is working in practice.
We Can Overcome Our Differences on Iraq
The official agenda of the talks is focused on the hope of expanding "co-operation to solve common problems of the 21st century." Nevertheless, the dialogue between Mr Putin and Mr Bush cannot neglect the major difference clouding US-Russian relations - the Iraqi issue. The polarity of positions on the war in Iraq has turned into a dispute over how to solve the post-war crisis that has sucked in the entire US war machine.
The only solution is to widen the UN's authority in Iraq. But to what extent and on what conditions?
The American draft of the UN resolution, which calls for sending UN peacekeepers to Iraq is, basically, a recognition of the USA's failureto save the world alone.
The Kremlin, however, believes that the United Nations should not simply assume the technical role of a supplier for peacekeeping forces, which would share the burden of restoring the order in Iraq with the American troops. The UN must take upon itself the responsibility to govern Iraq. Its participation in the post-war reconstruction of the country must be real, and it must assume the main role.
Meanwhile, according to Mr Putin's comments in an interview with the American media on the eve of his arrival to the United States, the Russian President does not consider the controversy over the Iraqi issue to be insurmountable.
In fact, Russia's position seems to be even more liberal than that of other permanent members of the UN Security Council, which have rejected the American version of the resolution. For example, Mr. Putin not only accepts the possibility that the Iraqi situation might be settled with the presence of American troops in the country, but also does not seem to mind if an American commander leads the UN peacekeeping contingent. It is not very important who leads the troops. What is important, though, is that this commander has the UN's mandate.
Overall, Mr Bush will be pleased to find out that at a time when his actions in Iraq are being met with growing discontent by ordinary Americans, when more American soldiers are dying and the budget deficit is threatening to reach $500 billion, his "friend Vladimir" is looking at the Iraqi problem with optimism. "We settled our differences over Afghanistan, after all," Mr. Putin said. "Why can't we agree on this issue, then?" Indeed, recent experience shows that both Moscow and Washington are capable of understanding their mutual responsibility for staving off the new challenges and it helps them if not to eliminate the causes of old and painful bilateral controversies completely, then at least to treat them effectively.
For instance, the United States seems to view Russian-Iranian co-operation in the sphere of nuclear energy with less irritation. In particular, the American administration has been very pleased with Russia's support with other IAEA members of a balanced resolution on Iran adopted on September 12 by the IAEA Board of Governors.
Moscow's efforts contributed to the fact that the resolution does not contain any ultimatums or accusations. The document simply reflects the justified concern of the IAEA: Iranian intentions are not very clear and it should make an effort to ease the tension marring its relations with the agency. Meanwhile, the talks between Russia and Iran about the return of used nuclear fuel have entered the advanced stage. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Kislyak recently expressed reassurances that "the treaty will be signed soon enough." At present, the United States should have even less desire to reproach Russia for the Iranian problem because, according to information obtained by Russian intelligence, many Western companies have been successfully co-operating with Iran in the sphere of nuclear technologies, including dual technologies, for a long time.
In the light of these sensational revelations, the manoeuvre of the American authorities when they suddenly accused Russia's "Instrument-making Design Bureau" of selling military equipment to Iran seems to be rather artificial.
Curiously enough, the sanctions were imposed on the Tula-based company precisely on the eve of Mr. Putin's visit to the United States. The USA is losing Iran as a profitable market and in the heat of a fierce competitive fight any means are justified.
Energy Sphere Helps Closer Ties
The economy will be another key issue of the discussions during the Camp David summit.
In this area, Mr Putin is standing on firmer ground than in the past. He will talk to Mr Bush knowing full well that the Russian economy grew by 6.9% in the first eight months of this year. The coveted task - to double the national GDP in ten years - does not seem to be an unrealistic dream anymore. It is also important that Russia has jumped from 17th place on the ladder of investment climate appeal to 8th place, and in terms of oil exports to the United States, it is now in 7th place.
On the eve of Mr Putin's visit to the USA, the second Russian-American Energy Summit started its work in St Petersburg. It serves as further proof of a simple but important truth - the goals and tasks set by both Russia and the United States in the sphere of energy industry mostly coincide.
The Russian-American Commercial Energy Dialogue (RACED) has once again become the initiator of the Energy Summit. The American Chamber of Commerce and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs act as co-chairs of this permanent body, which unites private businesses in the energy sphere. RACED could not have appeared at a more appropriate time. America is relying heavily upon this organisation after the recent most serious blackout in the history of the country.
The problem is that the blackout coincided with a crisis in the sphere of gas prices. Canada has been the major supplier of natural gas to the neighbouring United States, but its export reserves will be depleted in about five years. In the past year, gas prices in the United States have doubled. Unfortunately, 95 percent of American electric power stations use natural gas. In these circumstances, Russia, which has become the major exporter of gas to European countries, has emerged as the most promising source of gas exports to the United States.
The USA is also afraid of becoming a hostage to the major oil exporters. Therefore, from Washington's standpoint, Russia might also become a desired alternative to OPEC. Accordingly, the United States is monitoring with open interest the development of the West Siberia-Murmansk oil pipeline construction project undertaken by four private Russian companies. If the Russian side manages to modernise this seaport, it will be possible to transport crude oil from Murmansk to the USA approximately for the same price per barrel as the Americans now pay to exporters in the Middle East.
It is very important at present to prevent politics from interfering with the economy. God forbid that Russian-American economic co-operation assumes the same slow pace as the U.S. Congress has adopted in relation to the abolition of the ill-fated Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Introduced 30 years ago in order to punish Russia for not allowing the Russian Jews to leave the country, it still keeps the trade between the two countries if not in shackles then in blinkers.
Vladimir Putin and George Bush will, indeed, obviously have a lot of ground to cover during their two-day summit in the middle of beautiful forests around Camp David.
Vladimir Simonov, RIAN