U.S.-Russian Relations: Toward a New Strategic Framework

Article excerpt

Key Points

President Vladimir Putin's support for the global war on terrorism demonstrates his strong commitment to Russia's integration with the West. His determination has survived several crucial early tests, notably the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, U.S. military deployments to Central Asia, and the prospect of Baltic states becoming members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Putin's new course has not been well received by the Russian national security establishment.

The United States cannot take Russia's newfound pragmatism for granted. Sustaining positive relations with Russia will not be cost-free, but it is a promising investment in a relationship and a region whose importance after September 11 has taken on a new meaning. A strong, friendly Russia can help bolster stability and security in Eurasia and combat terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Russia's Westward progress would be encouraged by several developments: a bilateral strategic framework that constrains American ability to reconstitute a vast nuclear arsenal and provides reassurances that future U.S. missile defenses will not negate Russian retaliatory capabilities; a new NATO-Russia relationship in the management of European security affairs; transparency measures concerning U.S. military operations in Central Asia; and multilateral relief from Soviet-era debt and other forms of financial assistance linked to restraints on WMD exports and more effective controls on weapons-grade material.

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In 2001, President Vladimir Putin made a strategic choice for Russia's integration with the West. Indicators of this decision include Putin's quest for better relations with the United States and Europe, his stated commitment to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), his pursuit of a new relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and his almost casual dismissal of the potential major irritants in the relationship with the United States and its allies--U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the likelihood of Baltic membership in NATO, sizeable U.S. military deployments to Central Asia, and a growing U.S. military presence in Georgia. Putin has unequivocally crossed these once-insurmountable red lines despite opposition from his closest advisers and the unease of the Russian public over the American presence in Russia's backyard.

The May 2002 summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg will take place amid heightened Russian anxieties and expectations. Russian elites are eager to see the new strategic framework with the United States but are apprehensive about whether it will meet expectations for a new post-Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union's former enemy. President Putin's ability to forge a credible post-Cold War strategic framework with the United States, establish a new relationship with NATO (which will give Russia a more prominent voice in European security affairs), and protect Russian interests and influence in Central Asia will be an important test not only of the U.S.-Russian relationship but also of Putin's personal diplomacy.

Putin is approaching these tasks in a difficult domestic environment. He is nearing the halfway mark in his first term in office and is enjoying high personal popularity. His job performance, however, does not get the same approval. The two major issues that propelled him to the Kremlin--Chechnya and law and order--remain the country's biggest problems. Hopes for a speedy resolution for the Chechen conflict have long faded. President Putin's declaration of war against crime in February 2002 only underscored that his campaign pledge of law and order remains unfulfilled.

The Russian president's reform agenda faces strong domestic opposition. His military reform is getting poor marks and has been subjected to fierce criticism in the Duma and in the Russian media. …