2nd Chance with Russia

By Cohen, Stephen F. | The Nation, November 5, 2001 | Go to article overview

2nd Chance with Russia


Cohen, Stephen F., The Nation


The monstrous events of September 11 have given the United States a second historic chance, after the squandered opportunity of the 1990s, to establish a truly cooperative relationship with post-Communist Russia. Such a relationship is essential for coping with today's real security dangers, which exceed those of the cold war and make the United States so vulnerable that even it can no longer meaningfully be considered a "superpower." Indeed, both the decay of Russia's nuclear infrastructure since 1992 and the "low-tech, high-concept" attacks on America in September may be omens of an unprecedented dark age of international insecurity. None of its dangers can be dealt with effectively without Russia, the world's only other fully nuclearized country and its largest crossroad of civilizations.

President Vladimir Putin's agreement to cooperate with Washington's military campaign against terrorism, specifically in neighboring Afghanistan, opens the way to such a relationship, but it will require major revisions in US policies that existed before September 11. Those unwise steps had led to a Russia seething with anti-American sentiment and a cold peace between the former cold war rivals. They included the Clinton Administration's policies of virtually imposing shock-therapy economic measures, along with crushing foreign debt, on Moscow in the name of "reform"; violating a US promise to the Kremlin in 1990-91 not to expand NATO eastward; and bombing Serbia, Russia's fellow Slav nation.

During its first eight months in office, the Bush Administration also based its policy on the prevailing myopic notion that "Russia no longer matters." Disdaining serious negotiations with Moscow, it declared its intention to push NATO all the way to Russia's borders by including the former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and to unilaterally abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Moscow considers vital to its nuclear security.

Despite grudging applause for Putin's decision to participate in the US antiterrorism campaign, there is no sign of any American official or media rethinking of these policies. (It does not seem to matter, for instance, that since September 11 Russia has become more important to US objectives than are most NATO members.) There are instead reaffirmations of those policies and dire editorial warnings against making any substantial concessions in return for Moscow's participation, particularly in regard to the Kremlin's brutal war in Chechnya.

But it is unlikely that Putin can stay the American course against terrorism without significant US concessions, if only because he is surrounded by political elites deeply distrustful of Washington and unhappy with his decision. …

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