Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 227

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s December 10 visit to Moscow exhibited some of the same ambivalences in Russian-U.S. ties as has the question over a Russian role in NATO. The mood surrounding Powell’s talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin was an amicable one, and the U.S. diplomat departed from Moscow suggesting that the two sides might be close to an agreement on strategic arms cuts. But Powell apparently made no progress on the issue that has remained the biggest obstacle to fully cooperative relations between the two countries: continued Russian opposition to U.S. missile defense plans and Moscow’s parallel defense of the 1972 ABM treaty. The continuing disagreement, coming despite hints in the runup to the November Russian-U.S. summit that an accommodation of some might be on the horizon, suggests that the two countries still face a potentially contentious move by the Bush administration to withdraw from the ABM pact altogether. What impact that would have on ties between the two countries remains to be seen.

At the same time, while Powell and Ivanov suggested that Moscow and Washington might be able to finalize a deal on offensive nuclear weapons reductions by the time of a proposed Russian-U.S. summit meeting around the middle of next year, there appear still to be obstacles in that area also. Of greatest importance is Moscow’s unhappiness over the Bush administration’s reluctance to codify any set of reductions agreements in the form of a treaty. But it appears also that the two sides will require additional negotiations on other aspects of the arms reductions, including a more detailed agreement on the size of the cuts themselves and, especially, on the disposition of the affected warheads (Reuters, AP, Washington Post, Strana.ru, Interfax, December 10). There is little reason at present to think that these negotiations cannot be carried forward successfully. Yet, given the chummy atmosphere that pervaded the meetings that occurred this year between the two presidents, and the high hopes that those meetings engendered, it is difficult to escape the impression that there has been a slight loss of momentum in relations between Moscow and Washington, and that the current Russian-U.S. partnership in the antiterror war may not be enough in and of itself to continue to power the current rapprochement.