Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 102

President George W. Bush arrived in Moscow yesterday for summit talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin that many believe could mark an historic transition point between the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. The centerpiece of Bush’s visit to Russia–and of his longer six-day European tour–is a pair of agreements that could go a long way toward making that transition a reality. In Moscow today Bush and Putin are expected to sign an intensely negotiated treaty agreement that will slash their respective operationally deployed nuclear arsenals by roughly two-thirds over the next ten years. Several days later, during a NATO-Russian summit meeting in Italy that will also be attended by Bush and Putin, as well as by European leaders, the two sides will formalize a landmark cooperation agreement between Russia and the Western alliance.

Neither the strategic arms cut accord nor the cooperation pact constitutes a guarantee that Cold War-style confrontations will be consigned to the past. The former puts more nuclear warheads in storage than it eliminates while also leaving thousands of strategic weapons in both countries on high alert. The NATO-Russia cooperation pact, meanwhile, is designed to circumscribe carefully any formal rights that Russia might have to influence alliance decision and policymaking. Both agreements nonetheless provide frameworks that, if the political will is present, could lead ultimately to an historic lessening of tensions between Russia and the West. That, in turn, would mark a real transition to a post-Cold War security environment, one in which Russia and the West work jointly to root out terrorism and to counter such threats as weapons proliferation and international crime and drug trafficking.

With so momentous a backdrop, it is perhaps not a surprise that much confusion remains as to what issues precisely will dominate this week’s talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and what exactly each side believes it will get from those talks. That the arms reduction agreement will definitely be signed was apparently confirmed on May 22, when the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the treaty text had been finalized. The two countries are also expected today to sign a political declaration setting out the parameters of future Russian-U.S. cooperation in strategic security matters. Reports have indicated that this document will also contain a section on the contentious missile defense issue and, if some reports are to be believed, will set out a program for Russian-U.S. cooperation in this area. Some U.S. sources, meanwhile, have suggested in recent weeks that the signing of the political declaration could be an event of considerable significance for Russian-U.S. relations, but they have not made clear exactly how this is to be so. Finally, the two countries are expected to sign several other statements, including one on economic relations and another on relations among citizens. Statements on counterterrorism and several other issues have reportedly also been under negotiation.

But beyond these formal signings the agenda for the summit seems to some extent still to be up in the air. U.S. sources have suggested with increasing frequency in recent days that Bush will use this week’s talks to reemphasize U.S. concern over cooperation between Russia and Iran in the areas of nuclear power and missile development. It was no coincidence, therefore, when Bush said publicly just prior to departing Berlin for Moscow that Russia needs to do more to ensure that sensitive military technologies do not find their way to Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in response, rejected the U.S. charges as “groundless,” and repeated past Russian assertions that its cooperation with Iran is legitimate and poses no proliferation risks.

The pre-summit squabble over Iran dovetailed with speculation that Bush might use his visit to Russia to emphasize broader U.S. concerns on a host of issues, including not only Russian-Iranian relations, but also the close ties that Moscow continues to maintain with two of the other three nations–Iraq and North Korea (see the Monitor, May 21, 23)–that Washington has dubbed, along with Iran, to be an “axis of evil.” Similarly, there has been speculation that Bush would also highlight U.S. concerns over abuses by Russian troops in Moscow’s war in the Caucasus, as well as over the Kremlin’s efforts to limit press freedoms in Russia. There could likewise be fresh recriminations over a several-month-old trade dispute between Russia and the United States that has centered on U.S. steel tariffs and a Russian ban on U.S. poultry products. The poultry ban has been an especially contentious issue and one that the U.S. president has raised with Putin in past conversations (see the Monitor, May 20).

Trade and economic cooperation issues more generally are likely also to get considerable attention in the course of the summit talks. Indeed, many believe that Moscow would like to put the focus on this area of bilateral relations, hoping that it might be able to win rewards from Washington on issues related to trade and investment policy. That would make up for what many in Russia believe has been Putin’s inability to win any serious concessions from Washington on key security issues, despite the support offered by the Kremlin for the Bush administration’s antiterror war. The Russian side would like especially this week to be able to announce progress on a trio of trade issues, including U.S. recognition of Russia as a market economy, concrete U.S. support for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and a commitment by the Bush administration to work for repeal of the Cold War-era “Jackson-Vanik” trade restrictions. Those trade issues have themselves become bound up with the dispute over the poultry ban, however, and many commentators have suggested that there will be no progress on any of them until the poultry dispute is resolved.

One area where the two countries are expected to make some progress this week is in the area of energy policy. Bush and Putin are expected to discuss plans to boost Russian oil exports to the United States, and possibly also ways by which U.S. investment in Russia’s oil sector can be increased. The talks are part of a U.S. effort to reduce its dependence on the Middle East by looking to Russia–the world’s second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia–as an alternative source of fossil fuels.

Any such emphasis this week on trade and economic issues is likely to confirm the opinion of those observers who believe that Russian-U.S. relations are evolving away from their Cold War focus on arms control toward a more balanced and “normal” mix of economic, political and security concerns. According to this view, this week’s summit, which will highlight the Russian-U.S. strategic arms accord, could prove ultimately to be the last of its kind. Some Russian observers are warning, however, that Putin has to come away from this summit with more than vague promises from the U.S. side. Should that not occur, they say, Russian hardliners could be emboldened, and that could bring Cold War-style confrontation back into the foreground (Washington Post, RFE/RL, May 21; Financial Times, Globe and Mail, May 22; AP, May 22-23; New York Times, AFP, Reuters, May 23).