Quite a week it was. First U.S. President George W. Bush traveled to Moscow, where he and President Vladimir Putin signed a strategic arms reduction agreement that will cut the two countries’ respective nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 over ten years. The summit’s atmospherics made an even greater impression than warhead cuts, with the U.S. president following up the Moscow meeting with a visit to his Russian counterpart’s hometown, St. Petersburg, for two days of informal talks and sightseeing, including a visit to the Hermitage. Then the eventful week was capped off on May 28, when Putin sat down in Rome with the nineteen leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to sign an agreement formally setting up the NATO-Russia Council.
Still, while there was ample commentary about the historic nature of the turn in Russia’s relations with the West, some observers suggested that there was less to it all–the summit, the nuke cuts and the NATO-Russia Council agreement–than met the eye. After all, the arms agreement stipulated that nuclear warheads would be decommissioned rather than destroyed, and it remained an open question why two friendly and allied powers would want to keep several thousand nuclear warheads aimed at each other. And while the NATO-Russia Council will give Moscow a say in decisions involving such things as crisis management and peacekeeping, Washington stressed that the Russians would have no veto power over NATO decisions, including the thorny issue of alliance membership for Moscow’s former allies. In addition, Putin came away from his summit with Bush mostly empty-handed in the economic department, having failed to win either the repeal of trade restrictions under the 1972 Jackson-Vanik amendment, U.S. recognition of Russia as a market economy or concrete steps by Washington to help Russia win membership in the World Trade Organization. (The European Union helped ease the sting of this somewhat by announcing that it would formally recognize Russia as a market economy.)