If the pending NATO-Russia agreement exemplified the positive side in Russia’s relations with the West, some other developments reflected continuing areas of discord, however. With respect to ties between Moscow and Washington, the most serious involved a lingering trade dispute that had begun with the Bush administration’s March 5 decision to impose tariffs on a wide range of steel imports–including some from Russia. Moscow struck back by banning U.S. poultry exports to Russia, and despite extensive negotiations, the exertion of considerable pressure by Washington and the signing of a protocol agreement, the dispute remained unresolved as this publication went to press.
Continuing Russian-U.S. tensions were also reflected over the past fortnight in the warm welcome that Moscow accorded to visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on April 5 as well as in efforts by Baghdad to reverse a Russian decision backing a Bush administration sanctions plan on Iraq and in the sudden eruption of a new spy row. At present the spy case seems unlikely to cause much damage (although that could change if relations between Moscow and Washington turn sour more generally), but Russia’s relations with Iran and Iraq–both listed as part of the Bush administration’s “axis of evil”–remain more of a wildcard, particularly given the mounting conflict in the Middle East. Russia took steps over the past fortnight to back the Bush administration’s latest efforts at quell the violence in the region, but Russia has long had interests divergent from those of the United States there, and it remained unclear what role Moscow would choose to play in the event that conditions in the Middle East and Persian Gulf–not to mention South Asia–went from bad to worse.