Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 208

With time rapidly running out before this week’s long-anticipated Russian-U.S. summit meeting, high-level negotiating delegations from the two countries met in New York yesterday. Their goal: to make a final push for an agreement to permit the Bush administration to continue its missile defense testing program but at the same time provide enough cuts in strategic nuclear weapons to satisfy Moscow. News agencies reported that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton and a team of U.S. arms negotiators had met in a New York hotel with a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. After the meeting, reporters asked Ivanov if this week’s summit–which is to start in Washington tomorrow and then move to President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch–is likely to produce new arms control accords. “Let’s wait [and see],” Ivanov cautiously responded. Yesterday’s arms talks came as the Washington Post, quoting senior Bush administration officials, said that the two sides are negotiating an unprecedented agreement that calls for deep but unequal reductions in nuclear weapons over the next decade but avoiding complicated new treaties. The paper also said that the two countries expect to reach an understanding on the matter this week–one under which Moscow would not object to unlimited U.S. testing for a missile defense system. In return, Washington would reportedly agree to forego any withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty under which it actually decided to deploy the system, a decision which could be years away (AP, Washington Post, November 11).

Although U.S. officials, and Rice in particular, have tried in recent days to dampen speculation that a breakthrough agreement is likely to be reached at the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to hint at the opposite during an interview he granted to a number of leading U.S. news organizations in Moscow on Saturday. In some reports on the two-plus-hour meeting, Putin was described as buoyant and optimistic. He was also quoted as saying that there has been “movement toward a compromise,” linking strategic nuclear defense cuts with changes to the ABM Treaty. His upbeat tone appeared to be aimed at setting a positive atmosphere for the U.S. talks. Indeed, at times he appeared to speak in almost visionary terms of a potential new era in Russian-U.S. relations, one in which Cold War thinking and perceptions are discarded in favor of a new joint focus on issues in which the two countries have common interests. “What was important in the former system of coordinates and the former reference framework now is losing its importance,” Putin was quoted as saying. He also said that the “[t]he times have long gone when Russia viewed this world as needing a confrontational approach.”

In the same spirit, Putin reportedly spoke of Moscow’s acceptance of a new U.S. role in Central Asia, and said in this context that “Russia and the Central Asian states will have the same problem, so we must understand [that] we must throw away our former fears and increase our trust toward one another and act together.” And he repeated earlier assurances that Moscow is seeking no explicit payback or concessions from the United States in return for what some in Moscow have said is a string of concessions the Kremlin is making to Washington. Gaining the United States as a “reliable and predictable partner” is more important, Putin was quoted as saying, than any quick material advantages.

For all the happy talk, though, Putin on Saturday–and the Russian government more generally over the past several days–appeared also to be setting down some markers as to just what Moscow is not prepared to do in order to win improved relations with Washington. Putin’s remarks on the subject of NATO enlargement were notable in this regard. While much recent reporting has spoken of the degree to which the Russian leader has softened Moscow’s previous opposition to including new members in the Western alliance–particularly with respect to the former Soviet Baltic states–Putin appeared on Saturday to make very clear that Russian acquiescence in this matter will depend directly on the West’s willingness to grant Russia a practical voice in NATO’s decisionmaking process. Indeed, he spoke of the inadequacy of the agency established in 1997 to institutionalize NATO-Russian cooperation–the Permanent Joint Council. That body was designed to be a purely consultative mechanism, one that would grant Russia a “voice” but “no veto” in NATO affairs, as the line ran at the time. In his remarks on Saturday, however, Putin appeared to propose that NATO transform itself from a defensive alliance into an organization charged solely with combating international terrorism and weapons proliferation. He also told reporters that he had “certain ideas of a general nature” involving, apparently, ways the alliance might change itself in this fashion so as to cooperate more productively with Russia (Washington Post, News York Times, Reuters, AP, November 11).

Putin also refused to renounce Russia’s friendly relations with several states that America considers “rogues”–referring to, among others, North Korea and Iraq. Indeed, despite rapidly improving Russian-U.S. ties more generally and the approach of this week’s summit meeting in particular, Moscow has apparently continued to stonewall high-profile American efforts to recast UN policy on Iraq by implementing a program of so-called smart sanctions. Russia is the only member of the Security Council to oppose the U.S. plan, and the issue was reportedly on the agenda when Powell met Ivanov this past Saturday. Whether it will be a major topic of discussion at this week’s summit remains unclear (AP, November 10). Moscow’s defiance of Washington’s wishes has also been explicit over the past several days in criticism Russian officials have leveled against the United States on a pair of arms matters. On November 9, Russian Munitions Agency chief Zinovy Pak angrily denounced the United States for what he claimed was a failure by the U.S. State and Defense Departments to meet their obligations relative to a plan intended to help destroy thousands of tons of Soviet-era chemical weapons. That was followed yesterday by a strongly worded Russian statement to a UN conference devoted to reviewing progress toward ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Bush administration opposes the treaty and chose to boycott the conference, leading to a Russian charge that U.S. actions could lead to a crisis and the uncontrolled spread of nuclear weapons (Reuters, November 11).