Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 211

Day one of this week’s Russian-U.S. summit meeting, which produced an abundance of friendly rhetoric and a half dozen joint statements, appeared to confirm once again Moscow’s and Washington’s hopes of leaving behind Cold War-era tensions and moving on to a new era of friendship and cooperation. But despite announcing an important advance in reducing the strategic nuclear arsenals of the two countries, Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush appeared to fall short of reaching accords on several other key issues that many observers thought, in the days leading up to the summit, might be in reach. Notthe least of these seeming failures involved the Bush administration’s apparently unrequited hopes of winning enough Russian concessions on amending the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to permit the United States–without withdrawing from or violating the treaty–to proceed largely unencumbered in testing a national missile defense system.

Moreover, there was some dissonance even on the issue of strategic arms reductions, with the Russian side complaining of both the vagueness of the Bush administration’s proposals and its unwillingness to codify the proposed reductions in a more traditional treaty format. Yesterday’s day two of the summit, during which the two men settled in at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas produced little in the way of substantive announcements relative to any of these important issues, though negotiations kept up at a high pace. All of this suggests the two sides will have to do yeoman’s work today, the final of the three-day meeting, if they are to produce the sort of breakthroughs on missile defense and other issues that some had hoped might mark this summit meeting as the beginning of a real transformation in relations between the two countries.

The highlight of the first day’s meeting was Bush’s announcement that the United States would cut the number of warheads in its strategic nuclear arsenal over the next decade from current levels of 6,000-7,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200. Putin did not respond to Bush’s announcement directly. Later in the day on Tuesday, however, he told a gathering at the Russian Embassy in Washington that Russia would likewise cut its arsenal by roughly two-thirds–from under 6,000 to approximately 1,500. None of these figures was unexpected. Bush administration officials had leaked the U.S. numbers earlier. Russian sources have long called for reductions to 1,500 or lower.

Meanwhile, the two menappeared in their joint appearance before reporters to have largely avoided the issue of the ABM Treaty and missile defense. That seemed to be in part because the dramatic events occurring on the ground in Afghanistan turned the attention of both delegations and the news media to events in the antiterrorist war. But it appeared also to reflect the fact that the two sides preferred to accentuate the positive. Continuing disagreements over missile defense did not lend themselves to that goal. And although at least one report suggested that the two presidents looked less comfortable with each other on Tuesday than they had in their previous meetings, Bush–who in his first encounter with Putin claimed to have looked into the former KGB official’s “soul”–still made a point of saying that Putin is “the kind of guy I [would] like to have in a foxhole with me” (Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, AP, November 14).

Russian news sources, meanwhile, offered a generally positive view of the summit’s first day, with some suggesting that the meeting was justifying hopes that Russia and the United States were becoming genuine international partners, not only in the war against terrorism but in a more general sense as well. This positive interpretation could be important, given speculation that Putin faces a potential nationalist backlash if, after having offered what are generally described in Russia as numerous concessions to Washington, he returns home without tangible rewards. The pro-government Izvestia, for example, offered a highly favorable reading of the summit’s first day in attaching importance to the fact that Putin is the first foreign leader to be invited to Bush’s Texas ranch. “This is a signal,” the newspaper wrote, “that relations between the two leaders are really outgrowing the bounds of formal protocols.” A commentary published on the pro-Kremlin Strana.ru web site likewise opined that, whereas Belarus had previously been Russia’s closest ally, a recent survey suggests that this honor now belongs to the United States. An article in the daily Vremya Novostei offered a more measured–but nevertheless positive–view of the summit, suggesting that its very dearth of sensational results suggested just how routine Russian-U.S. cooperation has become (Izvestia.ru, Strana.ru, November 14; Vremya Novostei, November 15)

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the newspaper that earlier this week suggested that the Kremlin may be losing control over the military leadership (see the Monitor, November 14), took a more critical view of Tuesday’s proceedings, however. It paid particular attention to the points of contention which emerged in the Putin-Bush talks. For example, the newspaper highlighted Russian concerns over the Bush administration’s unwillingness to formalize strategic arms cuts in a treaty, noting that this approach provided no guarantees that the informal agreements would be honored. It also pointed to still vague assurances from Washington regarding interactions between Russia and NATO, and suggested that Russian hopes for a concrete, decisionmaking role in the Western alliance could yet be frustrated (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 15).