The course of true love never did run smooth. There are plenty of rough patches in Russian-American relations.
–Talks on NATO are stalled. Tony Blair said last November that Russia should have a role in NATO decisions in areas like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and peacekeeping. But Russians say NATO has not followed through. A proposed new Russia-NATO council is “a purely cosmetic mechanism” that “scarcely meets the reality of the age or the interests of our country,” according to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. The Strana.ru website, which usually transmits the Kremlin line, blames the United States, and specifically the Department of Defense, for backing away from the original offer.
–Talks on strategic arms reduction fare no better. The U.S. insistence that decommissioned nuclear warheads be stored, not destroyed, is not acceptable to Russia, which has no money to maintain such a stockpile. And U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty still rankles.
–Russia brushes off U.S. complaints that Russia (as Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz said) “will sell anything to anybody” and is (as the CIA reported). Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Russia “strictly” meets its international export-control obligations, a non-answer.
–President Putin shrugs off U.S. deployments, but many senior military officers and nationalist politicians see the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus as a humiliation and threat. The disclosure this week of a classified Pentagon report to Congress listing Russia among the possible targets of U.S. nuclear weapons gave hardliners a chance to say “I told you so,” and they did not pass it up.
–And now chickens. Following American trade restrictions on steel, which Russian officials say could cost $500 million in exports, Russia banned imports of U.S. poultry, which last year amounted to $700 million in trade. These are unrelated events, say straight-faced Russian agriculture officials, who say U.S. poultry shipments are poorly documented and may be infected with salmonella. Talks on poultry are underway.
What is most striking is the calm, businesslike approach both sides take to these issues. Negotiations are constant, and on a high level (Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is in Washington today). The multiplication of irritants should lower expectations for the May meeting of Presidents Bush and Putin in Moscow, and that is no bad thing.