Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 21

An op-ed piece written by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and published in the January 27 edition of the New York Times appeared to mark one more effort by Moscow to stem a slow erosion in relations between the two countries that has developed since U.S. military operations in Afghanistan began to wind down last month and the Bush administration moved to distance itself from the Kremlin. The Ivanov piece is, at the same time, a plaintive call for the United States to recognize what Moscow claims are the many benefits that might accrue from a commitment by both sides to maintain the close partnership that developed between Washington and Moscow in the months that immediately followed the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Ivanov’s opinion piece comes at an important time. Strategic arms reduction talks, which have grown increasingly problematic, were set to resume between the two sides in Washington yesterday. At the same time, Russian and NATO officials met in Brussels this week to continue negotiations aimed at formulating the parameters of a new, post-September 11 NATO-Russia relationship. Both sides hope to reach agreement on the new relationship by this spring, but talks have been complicated by the fact that Washington has recently distanced itself from a British plan that would give Moscow a greater voice in alliance affairs. At the same time, Moscow and Washington are gearing up for the next summit meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, which is expected to take place in May or June.

The two sides hope at that time to finalize a strategic arms reduction agreement, but a number of other important international and bilateral issues will also undoubtedly be on the discussion agenda. Those are likely to include not only NATO-Russia relations, but as well the ongoing war against terrorism, the revision of UN policy toward Iraq and, possibly, continuing U.S. annoyance over Iranian-Russian defense ties. All these issues are potentially problematic, and the next several months are likely to determine whether the spring summit cements a Russian-U.S. relationship that, as was the case when the two presidents last met, is based largely on partnership and cooperation, or whether reemerging tensions will return bilateral ties closer to the adversarial relationship that existed in the early months of the Bush presidency.

In his January 27 piece Ivanov is clearly urging that the Bush administration choose the partnership option. Indeed, while the Russian foreign minister appears to break little new ground in his opinion piece, the Kremlin-connected website suggested on January 28 that Ivanov had in fact exceeded earlier Kremlin proposals by outlining a grand strategic framework for future Russian-U.S. cooperation. At the heart of the new Ivanov proposal, the commentary said, is a call for the entire international security system to be rebuilt on the basis of the existing U.S.-led antiterror coalition. Indeed, in his piece Ivanov does compare the current international security environment to the one which existed in the aftermath of World War II. And just as (in Ivanov’s view) “the victorious countries deliberated [at that time] on creating mechanisms of international cooperation that would prevent another such catastrophe,” so today “one of the most urgent tasks is the strengthening of the world antiterrorist coalition.” Ivanov goes on to write both that “the present solidarity against terrorism provides a unique chance to begin constructing a system of international security adequate to address the 21st-century threats,” and that “Russian-American cooperation can play the decisive role in creating such a system.”

Ivanov’s proposal is, of course, not quite what it seems. Although insinuates that Ivanov’s ideas represent a tribute to the United States and an acknowledgement by Moscow of the leading role that the U.S.-constructed antiterrorist coalition should play in world politics, the Russian minister’s real goal appears to be aimed at reining in what Moscow believes to be the Bush administration’s increasingly unilateralist tendencies. That is, the features of the antiterror coalition which Ivanov is advocating are those by which the United States bound itself to act with the world community on a multilateral basis. Moscow’s fear is that the United States, having declared a victory in Afghanistan, will now go its own way in pursuing a wider war against international terrorism. This could lead to both a further enhancement of U.S. independence and global dominance, and an obvious diminution not only in Russia’s role within the antiterrorist grouping, but on the world stage more generally.

Thus, Ivanov reprises long-standing Russian calls for authority over the antiterrorist war to be vested in the UN: “Common sense suggests that work in this direction would be better conducted under the auspices of the United Nations and on the basis of strengthening international law.” He also tries to make the case that a Russian-U.S. partnership would constitute one of the pillars of the new international security system he is proposing. “It is widely recognized,” he writes, “that Russian-American relations have been and remain one of the main factors determining the state of world politics, especially on security issues.” Ivanov appears even to acknowledge that the NATO military alliance has a key role to play in this new world order, but he balances that seeming concession to Washington with the qualification that this would be a NATO which cooperates closely with Russia.

Not surprisingly, Ivanov links his call for making Russian-U.S. cooperation the basis of an enduring antiterrorist coalition with a plea for Washington to meet Moscow half way in the two countries’ ongoing strategic arms talks. Ivanov lightly criticizes the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and goes on to suggest that “far-reaching understandings on disarmament with the United States, based on principles of mutual trust, predictability and transparency” could become another of the pillars of international strategic stability and the new world order that he has just outlined. Here, Ivanov is making the case, of course, for the proposals that Russian negotiators have brought to their strategic arms talks with the United States. Those include continued observance of the ABM Treaty, deep reductions in strategic nuclear weapons which are formalized in a bilateral treaty, and a U.S. commitment both to destroy rather than store nuclear warheads scheduled for decommissioning and to forego any resumption of nuclear weapons testing (New York Times, January 27;, January 28).

That Moscow is prepared, at least rhetorically, to dig in its heels on these issues was suggested in a document published this week that adopted a notably more strident tone than Ivanov’s January 27 op-ed. That document was a statement, released by Ivanov’s own Foreign Ministry on the evening of January 28, which strongly criticized U.S. strategic disarmament policies. It charged, among other things, that Washington’s approach on these issues “objectively makes the situation more complicated and deals a blow to the international order in this field.” The contrasting tones used in Ivanov’s op-ed and the Foreign Ministry statement suggest that Moscow remains hopeful of cementing a partnership with the United States, but that it is simultaneously growing increasingly uncomfortable with what it perceives to be the Bush Administration’s hard-line stance on a host of arms control and other international security issues (Interfax, AFP, January 29).