Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 186

In yet another indication of the extent to which ties between Moscow and Washington have improved since the events of September 11, the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday released a public statement welcoming what it described as the “positive mood of the U.S. administration with respect to relations with Russia.” The ministry statement put this new, more positive U.S. frame of mind in the context of what it called Russia’s own “principled approaches to the strengthening of cooperation and joint action with the United States.” It also suggested that warming ties between the two countries were especially important now, in the run up to summit meetings that are to take place between the Russian and U.S. presidents later this month and then again in November.

The statement may have been in part a reaction to comments U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made on October 3, that bilateral relations between the two countries have experienced a “seismic sea of change of historic proportions.” He also lavished praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin for the quick support Putin lent the United States following the September 11 events, and went so far as to say that even Russia’s eventual membership in NATO is not “beyond consideration.”

But yesterday’s Foreign Ministry statement appeared to reflect more specifically Moscow’s appreciation for comments U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made during an October speech to the U.S.-Russia Business Council. Like Powell, Rice singled out Moscow’s quick and constructive response to the terrorist events of September 11. She described the Russian president’s telephone call to his U.S. counterpart after the attacks as a “crystallizing moment for the end of the Cold War.” She also said that the “United States and Russia may be well on their way to a fundamentally different relationship,” one that, as it “becomes based more and more on common values, will serve not only Russia and the United States well, but the entire world.” In addition, Rice suggested that burgeoning cooperation between Russia and America in the antiterror war could ultimately help them to overcome differences on the set of issues–missile defense and strategic arms control–that had been the biggest obstacle to friendly ties prior to September 11. The Russian newspaper Izvestia opined in the aftermath of Rice’s speech that the U.S. national security advisor now “views Russia as America’s ally.”

What the Russian Foreign Ministry statement appears not to have referred to, however, were comments Rice made pertaining to what she described as enduring differences between the two countries. Those differences are centered, she said, on continuing U.S. concerns over Russian proliferation policy–meaning especially arms and nuclear dealings with Iran–and human rights–a reference to Russia’s ongoing war in Chechnya. “We’re getting better at working through our differences,” she told the business council. “But it would not be very good for either side to simply sweep under the rug the fact that we continue to have some differences.” Rice insisted that the Bush administration would continue to pressure Moscow to curb the proliferation of weapons and that it would not back down on the issue of Russian abuses in Chechnya.

Whether Moscow will take those warnings seriously is another matter. Indeed, even prior to the September 11 attacks the Bush administration had muted its earlier criticism of Moscow on precisely these issues–at that time in order to boost its chances of winning a Russian accommodation on the issue of missile defense. Since September 11, and in view of the Bush administration’s perceived need to maintain close Russian cooperation in the antiterror war, this policy looks set to continue. Washington, moreover, has joined European countries in lending some legitimacy to the Russian war in Chechnya, and may be considering a Russian request that it provide intelligence information relevant to Moscow’s Caucasus war in exchange for Russian intelligence on Afghanistan. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov proposed such an exchange of intelligence during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels late last month (see the Monitor, October 1), while Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin appeared to make a similar offer in comments broadcast by NTV on Monday (Reuters, AP, DPA, October 4; Izvestia, October 6; AFP, Interfax, October 9).