In the foreign policy arena, this past fortnight closed with the release of convicted U.S. spy Edmond Pope from Russia’s Lefortovo prison following a pardon granted by Putin. The Russian action removed what had been an increasingly serious point of friction in relations between Russia and the United States. But while the Kremlin may have hoped that the pardon would be seen as an act of magnanimity and as a move by Putin to court the good wishes of the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush, the effect appears to have been something less than that.
Indeed, the weakness of the Russian government’s case against Pope, not to mention the suspect legal procedures so evident during his trial, appeared only to reinforce the impression that the Russian judiciary still operates at times as a tool of the country’s increasingly powerful security services. That Washington was aware of the seeming cynicism which lay behind Pope’s pardon was suggested by President Bill Clinton’s remarks welcoming the Russian action while condemning the long ordeal Pope endured.
In fact, despite its happy ending, the Pope case continues to serve as an indicator of a new Russian foreign policy approach which will apparently be more defiant of the United States and, when convenient for Moscow, reflect the at times virulent anti-Americanism the Kremlin is openly countenancing at home. Russia has seen a number of manifestations of this more assertive and more nationalistic posture in recent weeks. They include not only the rough treatment of Pope, but the Russian military leadership’s continued efforts to blame the West for the loss of the nuclear submarine Kursk. The Russian air force, meanwhile, has bragged publicly over having three times buzzed a U.S. aircraft carrier and has also announced the redeployment of several long range bombers near Alaska. There have been intimations that the bombers will be used to probe U.S. air defenses.