Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 139

Roughly two weeks of intense diplomatic maneuvering by both Moscow and Washington are set to culminate this weekend when leaders from the Group of Seven countries and Russia gather in Genoa, Italy, for summit talks that are likely to focus the spotlight once again on controversial U.S. missile defense plans. The Genoa gathering, which will also feature a host of bilateral meetings between the participating world leaders and a second round of talks between Presidents George. W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, comes in the wake of a series of signals from the Bush administration that it is prepared to accelerate plans aimed at developing and deploying a ballistic missile defense system–even, apparently, if those plans “bump up against” the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and defy the wishes of Russia, China and a number of Washington’s closest allies.

The Bush administration moves appear designed to regain momentum on the missile defense issue that was lost in the wake of Vermont Senator James Jefford’s break from the Republican Party and the growing belief in many foreign capitals that the now Democratically controlled U.S. Senate would slow down U.S. missile defense deployment plans and thus spare them the necessity of directly confronting Washington. The Bush administration’s recent moves seemed to be aimed especially at convincing the Kremlin that U.S. missile defense deployment is inevitable, and that Moscow should therefore seek to reach an accommodation with Washington as quickly as possible. Russian concessions would serve Washington’s missile defense effort in at least two ways: They would presumably ease strains with Moscow while satisfying European demands that Washington negotiate in good faith with the Putin administration on the missile defense and ABM treaty issues. The Bush administration presumably hopes that its diplomatic offensive will produce some fruit at this weekend’s summit, if not in the form of a breakthrough agreement (which is certainly unlikely), then at least with the provision of enough evidence of Russian-U.S. progress to keep the Europeans happy.

But the Russians have themselves also been busy. As he did prior to last year’s G-7 summit on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Putin held important talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin just prior to this year’s engagement. Putin’s presummit diplomatic activities last year, which also included a groundbreaking visit to North Korea, made him the toast of the Okinawa gathering, and conferred on him (albeit only briefly) a stature that, given his country’s economic and military weakness, he would not have had otherwise. Putin’s entry to Genoa this year will not be quite so grand, but the friendship treaty that he signed with Jiang on July 16 (see the Monitor, July 18) will nonetheless give him an additional card to play.

The rather undramatic initial results of the Putin-Jiang meeting, moreover, grew suddenly rather more interesting on July 18 when reports began to surface that Russia and China had signed a US$2 billion agreement under which Moscow will supply to China an unspecified number (Itar-Tass said thirty-eight) of Su-30MKK ground attack jets (AFP, July 18; Washington Post, July 20). The deal is but the latest in a series of major Russian arms sales to China, and will underline to Washington that in this, if not in many other areas, Russia remains a force to be reckoned with. The Russian-Chinese summit, moreover, also reiterated the two countries’ joint opposition to U.S. missile defense plans, and in that context Putin will presumably raise once again a recent Kremlin proposal calling for the UN’s five permanent UN Security Council members–the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China–to hold regular consultations on key “strategic security” issues, including, obviously missile defense. Washington has shown little interest in the proposal, but the Kremlin’s emphasis on international consultation may play well in a number of capitals around the world. Even if the project never gets off the ground, its publication could serve Moscow’s more general goal of contrasting its own willingness to engage in multilateral negotiations with what Moscow has said is Washington’s “unilateralist” approach to key strategic issues.

Moscow presumably also sees its China card as conferring some much needed legitimacy upon Putin’s very presence at the G-7 summit. In the early days of the Bush administration there were suggestions that Russia’s days as a regular “guest” of the G-7 countries might be numbered, and that Washington might push for an end to Moscow’s special inclusion in a club of countries to which, by dint of its economic weakness, Russia does not belong. Some congressional Republicans continue to back that policy (see Senator Jesse Helms in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal). But a move to expel Russia from the G-7, like U.S. criticism of Moscow’s human rights record and its role as a proliferator of dangerous military technologies, has gone by the boards as the Bush administration has sought instead to court Moscow on the missile defense issue. The Kremlin nevertheless knows that its status as part of a G-8 countries remains conditional, and in lieu of economic strength and democratic credentials will presumably continue trying to present itself to its G-7 partners as a useful–if not indispensable–nation in other respects (AFP, July 16; DPA, July 18).