Ten years after the Soviet collapse, both great potential for conflict and great potential for cooperation between Russia and the West remain.
Before his meeting with Mr. Putin, President Bush spelled out the potential for cooperation. In a lapidary speech in Warsaw, the president said: “All of Europe’s new democracies, from the Baltic to the Black Sea and all that lie between, should have the same chance for security and freedom-and the same chance to join the institutions of Europe–as Europe’s old democracies have…. Our vision of Europe must also include the Balkans…. The Europe we are building must include Ukraine…. The Europe we are building must also be open to Russia. We have a stake in Russia’s success–and we look for the day when Russia is fully reformed, fully democratic and closely bound to the rest of Europe…. I will express to President Putin that Russia is part of Europe and, therefore, does not need a buffer zone of insecure states separating it from Europe.”
President Putin received those expressions gracefully: “When a president of a great power says that he wants to see Russia as a partner, and maybe even as an ally, this is worth so much to us.” But otherwise his actions pointed to the potential for conflict. Reminding President Bush that Russia is Asian as well as European, Mr. Putin arrived at the summit in Slovenia from Shanghai, where he and Jiang Zemin struck a pose of full-frontal opposition to the United States on missile defense. “The need to maintain the ABM [anti-ballistic missile] treaty is categorical…. Our views on this fully coincide with China’s,” Putin’s top defense advisers insisted. And the peripatetic Putin left Slovenia for Belgrade, where he and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica strongly criticized NATO’s peacekeeping operation. Even within Europe, Russia can be uneasy company.