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Analysis & Opinion
28.03.08 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Should Russia Strike A Deal With Bush?
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephan Blank, James Jatras, Andrei Liakhov, Edward Lozansky, Anthony Salvia

U.S. President George Bush unexpectedly sent his Secretaries of State and Defense on a scouting mission to Moscow last week (it was the U.S.’s turn to host the “two plus two” meeting in Washington) in a last minute effort to strike a deal on missile defense and strategic nuclear reductions with Vladimir Putin’s outgoing administration.

Bush also sent a charm letter to Putin outlining a set of important confidence building measures to show that the United States was heeding Russia’s concerns about the planned ABM deployments in Eastern Europe.

For example, Washington is proposing to delay installing interceptor missiles into silos, as well as to restrict the radar’s angle of view until the Iranian missile threat becomes imminent.

The Bush administration is also offering a new strategic framework to manage the two nations’ nuclear arsenals, after the START I Treaty expires next year. While borrowing some of the most important and less onerous verification and confidence building provisions from the old treaty, the Bush proposal appears not to envision codifying the new arrangement in a legally binding document.

Bush is trying to engage Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in a round of lame duck diplomacy before both of them exit the presidential scene. His objective is to lock the new Russian leadership into a set of agreements that Bush hopes to nail down while his friend Putin is still around as Russia’s President and then Prime Minister.

But should Russia engage Bush at a time when his presidency is discredited and his successor, be it Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama, will most certainly review his policies and the deals he struck in this lame duck period? While the McCain administration is most likely to continue with the ABM deployment plans, the Obama administration might cancel the program altogether.

The same applies to the future strategic reductions framework. What Bush is offering does not go far enough, while Obama’s sweeping nuclear reductions agenda appears to be much more in line with Russia’s interests.

The danger of waiting out, of course, is that the new U.S. administration might take some time for policy review and finally offer a deal that would be even less generous than the one being offered by Bush. In 2000, Putin spurned Clinton’s offer to amend the ABM Treaty to allow for a deployment site in Alaska, hoping to get a better deal from Bush.
So what should Moscow do now? Should Putin strike a deal with Bush or should he defer the decision to Dmitry Medvedev and his foreign policy team? Should Medvedev wait out for a new U.S. administration? Will there be room for a serious agreement between the two nuclear powers on missile defense and strategic nuclear reductions after the U.S. presidential transition?

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Andrei Liakhov, Doctor of Law, Professor, London:

The history of the Soviet/Russian-American relations convincingly demonstrates that any "last minute" offers never result in any lasting agreements.

I cannot see why Medvedev’s administration should be in a hurry to make deals with the outgoing Bush administration, currently preoccupied with the job search rather than with policies. All offers of major political deals made in the last 12 months of any administration are made for domestic and often electioneering purposes, and are successfully buried by the Congress after the election.

Undoubtedly, both Putin and Medvedev were adequately briefed by the relevant departments of the MID and SVR before the latest “two plus two” round of talks. Hence the reserved reaction to the talks. As to the "more positive approach," "better understanding," and the other sound bites designed to give the impression of some progress, these are made primarily for domestic reasons, particularly to allow the incoming Russian administration more flexibility in future negotiations with the United States.

As to the nature of American proposals, they are unrealistic and will be nearly impossible to implement, as the decisions to allow inspectors will be taken by the Czechs and the Poles, rather than the Americans. There are other, less obvious, loopholes in the American proposals which make them worth less than the paper they are written on.
The proposal to replace SALT-1 with a political declaration rather than with an agreement could have gotten the U.S. administration somewhere with, say, a BNY crew whose legal skills were zilch. With the Putin-Medvedev tandem (particularly with the latter's experience in private practice and legal academia), such an offer will get Bush nowhere, as one small binding agreement is worth many big political declarations.

From the Russian point of view, there is no big difference between dealing with Bush Junior or McCain if the latter gets a "propiska" at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., as he will inherit many key Bush personnel. Obama has no international experience whatsoever, is relying on analysts who are well known quantities (such as Mike McFaul) for his Russia policy and is, thus, predictable. Hillary Clinton is also a very well known quantity, particularly as the Talbott-Amanpour pair will feature prominently in any Russia-related policy making.

With the U.S. economy weakening and the dollar falling, foreign policy disasters and a slowly growing rift with European allies, the "State of the Union is not as strong as it used to be." At the moment, time is playing into Russian hands and now, in my view, doing nothing is the best option for the Russians.

I do not expect anything major happening in U.S.-Russia relations until mid 2009, save for, probably, an agreement to use Russian airspace for flights to Afghanistan.

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James George Jatras, Principal, Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, LLC, Director, American Council for Kosovo, Washington:

In the words of the late, great Hollywood movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, “A verbal contract is not worth the paper it’s written on.” The same could be said for any possible lame duck deal on missile deployment -- or frankly, on anything else -- the outgoing Putin administration might wish to cut with its far lamer American counterpart. The fact is, there is no agreement Moscow can reach with Washington that the former could have any confidence would be honored by the latter.

One clue is the observation that the “Bush proposal appears not to envision codifying the new arrangement in a legally binding document.” We’ve seen this movie before in the “gentlemen’s agreement” between the United States and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of German reunification, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet pullout from Central and Eastern Europe that there would be no NATO expansion past Germany. Sam Goldwyn would point to vindication in Washington’s subsequent attitude of “Gotcha -- ya shoulda got it in writing!”

Of course, Moscow, seemingly having learned its lesson, did “get it in writing” with respect to Kosovo, with Serbian sovereignty codified in the Security Council Resolution 1244. We have seen how much respect has been paid to that by the United States and its European hangers-on.

Whatever the specifics of any lame duck agreement, they would be subject to unilateral revision by Washington. For example, regarding Washington’s proposals to delay installing interceptor missiles into silos and to restrict the radar’s angle of view until the Iranian missile threat becomes imminent -- who will decide when that threat is imminent? Imminence will be in the eye of the Washington beholder.

The Bush administration has sent two top officials, one of whom is a serious professional, to Moscow, precisely for the purpose of “locking Moscow” in. With post-communist Russia’s punctilious observance of its international obligations, such locking would likely be effective. However, given post-Cold War America’s messianic imperative, which its authors literally believe exempts the United States from observing the most fundamental treaty obligations, not to mention informal understandings, its word simply cannot be trusted. In an eerie reversal of roles, Washington now takes a Leninist attitude toward its international commitments: pie crusts made to be broken.

Finally, when all is said and done, the Putin administration leaves office with a record of success, being able to point to resurgent Russia’s return to major power status and economic revitalization. The Bush Administration has been anything but a success, its “achievements” having included a moribund economy, a disintegrating dollar, a busted federal budget, and uncontrolled borders. Incredibly, its international record is even worse, consisting of two intractable wars and a record of failure on virtually every issue on which it had hoped to score major successes: the war against jihad terror (while pandering to the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir), the U.S.-Indian civil nuclear deal (hanging by a thread), grandiose aspirations for a comprehensive Middle East settlement (good luck), and increasing instability of American clients from Pakistan to Latin America.

In short, it’s Washington that desperately needs a “win” somewhere, anywhere. The Bush Administration hopes Moscow is stupid enough to fall for the same old con they’ve been suckered with in the past. My advice: sit tight, let them talk, and send them home empty-handed.

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Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow:

Presidents Bush and Putin became good friends at the beginning of their terms and it looks like both of them are trying to save this friendship despite many negative trends in U.S. – Russian relations. The recent Moscow trip of the two key figures in the Bush cabinet, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did little to soften Russia’s tough stance on further NATO expansion and elements of the NMD systems in Eastern Europe. Therefore, Bush decided unexpectedly and as the last resort to make another try by going to meet his pal Vlad in Sochi. The meeting between the two leaders will take place April 6th as Bush is wrapping up a trip to Ukraine, Croatia and the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

This looks like a desperate attempt by Bush to do something about his legacy. Given his remarkably low popularity ratings hovering around 30 percent, the appalling situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial crisis, and the pretty dubious image of the United States in the world, a radiant picture of Bush’s legacy is hardly plausible. So it is extremely important for him to show a thing or two to climb at least a few points higher, to move away from the rock-bottom rating among all U.S. presidents where he is solidly stuck at present.

Obviously, with its growing clout in world politics Moscow is just the place to tackle these matters, the more so that certain United States’ key allies take Russia’s position into account. Germany, France, and some other U.S. allies are sending a clear signal that any talk of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO is premature. Add to this NATO’s failure to take the Afghanistan situation in hand and the growing contradictions among the alliance members over what part they are to play in that country, and you will easily see that Washington, and George Bush himself, are in for difficult times.
The Washington Post, which usually represents Democratic Party interests, decided, for reasons better known to itself, to “help” the Republican Bush -- by suggesting a way of improving his legacy a bit. It turns out that Bush’s best bet would be to secure Ukraine’s admission to NATO.

It would seem that the incumbent president will hardly be able to accomplish this feat. A closer look at the Bush legacy will show that its chief constituent was the idea of spreading democracy worldwide. Whatever one may think of the theory as such, Bush, being a deeply religious man, genuinely believes that democracy can be an answer to all, or at least to most of the world’s problems. Now, should Bush press for Ukraine’s accession to NATO at any cost, this will reduce to naught what is arguably his only pivotal concept. What sort of triumph of democracy can that be if the majority of Ukrainians are dead set against it?

In any event Bush is right in that Russia is the country that can help him in his predicament, and not as an act of charity at all. By throwing Bush a lifeline, Russia will also tackle some of its own military-strategic problems, and singly improve its relations with the United States and NATO, simultaneously ameliorating its image in the West.

I am talking here about Russia’s constructive help to America and NATO in Afghanistan. Naturally, this is not about a direct involvement of the Russian army, but about making available the nearby military bases, transit transport routes, aircraft, helicopter and truck leasing, and general logistics. Russia can also persuade Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to be helpful to NATO as well. Clearly, there should also be a broad exchange of intelligence data and close cooperation between security services, including departments dealing with the traffic of narcotics.

Bush is going to Sochi with one set of issues, but it is pretty doubtful that he will get what he wants. However, he and Putin can finish their presidential terms on a very positive note if they strike a deal on Afghanistan. Progress in this country is badly needed for the United States, Europe and the whole civilized world. Russia’s help to the United States and NATO in Afghanistan is a win – win situation.

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Anthony T. Salvia, Special Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Reagan Administration:

I see no incentive for Russia in agreeing to such a deal. Whether or not the Iranians deploy nuclear weapons, Moscow will be stuck with someone else's ABM system parked on its doorstep. Not a happy prospect when the cornerstone of your national security strategy is the credibility of your nuclear deterrent. So why agree to anything?

I find it hard to believe that the United States and Israel would rely on an untested system for their defense against Iranian nuclear weapons; I find it unthinkable that they would allow Teheran to deploy such weapons in the first place. They would simply take them out. And even if they didn't, why wouldn't their own arsenals have their intended deterrent effect? Deterrence, after all, has never failed in the nuclear age.

Russia would be well advised to take Washington's decision to deploy an ABM system to Poland and the Czech Republic for what it is-a grave provocation-and begin devising and implementing all appropriate countermeasures.

It is an unspeakable tragedy that Washington has not grasped the opportunity for peace and global security created by the demise of the Soviet Union. Where is Ronald Reagan when you need him?

Reagan proposed a joint U.S.-Soviet anti-missile shield so as to alleviate mutual security concerns-and this not with Russia, but with the old Evil Empire! Reagan was both a visionary and pragmatist in equal measure. He was a conservative patriot guided more by the national interest than by “democratist” millennialism. Above all, Reagan was guided by the classical virtue of prudence.

We cannot expect visionary pragmatism, much less prudence from those now running for president. The classical virtues ceased being the guiding light of the U.S. political and foreign policy elite ages ago. We are now guided by radiant utopian visions of history ending in liberal apotheosis. There's something vaguely Soviet about it all with the United States now in the vanguard of progressive humanity and everyone else being condemned to extinction.

That's too bad for Russia (not to mention the United States) because a pragmatic and prudent Western response to the rise of China and militant Islam would be the establishment of an entente cordiale between the United States, Europe and Russia. This would entail nuclear security, energy security, coordination in the military and diplomatic spheres, and joint missile defense for all of the Northern Hemispheric nations, and is vital to sorting out the incoherent mess that NATO has become.

It would also pave the way for a rapprochement between the Western and Eastern churches. This is vital to the re-establishment of the moral, social and cultural vitality of the (moribund) nations of erstwhile Christendom and holds the key to an effective, peaceful response to the Islamic challenge.

Happily, there are signs that relations between the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate are improving. This trend will be aided and abetted to the extent that the United States, Europe and Russia work toward a full-fledged entente, and harmed to the extent that they support such hair-brained schemes as recognizing the "independence" of Kosovo at the expense of one of the ancient Christian nations of Europe.

Various Russian leaders have evoked the theme of entente cordiale and European moral and spiritual revival, but only obliquely and episodically. One thinks of president Putin at the EU summit in Finland calling on Europe to safeguard Christianity, of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's call for an international order based on the classical virtues and the Sermon on the Mount in his important article "Containing Russia-Back to the Future," and of Mikhail Gorbachev's theme of "our common European home."

Time has come for Russia to make this theme the centerpiece of its public diplomacy efforts. It will win Russia many friends in the United States, Europe and the world over. It could prove, literally, disarming.

Eventually the West will come to its senses and see Russia (the East) for what it is-the key to global peace and security, and the restoration European civilization. This may seem far-fetched now, but we must have the audacity to hope.

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Professor Stephan Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

It is unlikely that Russia will simply accept Bush's proposals as such -- there will be a dialogue and negotiations before there is any resolution. But Russia cannot count on an Obama victory or on his undertaking a sweeping review that would work for Russia’s interests. One should remember that Clinton ended the discussions on a joint missile defense that might have precluded the current dispute. But the fact is that neither the missile defense program nor arms control agreements represent threats to Russia. The administration has said all along that Russia is not seen as an enemy, and that both sides should build their nuclear arsenals according to their own calculations of interest. Moscow insists on this formal agreement because it cannot conceive of a relationship with Washington that is not hostile.

In other words, Russian security policy begins with an inherent presupposition of enemies, and can only accept a mutual deterrence relationship. At the end of the day, whatever Washington does, Moscow will have to change its obsession with parity and status and accept the realties of its capabilities and the limits to them, just as America has to. If a serious arms control offer is on the table, it should be taken by Russia because this benefits its own interests.
Waiting for Obama or for whoever becomes president in the hope of a better deal fails to guarantee the essential steps toward demilitarizing the relationship with Washington and abandoning the ridiculous threat perceptions that the army and government have thrown up in favor of concentrating on real ones -- terrorism and proliferation, particularly from Iran.

Moscow's call for globalizing the INF treaty indicates where the real threats to it are--Iranian and Chinese and possibly Pakistani missiles, not the phantom of American missile defenses, which at any rate cannot target Russian missiles. Unfortunately Russia has no response to that missile proliferation threat other than to build new nuclear missiles of intermediate range, which would regenerate the European arms race.

A genuine arms control agreement with Washington would break at least some of the logjam created by the fact that Russia has postulated a threat assessment from Washington, for which unfortunately neither it nor anyone else has a solution.
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