Building a real US-Russian partnership

This week's summit meetings in Russia will mark a major milestone in "liquidating the legacy of the cold war," as President Bush said.

With the agreements on nuclear-arms reductions and a new NATO-Russia relationship, the two leaders are assured they will have concrete results to point to for their intensive efforts to forge a new US-Russian partnership.

The United States and Russia are far from being allies. A deep lack of trust remains, and will require time and effort to overcome. The two countries can best be described as partners – albeit very unequal ones – that share considerable interests and can help advance each other's national interests. Partners, even allies, do not agree on everything, but the foundation for a genuine partnership is far stronger today than when the Soviet Union collapsed.

More than 10 years after the end of the cold war, Russians increasingly view the West – both Europe and the US – as an essential partner in addressing both economic-modernization needs and security issues. Russians may not be comfortable with the deep power asymmetry of the US-Russian relationship, but President Vladimir Putin and many Russians have reconciled themselves to Russia's position in the world and no longer harbor superpower illusions.

Mr. Putin's outlook for Russia can be likened to that of Deng Xiaoping, who, more than 20 years ago, concluded that long-term economic recovery was essential for restoring Chinese international influence as well as bringing prosperity to the people.

Russian critics of their country's policies toward the US post-9/11 assert that Putin has made major concessions to the US and has received little in return. His pro-Western foreign policy has been compared with that of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was also criticized for giving a lot and receiving little. What the Russians have so far "received" in the war in nearby Afghanistan is the overthrow of the Taliban, destruction of Al Qaeda bases, and at least a temporary stabilization of the country. US and Russian interests are closely aligned in Afghanistan.

Because Putin's primary goal is economic modernization, he is willing to make other concessions that a retired Russian general described as "geopolitical suicide." What Putin needs to receive are acceptance of Russia as an important partner of the West and more support for his economic goals. That is why, for example, US support for Russia's rapid accession to the World Trade Organization and a new NATO-Russian relationship are so important.

A closer US-Russian relationship would not rest on Putin alone. Outside Russia, many observers believe he has crawled out on a shaky limb in taking such a pro-US stance. Though he may be far ahead of the foreign and security policy establishment, his policies find strong support among the Russian people. Much of the Russian foreign policy elite struggles to shed the vestiges of loss of the cold war and superpower status, and this contributes to their more negative views of the US.

Survey research during the past 10 years, however, has consistently shown that a majority of Russians view the US positively. Polling from last fall by Russia's private Foundation for Public Opinion shows that 69 percent of Russians support closer ties with the US; 65 percent support the US and Russia becoming allies.

On the US side, the basis for a new US-Russian partnership rests on reconfiguring US foreign and security policy goals, which include (1) successfully conducting the war on terrorism, (2) a new urgency to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, (3) peacefully managing the rise of China as a great power, and (4) achieving a stable, global energy supply.

This is not an exhaustive list, but no one would seriously question the weight of these items or that they can be pursued effectively without Russian cooperation. In fact, no country except Russia could possibly bring as much to the table on these goals.

Russia – uniquely located spanning Eurasia and endowed with natural resources – has the potential to be extraordinarily important in helping the US realize these key goals.

But Mr. Bush should not convey the message that the US is willing to tolerate a Faustian bargain: trading off Moscow's support for the war on terrorism and on security issues in exchange for turning a blind eye to Russia's creeping authoritarianism and human rights violations in Chechnya.

Bush should strongly and publicly state that economic modernization is not the only ticket to Russia's deep integration with the West. Economic progress must be accompanied by the continuing creation of an open, democratic civil society. Otherwise Russia will never be the West's full partner.

• Andrew C. Kuchins is director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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