Why Russia resents US tack
As Bush hosts Putin to repair fraying ties, a mood of misgiving rooted in the 1990s looms over the summit.
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In the West, this newly assertive Russia is widely perceived as the brainchild of Putin, a former KGB agent who has allegedly derailed his country's effort to build democracy, muzzled the media, used its energy-resources muscle to bully Russia's neighbors, and stepped out on the world stage with an aggressive neo-Soviet agenda.Skip to next paragraph
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From this viewpoint, the contrast with the 1990s appears stark. Under former President Boris Yeltsin, Russia appeared to be building democracy at home and following Western advice to privatize its economy, open its markets, and welcome outside investment.
Though Mr. Yeltsin grumbled constantly, Moscow ultimately accepted the expansion of NATO to ex-Soviet allies in Eastern Europe and even cooperated with US-led efforts to impose order in the former Yugoslavia.
"Russia didn't seem to present any problems to the West because its weakness made it compliant," says Mr. Klimov. "So, they decided we didn't matter and got used to doing things without considering our needs or wishes."
He adds that it's particularly galling today to hear Americans suggest that issues like European missile defense are none of Russia's business.
"We all know how Americans would react if Russia were to place strategic components in Cuba," Klimov says.
Russia may have grudgingly assented to the enlargement of NATO, which took in virtually all the USSR's former Eastern European allies and the three ex-Soviet Baltic states between 1998 and 2004, but has never fully accepted it, experts say.
"In the early '90s, Russia would have gladly join a new security system in Europe, but we were rejected, and NATO was expanded instead," says Sergei Karaganov, chair of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, an influential Moscow think tank. "NATO was created to oppose the Soviet Union, and its main effect is still to isolate Russia."
For Russians, the '90s were a disastrous decade in which the economy imploded, crime flourished, and the shady privatization of state assets led to the rise of super-rich, politically connected oligarchs who did little to improve conditions for the majority.
"The West never seemed to know what to do with Russia and ended up supporting whoever claimed he would follow the American model, which meant Yeltsin, liberals, and the oligarchs," says Popov. "Whatever aid they provided was a pittance," which wound up in the wrong hands, he says.
Woes seen as effect of West's action
Yet the West was perceived to be actively intervening in Russia during those years, with advice, loans, and political support for Yeltsin which, rightly or wrongly, left the impression that the country's multiple woes were created from outside.
"In the Russian establishment, there is a growing feeling today that any 'solutions' offered by the West are mainly wrong," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading foreign policy journal. "This was not the case a decade ago, when the West's success seemed to argue that they knew how things should be done. Now that feeling is gone."
Russian experts say the Bush administration should drop its previous complacency and realize that a serious breakdown in relations with Moscow is looming, and that forums like the face-to-face meeting in Kennebunkport may be the last chance to head it off.
"Each of the problems between us is not so serious taken separately, but together they present a very dangerous picture indeed," says Klimov.
President Bush, he says, should try to "think like a Russian for five minutes, and try to see things as we see them" before he goes into that next meeting with Putin."