Russia and the US, cooling off

The gestating Bush administration is signaling a new, more arm's-length relationship with Russia. And Russia is signaling back that it will look elsewhere for friends.

The president-elect has made clear that he doesn't plan the warm, personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin that his father and President Reagan enjoyed with Mikhail Gorbachev and President Clinton with Boris Yeltsin.

George W. Bush told The New York Times he would concentrate on cooperating with Russia on nuclear safety and checking the spread of weapons technology, but otherwise would reduce financial assistance and leave Russia to find its own way out of its economic troubles, corruption, and lack of a legal system that would encourage foreign investment.

"Neither partner nor enemy" was the way Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell put it the other day. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice emphasized amending or scrapping the Antiballistic Missile Treaty if it stands in the way of a missile-defense system.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says his government is ready for a "direct dialogue" with the Bush administration. But Russia gives signs of hunkering down for a more unstable relationship with the United States. It is courting the European Union. Putin recently visited Cuba and Canada, skipping the US. He has also been to North Korea.

Russia and China have announced they are working on a friendship treaty that will establish a strategic relationship. China is already an important customer for Russian destroyers, fighter planes, and other high-tech weapons.

It is a far cry from the day when President Nixon could boast of driving a wedge between China and the Soviet Union.

Putin has shown some signs of rolling back Russia's democracy, such as cracking down on the press and reintroducing the bombastic Soviet anthem with new words.

Mr. Bush says he is concerned about the "stifling" of the press in Russia, but does not indicate that America has any role to play in supporting Russian democracy.

"The point I'm trying to make," he told The New York Times, "is that it's hard for America to fashion Russia."

That fits the unilateralist mood of the new administration. Whether the "neither partner nor enemy" approach will work remains to be seen.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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