Treats and Treaties for Russia

Eleven years after the end of the cold war, Russia is finally becoming a respected player in the West.

That's all many Russians simply want in their foreign affairs, since the nation still is mending its economy and system of government after seven decades under communism.

President Bush, for instance, bowed to Russian President Vladimir Putin's wish for a treaty – rather than just a handshake – in agreeing this week to a mutual reduction of active nuclear warheads.

The simple, four-page treaty indicates each nation's agreement to cut its long-range nuclear arsenals by two-thirds over the next 10 years. But, more important, it is a helpful signal to Mr. Putin as he concentrates on domestic issues.

It shows the United States is sensitive to his need to placate his domestic nationalist foes. It also shows that the US will take care not to act unilaterally on international issues that might disrupt a Russia on the mend.

And NATO has welcomed its giant neighbor into one of its inner councils and will give it a voice over such decisions as ending shared threats, such as chemical weapons.

The new coziness with the West was hastened by Putin's assistance to the US after Sept. 11. Both nations have an interest in ridding Central Asia of terrorist groups. Putin also seems to be going along with NATO's plan to accept the three Baltic States as members.

When Mr. Bush visits Russia next week – a follow-up to Putin's visit to Bush's Texas ranch last November – the two men can further explore ways for the West to help rebuild Russia and to find joint solutions to international problems, such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

The US has as much interest in a stable Russia as Russia has in the US not destabilizing nations around it. With the new trust, the two can more easily manage those mutual needs.

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