Bush-Putin Talks

Meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Kennebunkport, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin called for increased NATO involvement in U.S. plans to install a missile defense shield, but the two sides failed to meet eye-to-eye on whether part of the shield ought to be erected in Eastern Europe.

Michael Moran examines some of the issues headlining the summit.


Bush-Putin: Talk and Smiles in Maine

by Michael Moran, Council on Foreign Relations

Two days of talks at the Bush family compound in Maine brought President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin together physically, but politically the two appear far from restoring the pragmatic U.S.-Russia relationship that took shape in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Talks Sunday evening and Monday included an expanded offer from Putin (LATimes) to tackle the controversial question of European missile defense, and a pledge to continue pursuing limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions (AP) through the UN Security Council.

White House and Russian officials worked hard to dampen any anticipation that the meetings might produce a major breakthrough on Iran, missile defense, or the status of Kosovo, another area of bilateral disagreement. In speeches recently, Putin made clear his displeasure with the course of U.S. foreign policy under Bush, citing slights (CSMonitor) dating to the collapse of the Soviet Union and proceeding through the Iraq War. The social nature of the gathering, which included a lobster dinner and a boat ride with Bush’s father, seemed to underscore the U.S. desire to clear the air.

Some experts say the Kennebunkport summit is meant primarily to cement the outgoing presidents’ legacies. “I really don’t think that either of them want, as part of their legacy, a trashed U.S.-Russian relationship,” (PDF) Andrew C. Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told reporters. But national interests being what they are, many remain skeptical Russia can be wooed. “It will be up to the next presidents of Russia and the United States to repair the relationship between their two countries,” author Richard Laurie suggests in the Moscow Times.

The gap between the two men, if not their nations, has grown considerable. Putin recently took swipes at the United States for dropping atomic bombs on Japanese civilian populations in World War II (an earlier speech in May appeared to liken the United States to the Third Reich). Meanwhile, Putin has downplayed the extent of Stalin’s purges and accused Western academics of hyping Soviet-era atrocities to distort Russian history (GulfNews.com). Yevgeny Kiselyov, a political analyst, writes in the Moscow Times that Putin sounded “like a caricature of the Soviet polemicists.” This new Backgrounder examines Russia’s uneasy attempts to come to grips with its Stalinist past and how they continue to shape relations with the West and its “near abroad.”

Some experts, like Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, suggest that Russian foreign policy is “adrift” and “lacking in strategic priorities.” Others, including Joshua Kurlantzick, suggest an alternative world order, with China and Russia at center, may be in the offing. Similarly, Azar Gat of Tel Aviv University, writing in Foreign Affairs, warns of a rise in authoritarian capitalist regimes that would pose a challenge to the liberal democratic global order. Or as Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation writes in the Washington Times, “The current elites define Russian strategic goals in a de-facto alliance with the Muslim world, particularly Iran and Syria, as well as with China [and] anti-status quo players such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.”

About the author

A writer and broadcaster on foreign and national security affairs and a former correspondent for the BBC, MSNBC and Radio Free Europe, Michael Moran is now in charge of the editorial vision of the Council’s website, CFR.org, and contributes analysis to it and other publications. He was named “the Internet’s Most Influential Foreign News Journalist” by Canada’s Newstation.com. Moran’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Spectator (UK), the Guardian, the New Leader, on National Public Radio and in many other outlets.

Reprinted with kindly permission of the Council on Foreign relations.


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