President Bush will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin July 1-2 at Kennebunkport, Maine. This may be the last opportunity to improve U.S.-Russian relations before the two leaders leave office in 2008-2009.
In Kennebunkport, Mr. Bush may find whether Mr. Putin's proposal at the G-8 summit in Germany to cooperate with the United States on missile defense is real or a sham. The United States should seriously examine this offer, which includes a joint operation of the Russian-leased radar station in Gabala, Azerbaijan. The offer may indicate a change of Russia's course toward Iran. It also may be a lever to salvage a frayed Moscow-Washington relationship.
U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated significantly since the cooperation into 2002 following the terrorist attacks on America of September 11, 2001. While Iraq, Iran, the war on terror, and the Middle East in general remain top priorities in Washington, the United States should pay close attention to a resurgent Russia. Moscow is taking steps to reorder the post-Cold War global architecture, often not in the interests of the United States.
Russia's foreign policy strategy is driven by military and security elites who view Russia as the direct heir to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and cherish its role as America's principal counterbalance on the world scene. Unlike in the economic and business fields, in the foreign and defense policy arena, there was barely an elite change after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russian foreign policy elites are working to revise or even reverse many of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's and Russian President Boris Yeltsin's initiatives - such as ending the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, signing the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) arms control treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, recognizing the former Soviet republics as independent states, and acquiescing to NATO enlargement.
Prior to the latest summit of the Group of Eight major industrial nations, Mr. Putin issued unprecedented threats to retarget its nuclear missiles at Europe. At the June 2007 St. Petersburg Economic Summit, he suddenly called for revising the global economic architecture, including the World Trade Organization. This is an unprecedented and dangerous initiative, which indicates Moscow's current anti-status-quo mood.
Many Russian elites view current U.S. policies, such as democracy promotion, as part of a sinister plot to undermine Mr. Putin through a series of "orange revolutions." To a great degree, contemporary Russian rhetoric has come back full circle and is similar to that which permeated the Soviet agenda before Mr. Gorbachev's perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost(openness).
Though tens of thousands of Russians were killed by Muslim extremists in Afghanistan, Chechnya and in terror attacks in the Russian cities, the U.S. remained Russia's obsession, its "principal adversary." 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. The Kremlin is reaching out to anti-status quo players such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
The image of a new Cold War may be too simplistic to describe the emerging relationship in Russia. In fact, Russian foreign policy has a distinctive late 19th-century czarist, tinge: muscular, arrogant, overestimating its own power, and underestimating the American adversary it is busily trying to recreate. This policy is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with dangerous consequences and a high price likely in treasure, and ultimately, in blood.
The United States obviously does not need a new Cold War with a major land power. The U.S. is fully engaged in two regional conflicts - in Iraq and Afghanistan - and in the global war on terror. With that in mind, it is good to remember that Moscow values certainty in relations and respects power and action. Deeds, not words, are necessary to send a message to the Kremlin that the United States and its allies will not be bullied.
In light of Russia's confrontational foreign policy, the U.S. should examine seriously and in good faith the Russian proposals for a joint missile defense radar station in Azerbaijan. If possible, Washington should use missile defense cooperation to salvage and then improve the strategic U.S.-Russian relationship.
At the same time, the United States needs to bolster relations with pro-Western regimes in the Persian Gulf. The Defense Department should provide military and security assurances to Gulf countries against Iranian encroachment and expanding cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
The United States and the European Union need to build bridges to potential Russian allies to prevent emergence of anti-American blocs. Relations with key emerging markets where Russia is attempting to encroach, should be expanded.
The United States should build a global coalition of energy consumers to oppose oil and gas cartels and to apply market principles to the natural gas industry. Without buyer solidarity translated into action, energy consumers and economic growth will suffer worldwide.
The United States should continue dialogue and cooperation with Russia on matters of mutual concern to demonstrate to Russian elites that the U.S. has much to offer Russia. Fields of cooperation may include nuclear energy, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and space exploration.
Finally, the United States needs to reach out to the people of Russia through a comprehensive Public Diplomacy (PD) strategy via the Internet, international broadcasters, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), visitor programs, and exchanges, to debunk the myth that the U.S. is hostile to Russia.
Today, Moscow is using the full array of modern international relations and security tools to achieve its goals: from public diplomacy, to weapons sales, to strategic information operations (SIOs) aimed at depicting America as an out-of-control hyperpower, to coddling terrorist organizations. In the words of one incisive observer, Russia has left the West.
After a 20-year hiatus, Russia is forcing its way back on the global scene as an adversarial actor. It is flush with cash, bolstered by a market, not a centrally planned economy, and expects respect, recognition and influence. Washington decisionmakers can no longer take Moscow for granted and must better design strategies for coping with this old-new geopolitical challenge in Eurasia.
Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Washington Times.