A Russian Plea for Collaboration

By Sergey Rogov
Sunday, March 4, 2007

My generation arrived in this world when Russia and America were engaged in a Cold War confrontation. I've spent 40 years -- all my adult life -- studying the United States and Russian-American relations, and now I'm afraid that when my generation leaves this world, America and Russia will be adversaries again. The Cold War ended nearly two decades ago. When communism collapsed, the expectations were high that former enemies would become strategic partners. But it never happened. Why?

Many people in Russia blame America. Many people in America blame Russia. Unfortunately, both are right. Nice but empty declarations cannot substitute for a clear strategy. Personal chemistry between presidents cannot substitute for institutionalized cooperation and common policies. Predictably, the backlash against the unfulfilled hopes and promises is strong today in both countries.

The 1990s were a very difficult time for Russia. Some in the United States saw the beginning of a golden age of democracy, but Russians saw and felt the disintegration of a former superpower. President Boris Yeltsin brought out tanks to fire on the parliament to impose his policy of speedy privatization of industry, business and natural resources, so a few became super-rich and many were pushed into poverty. My country nearly became a failed state. But the worst-case scenario was avoided. With a lot of help from high oil prices, Russia has managed to begin an economic revival. Today the standard of living is going up, and the threat of a civil war is gone. We still face a long and difficult path to a mature democracy and a modern market economy, of course. New mistakes can still be made, but Russia is on its way to recovery.

Meanwhile the United States has enjoyed the fruits of "victory" in the Cold War. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington's strategy has been to prevent the emergence of a new peer competitor and to extend "the unipolar moment" as long as possible into the 21st century. America has failed to resist the temptation of unilateralism and preemption. A new surge of the arrogance of power brought the United States into Iraq.

The relationship with Russia no longer dominates America's foreign policy. Washington has stopped treating Moscow as an equal player. Instead, Russians have been lectured on the need for domestic reforms, and sometimes given assistance when it directly served U.S. interests. But with the exception of the Nunn-Lugar program to help the former Soviet republics dismantle nuclear weapons, there has been no substantial assistance, no Marshall Plan for Russia.

In fact, Russia has had to repay all the Soviet sovereign debt plus International Monetary Fund and World Bank credits. The flow of capital from Russia (including official transfers and the much bigger illegal and unofficial flight of capital) has exceeded by many times all Western assistance and private investment in Russia. Even today, Russia helps to finance the U.S. federal budget deficit, holding hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves (though not as much as China).

Ironically, while some Russian oligarchs make huge investments in America, the U.S. Congress has never repealed the 35-year-old Jackson-Vanik amendment, which treats Russia as a centrally planned economy undeserving of most-favored-nation trading status. This still stings in Moscow.

On issues of international security, Russia has been treated as a second-rate power whose complaints can be ignored. At the end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush proposed a new security system "from Vancouver to Vladivostok," but this idea was quickly forgotten. So was NATO's promise not to expand its military infrastructure eastward beyond West Germany.

"The winner takes all" -- so despite Russia's objections, all former Soviet clients in Eastern Europe have been admitted into NATO, including three former republics of the Soviet Union. And two more former republics -- Georgia and Ukraine -- could be next. Russia's objections were also ignored when NATO started its first war in Kosovo.

At the same time, the old arms-control regime is half-dead. The two strategic arms-limitation agreements on the books will expire in 2009 and 2012. Today there are no serious negotiations between Russia and America about any new arms-control arrangements, and the Bush administration says that there is no more need for legally binding treaties. To demonstrate its point, the administration unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ignoring Russian objections.

Now the United States wants to deploy the components of missile defenses (interceptors and a radar) in Poland and the Czech Republic. Now Russians are complaining that the deployment of American missile defense systems so close to Russia could undermine Russian nuclear deterrence.

Many in Russia say that the United States violates a commitment to avoid a "substantial deployment of forces" in Eastern Europe, which America and the West made, when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed in 1997. The perception of violated promises and mistrust of American intentions produced calls in Moscow to deploy nuclear and conventional medium-range missiles. This could lead to new tensions.

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