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What Will Putin Say to Bush’s Posturing?

The widely publicised Russia-US friendship is crumbling. However, the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty, refusal to sign an agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive weapons and even the surprise appearance of US troops in Georgia all look minor aberrations compared to the “chicken conflict” and the “steel war.” The top Russian officials try to calm down society saying that nothing terrible is going on, that these are merely minor economic issues that will not harm the strategic partner relations of the two countries. But it is becoming clear that the problem has a political and not merely economic roots.

The complaints which Russia and the USA are exchanging now are not a mere commercial dispute but a very harsh geopolitical confrontation. This time the USA does not see Russia as a serious adversary and it is showing this clearly, tactlessly and even with pleasure. One proof of this is the latest statement made by US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said the problem of US chicken deliveries to Russia can darken the forthcoming meeting of the two presidents in Moscow. Translated from diplomatic parlance, this statement can be evaluated as blackmail. And the Americans actually do not pretend otherwise.

Boucher made his statement virtually simultaneously with the so-called information leak from the Pentagon.

The Los Angeles Times published a secret Pentagon report sent to the US Congress on January 8. It proceeds from that document that not only the countries of the “axis of evil” but also four other states can become targets for US nuclear weapons.

These four countries are China, Libya, Syria and Russia. The explanation for this potential pre-emptive strike, which means aggression against Russia, is very simple: Russia is no longer an adversary of the USA but the existence of a major nuclear arsenal in it presents a genuine threat to the USA. This is how the overseas “victims of international terrorism” plan to pursue their new policy of saving the civilisation and reinforcing their global domination.

It should be said that exactly six months passed since the September 11 tragedy in the USA, when the whole world shuddered at the terrorist act in Manhattan. It should be said that Vladimir Putin was the first head of state to express, by phone, not only condolences to but also support for President Bush. That support later took the practical form of assistance in the struggle against international terrorism and top US officials noted more than once that Russia’s contribution to the counter- terror operation was larger than the efforts of the NATO bloc as a whole.

The point at issue is not only the close collaboration of US and Russian special services (Russia could have limited itself to this kind of support) but also the fact that Russia allowed the USA to use its air space. Russia did not say a word against the US use of the airfields of Central Asian states. Russia provided serious military-technical assistance to the Northern Alliance.

Russia has closed its military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. In short, Russia was giving up its positions consistently and consciously, hoping that the words of the US administration about strategic partnership in the name of peace would have a practical continuation.

But what did Russia get in return? Even when the Americans admitted, at long last, that not only separatists but also international terrorists closely connected with Usama bin Laden are operating in Chechnya, US officials continued to divide terrorists into “good” and “bad.” They continued to say that Russia is not acting adequately in Chechnya. Russia’s “strategic partners” have not helped it to maintain high oil prices. The USA is still promising to cancel the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which has become badly outdated and which they invoked now in the chicken conflict.

In other words, the USA does not care whose rights are infringed upon in Russia, the rights of Jews or of chicken quarters. What is it, idiocy or American cynicism? On the other hand, knowing the pragmatism of US administrations, we can safely assume that the Americans coldly considered the step before taking it.

The unprecedented US egoism and slyness are outrageous, but we must admit that Russia has lost this geopolitical battle to the USA. And it did this largely because of its own political myopia. We have been saying to frequently and too loudly of late that we benefit from everything the Americans do. Given this evaluation of their actions, our Western “partners” became convinced of their infallibility and think that Russia will not only approve of but also support any US action. The “chicken conflict” looks out of place in this context. Even though the USA has conquered nearly the whole of the post-Soviet space and has put unprecedented pressure on Russia in virtually all spheres of foreign and domestic policy – in an extremely humiliating and harsh manner.

We are not going to analyse the motives and goals of the USA here. It is much more important for us to try to predict the reaction of the Russian authorities and above all President Putin to these latest developments. It is apparent that the Kremlin can no longer ignore US actions and cannot keep saying that nothing terrible is going on. In fact, a major blow has been delivered at the image of the Russian president and the Russian authorities surely pondered this possibility back when they decided to make a U-turn to the West. But we have neither the military nor the economic possibilities for an adequate reply.

We can speak only about a violation of moral principles, about political betrayal and brazen US neglect for written and oral agreements. But this will not save the day, especially for Putin. The worst reply of helpless Russia in this situation would be the tightening of screws at home in an attempt to compensate for foreign policy losses. So as to keep up one’s prestige for the forthcoming presidential elections. So as to prove to society – and above all to themselves – that the authorities can still control something. Especially in view of the external threat posed by the USA. Any other way of mending the situation would be much more complicated. Because it is linked with the unreliable “partner” who completely disregards the interests of Russia.

Lidia Andrusenko writes for Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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