Communication between the U.S. and Russia during October’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (apec) conference in Shanghai produced mixed signals.
On the one hand, U.S. authorities and media resounded with praise for the “new relationship” of trust developing between President Putin of Russia and his U.S. counterpart. Sporting his usual deadpan facade, Vladimir Putin declared, “In this century, our strategic priority is a long-term cooperation and partnership” (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Oct. 22).
President Bush indicated that this newfound warmth between Russian and U.S. leadership was shored up by Putin’s reaction to the events of September 11. “‘Vladimir Putin was the first person to call [after the September 11 attacks],’ Bush said. ‘That’s what a friend does, calls in a time of need, and he called’” (ibid.).
However, it appears this may be a one-sided friendship. In an apparent foreign-policy cave-in, Washington was reported to have signaled recognition of Russia’s right to a “natural dominance” in the region of the Transcaucasus.
Fear of the spread of Islam has motivated Russia’s determination to halt the Muslim masses at the Caucasus Mountains. U.S. efforts to influence this region, capitalizing on Russian weakness following the Soviet’s collapse, have met significant resistance from Russia.
Russia’s tass news agency reported that during the apec conference Vladimir Putin made no bones about Russia reasserting its influence in the Transcaucasia region. Realizing that the U.S. will need access to Uzbekistan and Tajikstan as bases for operation in any continued conflict with Afghanistan, the Russian leader simply seized the initiative to reassert Russian authority in that region.
Another area where the two powers are at odds was confirmed at the apec conference. Reinforcing his intention to push for a dismantling of the old Cold War antiballistic missile treaty, Bush declared that the recent terrorist attacks “make it clearer than ever that a Cold War abm treaty that prevents us from defending our people is outdated, and I believe, dangerous” (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Oct. 22).
Putin did not buy this argument. Meeting with President Jiang Zemin of China, he joined the Chinese premier in a declaration of mutual support for the old treaty.
If the mixed signals emanating from Shanghai in October are anything to go by, the U.S. president and Vladimir Putin will be far from seeing eye-to-eye in their coming summit in Washington and Crawford, Texas, during November.