- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

President Bush's soul-gazing affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin is enough to make a Cold War spook blush. When Mr. Bush courted Mr. Putin with barbecued steak a la Crawford, Texas, the friendship was the envy of European leaders, who seemed chastened that Mr. Bush's position on missile defense didn't lead to brinkmanship. Mr. Bush has now put America's critical defense alliance on the table for Mr. Putin.
Now Mr. Bush has formally invited Russia to become a kind of junior partner of NATO. Under the new arrangement, Russia will be involved in NATO activities related to crisis management, peacekeeping and some military areas, such as air defense, search-and-rescue operations and joint exercises. But Russia will not have a veto over NATO decisions and that includes, of course, which countries will become members of the defense alliance.
Bringing Russia into the NATO fold is part of Mr. Bush's bold effort to realign geopolitics in wake of the Cold War. By bringing the Kremlin closer to the West, Mr. Bush decisively weakened an informal rogue alliance that sought to minimize America's global strength. With the loss of Russia, the alliance has lost, for the time being, its nuclear component.
Still, the president has already misstepped. While the U.S.-Russia rapprochement is clearly a foreign-policy coup, Mr. Bush should not shy from pressing critical U.S. concerns in the interest of obliging Mr. Putin. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush has failed to broach some key priorities. If Mr. Bush continues on this track, his friendship with Mr. Putin will become a liability, rather than a diplomatic advantage.
In today's post-September 11 world, halting nuclear proliferation has become increasingly synonymous with America's self-defense. For this reason, Russia's decision to share nuclear technology with Iran as part of an energy project is a strident concern. When Mr. Bush toured Europe recently, he called on Mr. Putin to pull the project, but he must step up his efforts to press this point. Also, Mr. Bush made only an oblique reference to Russia's human-rights abuses in Chechnya during his European tour, by calling on Mr. Putin to respect the legitimate rights of minorities. Sadly, the Kremlin's repression of the freedom of the press and bullying of Eastern European states were deemed unworthy of a mention.
More worrisome is Mr. Bush's willingness to put America's relationship with Russia above European alliances, which rallied behind America in Afghanistan. Europe remains America's natural ally, sharing political, strategic and cultural affinities. For all its military shortcomings, Europe can still provide critical military aid when that need arises.
Mr. Bush's recent meeting last week with Mr. Putin was his fifth in 12 months. And, while Mr. Bush spent three days in Russia, he stayed less than one day in Germany and France, respectively. Mr. Bush shouldn't let America's strategic alliance with Europe fall by the wayside. And, while he is commended for ridding the world of residual Cold War frost, he should be careful not to ice out other crucial allies.

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