- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

The year 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States. In Russia, the governmental circles and some public organizations are preparing numerous events and solemn acts for the occasion, but across the Atlantic there is little evidence of enthusiasm. Moreover, the impression is that, with the exception of President Bush and U.S. Ambassador to Moscow William Burns, Russia has absolutely no friends left among the top U.S. leadership. Things are even more disheartening when it comes to Congress. Senators or congressmen kindly disposed to Russia are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

The last such romantic oddity, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, suffered a crushing defeat in the November election, not least because of his over-close ties with Russia. Meanwhile, only a short time — just five years ago — the very same Mr. Weldon managed to get nearly 200 members of Congress to sign a document that called on the White House to lose no more time in promoting broad cooperation with Russia in various vital areas of security, economics, business, science, education and culture. As it turned out, that was but a voice in the wilderness. Possibly the only organization to take that document seriously was the Russian Academy of Social Sciences, which made Mr. Weldon its foreign member. As pointed out above, though, for him that proved a hindrance rather than help.

The fact that Sen. Joe Biden and Rep. Tom Lantos have been appointed new international affairs committee chairmen hardly bodes well for Russia, either. Both never tire of publicizing their preference for a tougher line on Russia and for its expulsion from the Group of Eight. The only thing that still keeps the relations between the two countries from degenerating into Cold War hostilities is the mutual friendship of Presidents Bush and Putin, which persists against all odds. Yet, given that both gentlemen are to step down in 2008, it is widely believed that 2008 will be the year to inaugurate an even fiercer phase of the Cold War, with all its attendant nastiness.

The reasons for such a sad state of affairs are fairly well known; they have been repeatedly discussed in the media and among the expert community. There is hardly any point in going over them here. Let me just note that each side blames the other while being unwilling to admit its own mistakes. Meanwhile, an unbiased observer will easily see that both are at fault, and the list of recriminations in either case is perfectly logical and adequate.

As realists, we should not expect that all existing problems could be settled in the immediate future; so let us try and invite both Russia and the United States to make concessions on at least one of the key issues, considering that in this festive season it is customary to make wishes and say nice things to people.

For instance, Russia’s Iran policy alarms even the most loyal of its friends in the West. Only someone who will neither hear nor see can fail to realize that Iran is doing its best to obtain nuclear weapons, and is likely to have its wish within a reasonably short time. It is enough to listen to pretty frank statements by the Iranian president and his entourage to see that we are dealing with fanatics, and fanatics armed with nuclear weapons pose a very serious threat for everyone, Russia included. Unfortunately, a closer look at Russia’s policy in that part of the world suggests that it is making it easier rather than harder for Iran to join the nuclear club. Would Russia be prepared to modify its Middle East policy to prevent this from happening?

As far as the need to readjust U.S. policies is concerned, the worst irritant for Russia is NATO’s eastern enlargement, in particular involving Ukraine and Georgia. If this becomes a fact, U.S.-Russian relations will be poisoned for decades to come. At the same time, in both political and purely practical terms, it would be a lot more reasonable, instead of enlarging NATO, to replace that organization with a new and, hopefully, more efficient entity that would incorporate Russia.

As everyone knows, NATO was originally devised to counter the military threat presented by the USSR and world Communism. It certainly accomplished its mission with flying colors, and many people expected it to be disbanded after the Warsaw Pact was. When it became obvious that that was not going to be the case, there was talk of Russia joining NATO. However, that accession never materialized either, for various reasons, and will hardly occur in the future. Over the last 15 years we have lived in a paradoxical situation where a mighty military structure with a vast budget had no clear-cut goals or tasks — and, moreover, no specific adversary. At the same time NATO continued expanding inexorably, and it was not till the latest conference in Riga that the adversary — international terrorism — was finally discovered.

Considering that successful struggle against terrorism is hardly possible without Russia actively taking part, it seems logical to suggest the following scenario: NATO announces its self-disbandment and simultaneous entry into another structure tentatively to be named the International Anti-Terrorist Organization (IATO) that would comprise countries recognizing its charter, goals and tasks and prepared to take part in large-scale global battle against terrorism. Ideally, it would merge or, at any rate, coordinate its actions with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), since their goals and tasks would be very similar.

Should Russia and the United States discuss in earnest the two aforementioned issues and agree on a solution, I am confident that they could also achieve headway in other important areas.

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.

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