PUTIN AND BUSH: SOME UNSELFISH MALE BONDING

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In drawing their initial conclusions about the Russian-American summit, various publications – some with regret, others “with a feeling of deep satisfaction” – have noted that everything remains as it was, and there have been no particular breakthroughs in Russian-American relations.

As for the relationship between the two presidents, the observant Kommersant newspaper comments: “It seems that Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush have managed to develop an even stronger liking for each other.” Good male bonding, as had been noted before.

American newspapers immediately drew a parallel with the relationship between Yeltsin and Clinton, with comparisons not favoring the latter pair. Novye Izvestia says American analysts are acknowledging that the Yeltsin-Clinton friendship was “largely artificial”. More importantly, “it did nothing for either nation”. But the Putin-Bush relationship “has an entirely different foundation”. Novye Izvestia doesn’t explain exactly what that foundation may be.

However, Novye Izvestia did note that in Washington Putin was “impressed by the cordiality” of Bush, who showed his guest not only his White House office, but also his bedroom and other rooms. “One doesn’t show such things to an enemy,” said Putin, with his characteristic military-style brevity. Indeed, “such things” are evidently shown to friends, or even family.

And after that came the already-legendary ranch visit, after which Bush had to explain to the American people, as represented by residents of Crawford, why he was being so friendly to Putin.

When taking questions from persistent Texans about Russian-American differences across a range of issues, Bush said: “You probably don’t agree with your mother on every issue. You still love her, though, don’t you? Well, even though we don’t agree on every issue, I still respect him and like him as a person.” (Quoted in Kommersant.) It would be hard to think of anything more touching to say in these circumstances.

According to Novye Izvestia, Putin managed to win even the US congressmen over to his side, “the most conservative US structure”. As is known, many members of the “Capitol club” were initially negative about the Yeltsin’s successor. According to the paper, their attitude changed after Putin said smiling, having highly estimated the work of the Congress, “I know what role you play in the US foreign politics.” The audience burst into loud applause.

Overall, according to Novye Izvestia, it may seem incredible, but the Americans like former KGB officer Putin more than “patented charismatic” Yeltsin. As the paper states, the secret of all this is quite simple: the Russian president acted in the New World like a real American.

Famous writer Naum Korzhavin gives his own reasons for this sudden America’s love for Putin. Korzhavin writes in Novayay Gazeta, “Before, they came to look at Khrushchev and Brezhnev as something unusual, as a bear in a suit. And now it turns out that a man is the head of the country, who is quite adequate to his position and looks no worse than leaders of other countries. I am not spoiled with this, and it was very pleasant for me.”

As Kommersant paper informs, US businessmen, cultural and science activists sportsmen, and leaders of the Russian and Jewish organizations attended the reception in Putin’s honor in the Russian Embassy in Washington. The meetinglastedfor40minutes, after which chair of the Russian Jewish Community Confederation Rabbi Berl Lazara told to Kommersant journalist Andrei Kolesnikov that Russia “has never treated Jews as well as it does now”.

Moreover, according to Berl Lazar, Putin “changed the views of the Russians to Jews. And nowhis standpoint concerning this is the standpoint of the whole country! While we know that it is next to impossible to do this in such a country as Russia! Now we have nothing to be afraid of!”

Besides, which is of no less importance, Berl Lazara says that due to Putin, the US Jewish leaders also changed their attitude towards Russia, “They did not even expect such a person to appear!”

Thus, Kolesnikov concludes, it is possible to say that Putin has resolved one more issue, the Jewish issue.

A classic of the Russian literature Vasily Aksenov also visited the reception and said that the Russian president “has considerably grown up over a year” and that before the “direction of the Russian foreign politics was completely different”.

Famous sculptor Ernest Neizvestny also confessed in his liking Presidnet Putin. When he was retored that “he does not like KGB where he used to work”, Neizvestny was offended, “He is not the one who arrested Sakharov and prosecuted myself. He is different and I like him.”

Overall, as Korzhavin says, as soon as the Russian president started “looking as well as other heads of the state”, everyone started liking him.

However, Korzhaving has no doubts that Putin is a real politician, who understands the situation in Russia much better than any of his critics, both left and right. According to the author, “the former imagine the Russian foreign political interests as ambitions only, while the latter deny this imagination. They have never taken the labor to consider the geopolitical situation Russia depends on.”

As for Putin, he often “demonstrated this understanding” in his speeches. While after September 11 terrorist acts in the US the Russian president was not only absolutely naturally terrified with the events, was not only the first world politician who understood what was going on, but was the first who found the right words for talking to President Bush. And this also contributed to the change of the attitude towards him during his visit to the US, writes Korzhavin.

However, according to both Russian and US press, as soon as the matter concerned the concrete resutls of the summit, there was a fly in the honey.

There is no progress concerning the 1972 ABM Treaty issue, or NATO expansion to the East. Russia will also have to worry about the Jackson-Vanik amendment, as they say now it will be tied not only to Jewish issues in Russia, but to the religious freedom problem as a whole.

Overall, Liberty Radio observer Andrei Piontkovsky writes in the Obshchaya Gazeta paper, apparently the most significant events connected with the visit will take place in Russia.

“A sharp collision with multiple opponents of the foreign political choice of the president is inevitable. He left for the US followed by criticism from the “left-patriotic” press that accused him of betraying the Russian national interests and by a very meaningful silence of the presidential media.”

As the Russian press told many times, Putin has considerably distanced from the public opinion and the trends of the Russian political elite. Moreover, Piontkovsky believes, the difference in the presidential and the elite’s approach to the eternal “Russia-West” issue is not as much “political, as a mentality issue”.

According to the author, it is Putin’s “German sensibility” that brought the president to the idea that in the new geopolitical situation that formed in the world after September 11 Russia must not lose the chance to “use the whole power of the military, economic, and political resource of the only super-power in the world for solving the greatest issue of the Russian national security – liquidation of the threat source in the South.” As well as the possibility to build for Russia “in fact a new defense space, where the role of the country will be immeasurably greater than the present economic potential of the country allows.”

However, this construction of security takes time, and the author of the article cannot say whether the Russian president has enough time now.

Meanwhile, there are many people who are worried about Putin’s political longevity. For instance, the weekly Vek wonders if Putin will be able to finish everything he started during his presidential campaign.

In the opinion of the weekly, today both Bush and Putin are equally interested in cooperation between the two countries. Vek says, “For Bush the coalition with Russia is a way toward the success in the following presidential election. At the same time, Putin’s orientation to the US will not only be a foreign political breakthrough but also an attempt to provide the socio-economic model he is constructing now with an effective external resource.”

In this connection the weekly quotes an interview of Director of the Russian Presidential Administration Alexander Voloshin to the American journal “The Business Week.” He said in this interview, “If the Russian president fails to agree with his American counterpart on the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty before the US announces its withdrawal from it, it will be extremely difficult for Putin to convince the Russian political elite that the attempt to improve relations with the West was justified.”

Judging from this statement, there is certain opposition to Putin’s pro-Western policy among Russian authorities. Besides, Vek notes that Russia has been conducting a pro-Western policy for the past decade, and it is not clear why this policy should be justified now.

However, there is practically no open criticism of the president’s policy so far. Meanwhile, Western analysts are stating that there are some “seeds of displeasure” ripening in the society. One of the probable centers of opposition to the president is the Russian military. “The Washington Post” has said that the Russian military cannot be happy about Russia’s military presence in the Central Asia. Some sources even mention Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as Putin’s potential opponent.

Besides, representatives of the Russian military-industrial complex fear that Russia’s pro-American policy may disrupt many profitable contracts with many countries of the Middle East and Central Asia.

The left opposition is also likely to activate its efforts announcing that Putin is allegedly betraying Russia’s national interests.

And the last force that may threaten Putin’s reputation is the clan of Yeltsin’s tycoons who have noticed that the US administration is displeased with them. Since the reputation of swindlers does not appeal to them, they are able to take advantage of the “anti-American syndrome” that still exists in the society.

Political observer Leonid Radzikhovsky has noted in the journal Itogi that Putin will have to break the resistance of the part of the Russian elite that deadly fears openness to the West and open competition and therefore covers its fear with a banal patriotic demagogy.”

It is curious enough that the newspaper of the left opposition Pravda also cites “The Washington Post”: “The Russian president has agreed to the anti-terror alliance with America and approved of the deployment of American forces in the CIS… Besides, Putin is closing the radar interception station in Cuba … and continues the program of reduction and modernization of the Russian Armed Forces… As for the ABM treaty, Putin will hardly protest against America’s testing missile defense elements.”

Pravda comes to the conclusion with indignation that “The Washington Post” presents Putin to its readers as “the president of a large banana republic” who “looks at the world from Uncle Sam’s vest pocket.”

However, Pravda notes that Putin has managed to refrain from extreme forms of servility. According to the newspaper’s sources, when Bush announced his intention to slash the US’s nuclear arsenal unilaterally, without any treaties, Putin was expected to take a corresponding step, e.g. to consent to abolition of the ABM treaty of 1972. Instead, Putin delivered a very witty speech but did not pronounce the coveted formula. Later, at the joint reception in the Russian embassy, Putin announced that Russia also intends to slash its attack missiles “within a joint treaty envisaging mutual inspections.”

As for the presidents’ numerous expressions of mutual affection, Pravda calls them empty words. The Communist newspaper stresses that declarations of mutual affection become the key topic when the negotiations do not give any actual results.

Commenting on the TV report from Bush’s rancho, Nezavisimaya Gazeta recollected events that took place 29 years ago, when then US President Nickson rode with his guest Leonid Brezhnev in a garden truck at his Camp David country residence. At that time it seemed to many observers that the mutual partnership between the former allies from the anti-Hitler coalition was completely restored. However, time has shown that the antipode countries failed to overcome their mutual mistrust without a new common enemy. Currently, the same Afghanistan that separated these two countries 20 years ago has stimulated their cooperation and new relations.

Today quite a lot is said about the significance of the concessions Russia has made to America in order to enter the anti-terror coalition. However, Nezavisimaya Gazeta states that it is not quite clear which of the countries helped better to its partner: Russia or the US. The same military who are now grumbling at the Kremlin for its concessions to America quite recently feared that Russia might have to hold the war on two fronts: against gunmen in Chechnya and against Talibs in Central Asia.

Now the anti-terror coalition has taken responsibility of this threat almost completely. The West has legitimated the Chechen problem.

However, the sides have failed to agree on the issue of the ABM treaty. Nezavisimaya Gazeta states that America’s withdrawal from the treaty is only subject of time. And this is only one of the instances of America’s demonstration of its might.

In the opinion of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia should be ready for America’s demand of new concessions from Moscow. Russia has played its role in Americans’ tactic plans. As for geostrategic plans, Russia will have to play a role of a secondary partner in this field “because of its current economic and military-political state.”

Another prominent politician, Rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University Yury Afanasyev, has expressed a much more dramatic point of view in the article entitled “Putin after Texas” in the weekly Moskovskie Novosti. In his opinion, the entire history of foundation of the anti-terror coalition is dubious, since the world is actually proposed to return to domination of “the right of the strong.” Simultaneously the US is provoking Russia’s returning to Afghanistan to help the “good” Northern Alliance against the “bad” Talibs.

Afanasyev states that due to Russia’s geopolitical position, “the new global conflict makes it the first candidate for the eternal peace.” Meanwhile, neither Russia’s society nor its elite is aware of the horrible reality of this threat.

Afanasyev is of the opinion that the pathetic friendship between the two presidents is their own business, since there is not such a category in international politics. The meeting between the two presidents could be of a truly historic importance if they started resolving urgent issues of the new world construction instead of demonstrating their mutual affinity. One of these urgent tasks is the construction of “a new effective system of international security that would be radically different from the current one that has proved its inefficiency already.”

Meanwhile, there are some supporters of Putin’s policy who believe that only the government’s lack in firmness may hinder it to improve Russia’s relations with the US.

Former Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev asserts in Moskovskie Novosti that the 74 years of the Soviet policy and the past five years of the neo-Soviet policy have left a cumbersome heritage for the country’s government and its political elite in general. “If Russia’s true interests coincide with those of the US, they are viewed as an unacceptable concession to the opponent.” Anti-Americanism has allegedly become a tradition for a certain part of the elite.

At the same time, Russia could solve quite a number of urgent problems now, e.g. create a missile defense system together with the US for southern and eastern borders of the Russian Federation and the CIS. So far the US is getting ready to deploy the national missile defense system only over its own territory, whereas Russia is interested in deployment of this system over the CIS too. Of course, in this case the Russian government will have to overcome the resistance of strong forces of the American military-industrial complex that are sure to launch a large-scale campaign in American media trying to prove that it is impossible to trust Russia. For this purpose American military industrialists are ready for any methods, “including spy scandals and accusations against Russian military officials and nuclear scientists of links with Iran.”

It is very difficult to win such a war on two fronts, but it is still possible. “We know what we want from the US. Gaining this aim requires a firm political will not only regarding America but also regarding Russia’s internal forces.”

Leonid Radzikhovsky, observer of Itogi, suggests that Russians and Americans “seriously realize that Russia and America are tied with each other not by the common criminal Bin Laden but by the common civilization.”

Prominent political analyst Alexander Yanov has stated in Moskovskie Novosti that the meeting between Bush and Putin was “remarkably useless.”

This may be not bad in a way, since no news is good news. At the same time it is beyond any doubts that all those who intend to seek some deep meaning in the final documents of the summit are sure to fail. This means that each analyst will paint their own pattern on the canvas woven by the two presidents in Texas. And certainly this pattern will correspond to their own political viewpoints.

Nothing is so profitable for experienced political strategists as the absence of clarity. So let us expect new revelations, disclosures, and sensations.

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