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18.02.2005. Bratislava summit: common interest will triumph

Only the lazy do not speak about the growing crisis in Russia-US relationship. The world is waiting for the Bratislava summit between Vladimir Putin and George Bush with mixed feelings dominated by concern. There are objective and subjective reasons for this.

Russia-US relations have always been a combination of rivalry and cooperation. The traditional elites in the two countries have always regarded each other with suspicion, which was stronger in Russia in the past. We suffered from our weakness. The 9/11 tragedy and the personal friendship between our presidents pushed back and suppressed rivalry.

Another factor that kept us together was the similarity of our foreign policy philosophies: despite a difference of capabilities, it was a geopolitical philosophy based on power, more conspicuously black and white than the European's philosophy. Both elite groups believed that realistic, sometimes cynical, interests prevailed over values.

The common interests are to prevent nuclear proliferation, fight terror, preclude China from becoming a geopolitical rival (of the US) and a threatening force if the geopolitical vacuum deepens in the Russian Far East and East Siberia (for Russia), and hinder the destabilization of the Greater Middle East.

There are serious differences between the two countries. For example, it is clear that the US and Russia have become rivals for influence in the former Soviet countries. Moscow was seriously pained by its «defeat» in Ukraine, which was largely a result of an ineffective policy.

The US elite, which is torn apart by contradictions, is developing a kind of consensus with regard to the events in Russia. It believes that Russia is sliding into authoritarianism, whose inefficiency can potentially weaken the country. This has again drawn attention to the safety of Russia's nuclear arsenals. The US elite is also criticizing Russia's ineffective neo-imperialist policies in the CIS (but not the more effective American neo-imperialist campaign).

Mr. Bush tends to spotlight positive elements of interaction, but he is forced to react to the growing negative attitude of the press and expert commentaries. 
Forces in Russia discuss losses in the CIS and suggest new models for anti-American alliances — with Europe, China, or India. This confrontation looks particularly attractive to the advocates of the isolationist policy (the North Korean «national capitalism»), whose ranks have swelled in Moscow.

However, Russia has few possibilities to apply this foreign policy strategy. Mr. Putin has relatively sound personal contacts with the heads of the leading EU countries — Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, and Silvio Berlusconi (his relationship with Tony Blair have been seriously strained). But these politicians, yielding to the pressure of public opinion in their countries, have been forced, just like Mr. Bush was, to gradually walk away from the Russian president. The criticism of Moscow in the European media is at its sharpest since the cold war. There is no possibility of rapprochement with the EU in the next few years. Russia-EU relations are notable for mutual disillusionment and irritation.

So, a union with the EU, let alone against the US, is hardly probable. The situation will not be changed even by concessions in the area of «four spaces» that Russia is trying to develop jointly with the EU. Besides, Europe has been moving closer to the US on the platform of a common policy with regard to Russia. 
Most experts say that the idea of creating a strategic bloc with China and India, which would counterbalance the USA and the EU, was stillborn. In conditions of India-China rivalry for leadership in Asia, Russia, which has a weaker economic and demographic potential, will be assigned the role of a junior, dependent partner in such a hypothetical alliance. Besides, New Delhi and Beijing would like to cooperate with the US and not with Russia, because they badly need investment, technologies and access to international markets. Russia cannot satisfy any of these requirements.

Beijing's policy is predictable for no more than a decade, while it modernizes its economy and the army. Nobody knows how its foreign policy would change after that. Beijing is relatively firmly connected with the US economically: the Chinese economy will collapse if six US major trade networks shut down. Besides, China may fail to survive the modernization tensions and break up.

Hence, we can conclude that allied relations with Asian countries in terms of creating anti-Western axes and unions, would be ineffective for Russia. 
Likewise, the US would not benefit from a confrontation with Russia. Washington has few friends, let alone competent ones. And Russia, despite its relative weakness, holds the key geostrategic position in the world because it «straddles» the Greater Middle East and borders on China.

So, the cynical considerations of Realpolitik will most probably take the upper hand in Bratislava. The presidents will exchange mutual complaints, decide that common interests are more important, and confirm the policy of cooperation in the spheres of common interest for the two countries and the rest of the world. 
However, this policy will become increasingly vulnerable if political degradation and economic stagnation are not stopped in Russia. In this case, the advocates of unilateral actions and messianic democratic neo-imperialism will again take the upper hand in America. As a result, we will not find new promising areas for cooperation.

In my opinion, the stabilization of Iraq is the most promising area of cooperation. Another such area is the creation of an international project Siberia, where joint construction of infrastructure, transport and industrial facilities in the Russian Far East and Siberia would turn back the process of de-capitalization and depopulation of the region. This alarming process is creating a geoeconomic vacuum that could eventually threaten not only Russia but international political stability in general.

// RIA «Novosti»