0

The Big Chill

MOSCOW: Russian-American relations are witnessing a renewed process of deterioration. Rot first set in during 1998 but stalled in 2000 because of the US presidential election. The Republicans were then presenting the Democrats as the party who "lost" Russia, so it was not to the Clinton/Gore Administration's advantage to second this by themselves feuding with the Putin administration. Now, with Republicans in the White House, the problems between the two countries are out in the open and multiplying.

The Bush Administration appears to believe that Russia and America are playing a "zero sum" game: that every diplomatic triumph Russia may have, no matter how minor, comes at American expense. Thus Russian efforts to treat the diplomatic world as a multi-polar one is viewed in Washington only as a facade for its efforts to diminish America. Making matters worse, the two countries have, to all intents and purposes, broken off both unofficial and - with scarcely an exception - official dialogue.

Why is this happening? Much of American foreign policy is now in the hands of people who have been out of international diplomacy for fifteen to twenty years, and so continue to sing from the old Cold War hymn book. Holding pride of place here is America's Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and a number of people around him. They appear unable to recognize that the post-Cold War world is not the world they knew when last in power. Before negotiating with their old adversaries, the Russians, they seem determined to show just how tough they are.

But neither America nor Russia - Russia to an even greater extent - benefit from confrontation. Confrontation, indeed, will only lead to a situation in which Russia will be driven into a corner and ally itself with states truly hostile to the US, even though Russia is not now hostile towards America.