Rice should prepare for tough talks in Moscow

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov) - In a testimony to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said of the U.S.-Russia relationship, "On many things we have done very well, but the fact is that on some others it's been a difficult period."

She will most likely use her forthcoming talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to "halt a dramatic slide in U.S.-Russian relations." After all, Washington still claims it wants Russia to be friendly and, moreover, strong.

The Kremlin and Rice have expressed their mutual readiness to discuss embarrassing issues. The United States is at loggerheads with Russia over a host of issues, including U.S. plans for a European-based missile defense system and the possibility of Russia vetoing the independence plan for Kosovo. The two countries largely agree on the Iranian issue and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But the Moscow talks will most likely focus on the concept of bilateral relations now that the second presidential terms of Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush are running out. Washington and Moscow want each other to be a strategic partner that will meet the overwhelming sentiments of voters in their respective countries. However, it is the governments that mold these sentiments.

So, it is not the agenda of Rice's talks with Russian officials that matters, but the background for them. It is the first Moscow visit by a top-ranking U.S. official after Putin's February speech at the security conference in Munich, where he accused the United States of trying to create a "one-boss world." After that speech, the U.S. mass media showered Russia with accusations of all mortal sins, above all a decline into autocracy.

Putin's speech in Red Square on Victory Day (May 9) was not challenging at all. He only expressed regret that some countries still laid claim to "global exclusiveness and diktat." He could have been referring to Tehran or Pyongyang, but Washington, acting on Freudian prompting, decided that the phrase was meant for it.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow asked, and received from the Russian Foreign Ministry an explanation, according to which nobody in Russia equated the Bush administration with Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

Although the issue seemed to be settled, Rice used her testimony in the Senate to speak about backslide from democracy and an alarming concentration of power in the Kremlin.

"I think everybody around the world, in Europe, in the United States, is very concerned about the internal course that Russia has taken in recent years," she said.

Dr. Rice may sincerely believe what she said, but the U.S. federal budget points in the opposite direction. Its allocations on developing democracy in Russia have been cut from $43 million in 2006 to $26 million in 2007. Washington no longer wants to spend funds on assistance to all kinds of pseudo-independent funds and NGOs in Russia. Why is that?

The most probable reason is that Washington is more or less satisfied with Russia's progress towards democracy, as Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, advertently admitted on May 9.

Speaking at the Berlin conference on "Rethinking Europe" he said, "Russia even today is freer than under the Communists, and arguably freer than at any time under the Tsars."

The problem is not only in different interpretations of democracy. There are some things Russia discusses frequently and freely, which the United States tries to avoid. To understand the point, the U.S. only needs to put itself in Russia's shoes. What would the Bush administration think and do if the Kremlin tried to reopen its electronic intelligence center in Cuba, sent 5,000 troops to Mexico and Venezuela (the U.S. has dispatched such forces to Bulgaria and Romania), and in general resumed a deterrence policy vis-a-vis its "strategic partner"?

Condoleezza Rice will be most likely asked such questions in Moscow, so she should prepare her answers in advance.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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