The Russo-US relationship within the CIS is crucial for the region's development. It is no coincidence that throughout the last decade, irrespective of who occupied the Kremlin or the White House, the subject of the CIS, or new democratic states, was constantly on the agenda of Russian-American relations.
So are these two countries rivals or partners on post-Soviet territory? What is more important in their relations: rivalry or co-operation?
The former option would appear to be more applicable at present. Yet this is not a rivalry born out of malevolent plans or claims for hegemony. After the Soviet Union's break-up, its former republics faced numerous difficulties. Their problems included those of national identification, the choice of political system and, most importantly, economic development. In such a difficult situation, it is natural for any country to look for external support and assistance. Politics, as well as nature, does not tolerate a vacuum, and the weak Russia of the 1990s could not reliably support these countries or help them solve their problems. Accordingly, to a greater or lesser extent, they started to look for support elsewhere.
Certainly, the USA was the most logical choice, as the country's economic possibilities at the time were incomparably greater than Russia's. Yet another important factor was the foreign-policy concept of the US Democrat administration (which is now being implemented ever more actively), which aimed to ensure the country's presence all over the world, in zones of potential conflicts, for example, in the Caucasus, as well as in regions rich in resources, such as Central Asia and the Caspian region.
The question is how long the situation will remain static. Due to the historical, ethnical, cultural and geographical factors, Russia is a closer and more understandable partner for the CIS than the USA. And if Russia finally recovers, overcomes its internal crisis and is able to help CIS states, normal co-operation with Russia will resume very soon. Moreover, this will be not only in political terms, which is already happening, but in economic and even military terms, as Russia can offer these states security guarantees if need be.
The gradual improvement of Russia's relations with the CIS member states and the similarly gradual change in the USA's position in this situation can be clearly seen in the example of Georgia. Until quite recently Russo-Georgian relations seemed to be very problematic. Moscow was very nervous about Georgia's intention to join NATO and open its territory for US military bases.
This problem turned out to be solvable. The subject of US military presence in Georgia was, in my opinion, exhausted after US Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement on the issue during his visit to Moscow this winter. After Georgian troops have learned anti-terrorism methods, US military presence in Georgia will be restricted to the military attache's staff alone. This is the clarity we have been after for several years and have at last received.
As for NATO membership, Georgia is a sovereign state and has the right to independently determine the forms and methods of ensuring its national security. If Tbilisi decides to join the alliance, and the decision is supported by the majority of the country's population, Russia has to respect this opinion, irrespective of what it thinks of NATO's expansion to the east and Georgia's accession to the organisation.
To strengthen bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia (this is also true about other CIS member states), it is much more important to conduct a consistent and transparent policy. Russia has always recognised Georgia's territorial integrity, for many years we have rendered practical economic assistance to this country, for example, by supplying oil, gas and other strategic products at prices much lower than world ones. I am positive that there will be no changes in this respect in the future, because long-term strategic policy dictates these terms rather the personalities of national leaders.
This brings us to the only, in my opinion, possible solution to the problem of Russo-US rivalry in the former USSR. I believe that gradually this subject will die on its own. The USA has far fewer strategic interests in the region than Russia and has simply no reason to start a tough fight with Russia in conditions when we will be strengthening our position in the ex-Soviet republics for real. Apart from this, our relations in many other areas are of a too serious and strategic nature to allow them to be threatened by this particular and relatively incidental "rivalry" in the CIS.