Russia, U.S. ahead of G8 summit

21.04.06

MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov) -

The Moscow meeting of senior foreign officials representing the UN Security
Council's permanent members and Germany, who tried to decide how to resolve
the crisis around Iran, did not yield any results.

The reason is the difference in approaches of the West, notably the United
States, on the one hand, and by Russia, on the other, to methods that could
prevent Tehran from going nuclear. Moscow still sees any use of force as
unacceptable. However, Russia and the U.S. absolutely agree on one thing:
neither Iran nor North Korea should be allowed to acquire the bomb.

Unfortunately, as the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg in July is
approaching, there are fewer areas left on which Russia and the U.S. are
unanimous. Relations between Moscow and Washington have chilled. Russian
experts are worried by mounting criticism from Washington of the quality of
Russian democracy and the country's foreign policies. They perceive these
tongue-lashings as unfair and disguising America's hostile interests.

Let us look at the situation through the eyes of an ordinary Russian. Ivan
Ivanov is perplexed: why was Washington so happy with Russia under Boris
Yeltsin in the 1990s? At that time, the country had a pitiful dummy of a
democracy, which disguised the carouse of corrupt oligarchic clans that
ordered the Kremlin about. Why did the American elite, led by President Bill
Clinton, insisted on Yeltsin, despite all his shortcomings, pushing the
country in the right direction?

Most Russians are positive that when Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin, he
took over a country in chaos. Nevertheless, the new president managed to
restore the governing system and prevent the country's disintegration.

Today it is fashionable to accuse Moscow of such sins as authoritarian
elites, the return of imperial ambitions and the use of natural gas as a
tool to solve all foreign-policy problems. In March, the U.S. Council on
Foreign Relations issued a report stating that Russia under Putin was
heading in the wrong direction. The White House published a new version of
its National Security Strategy, where it grimly warned, "Efforts to prevent
democratic development at home and abroad will hamper the development of
Russia's relations with the United States:"

One thing is obvious: the stream of allegations is gaining strength as
Russia recovers after the stroke caused by the change of its social and
economic model. The more powerful the country becomes, the less sympathy it
evokes in some people in the United States. In other words, the reasons of
the current cold war are in many aspects similar to those of the first one.
Then the West was worried about the Soviet Union's increasing influence in
Eastern Europe. Today it fears Russia's transition into an influential and
energetic state.

The difference in Russian and American interpretations of democracy
increased after the Russian People's Council, a gathering of the country's
public movements, recently adopted the Declaration on Human Rights and
Dignity, which was endorsed by the Orthodox Church. This document accuses
the Western model of civil liberties of amorality. When taken out of the
moral context, rights and freedoms allow people to display xenophobia,
insult others' religious feelings and commit other sins. The Western concept
mistakes human rights for permissiveness, according to the authors of the
document, which has been applauded in society.

Many would deem these ideas as questionable. But they make one thing clear:
America's messianic faith in the supremacy of its own democratic model is
unlikely to be understood in Russia.

Fortunately for Moscow and Washington, alongside the democratic program,
there is another program of Russian-U.S. relations based on less ideological
and more pragmatic interests. The United States needs Russia and Russia
needs the United States to cooperate in such spheres as dealing with
al-Qaeda terrorists, ensuring that Iran's and North Korea's nuclear research
remains peaceful and guaranteeing the security of energy production and
distribution. -0-

Without Russia, its human potential and technology, the world would be more
vulnerable to such new global threats as an avian flu epidemic or the
climate change. -0-