McCain Is Alone on Russia

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The three presumed U.S. presidential candidates rarely mention Russia. When they do, their remarks are critical -- possibly because they are hoping to attract a few more votes from the numerous and well-organized ethnic communities from Ukraine, the Baltics and East Europe.

Still, Senator John McCain stands alone. McCain, the Republican hopeful with a good shot of winning the election, has practically included Russia in a new axis of evil, along with North Korea, China and Iran. McCain's advisers are openly lambasting President George W. Bush for being too chummy with President Vladimir Putin and promise that Moscow will be treated a lot more harshly in a McCain presidency.

I am not sure if the statements from McCain and his camp are making the Kremlin nervous, but they are causing considerable concern among U.S. foreign policy experts. Recently, several mainstream news organizations, including Newsweek and the International Herald Tribune, published articles critical of McCain's rhetoric, which, they say, might inflame international tensions linked to U.S. actions over Iraq and Iran. The foreign policy experts say a proposal by McCain to kick Russia out of the Group of Eight industrial countries will never happen, because other G8 members would oppose it. Stephen Cohen, a Russia scholar, said the McCain camp's rhetoric was pushing the world toward a new Cold War. Newsweek went even further, branding McCain's ideas "schizophrenic."

I have assumed a more moderate attitude regarding what should be Washington's official attitude toward Russia. As the president of the annual World Russian Forum, which opens Monday on the premises of the U.S. Senate, I invited McCain to explain his stance and possibly engage in a debate with leading U.S. and Russian experts, including Thomas Graham, former director of the National Security Council's Russia Department, and Andranik Migranyan of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, which is the Kremlin's first attempt at an NGO in Washington.

I cannot speak for the other panelists, but personally I would like to ask McCain how U.S. security would benefit from Russia's expulsion from the G8. Also, I would like to ask McCain about an idea of his to form a league of democracies that would exclude Russia and China. Don't the Americans need the Russians and the Chinese to cooperate on nuclear nonproliferation and a climate change treaty? Sidelining them with the creation of this new body would do nothing to smooth over cooperation in other areas. Moreover, how would Washington's Middle East allies like Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia react to such a democratic grouping?

McCain also recently suggested that the United States should follow the French example of generating 80 percent of France's electricity with nuclear power. However, some experts say more than 700 huge nuclear power plants would have to be built by 2050 -- more than one plant per month -- to satisfy McCain's desire to be like France. Keeping in mind the fact that the Bush administration last month signed a deal permitting reactor fuel to come from Russia, where would the United States get all the uranium required to fuel 700 nuclear power plants if its next president bashed Russia day and night?

To be fair to McCain, the other two presidential front-runners, Democratic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have not offered a positive-thinking agenda for Russia either, pledging to be tougher with Russia than Bush and endorsing further NATO expansion by accepting Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. All three presidential contenders have promised to expand the Bush administration's effort to "spread democracy," a policy that an overwhelming majority of Russians see as a thinly veiled smoke screen to strengthen the U.S. position in the world at the expense of Russia.

At a recent celebration in honor of former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, speaker after speaker stood up to say that none of the major security problems faced by the United States and the rest of the world could have been solved without cooperation from Russia. Even Brzezinski himself, who considers Russia to be little more than an evil genius, echoed this sentiment. Does McCain believe that all of them are wrong?

We may never know. Neither McCain nor his top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheuneman, have confirmed or declined my invitation to speak at the forum, even though the meeting hall is right next door to McCain's office in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and president of the World Russian Forum in Washington.