Putin 4, Bush 0 on Scoreboard Of International Diplomacy

President Vladimir Putin, not President George W. Bush, should be given full credit for shaping the two agreements that have redefined relations between their two countries. Putin carried out his strategy. Bush didn't, even though he might have thought he was in charge.

Putin's objective was to join Europe, not "the West." Integrating with Europe would accelerate market forces ("it's the economy, stupid") and most importantly create a powerful counterweight to the unilateralist hyperpower. The United States under Bush has constantly rubbed Russian interests the wrong way -- from ABM Treaty withdrawal, to missile defense, probable attacks on Iraq and even Iran, steel quotas, and military penetration of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Integrating with Europe via NATO, of course, required U.S. approval. Hence Putin's strategy of Seeming Appeasement of Washington. He hurriedly supported Bush's war on terrorism after Sept. 11, allowed U.S. forces to be stationed in former Soviet republics and toned down his opposition to missile defense. Most importantly, he studied Bush and read all about him, discovering that the Texan trusted and promoted personal relations of friendship and loyalty. That was his consistent mode of operation.

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Putin schmoozed Bush. He bared his soul and his honest heart, spoke kindly of the U.S. president and became a trusted friend. Bush now considers Putin his "partner."

Furthermore, Putin seemingly caved in on Bush's stated desire to reduce nuclear arsenals from the 6,000 range to 1,700 to 2,200, and even accepted the U.S. demand that "storage" be allowed for nukes above that ceiling. Putin got nothing on missile defense. (The U.S. pledge to share missile defense technology is largely bogus, given that advanced military technology is rarely shared even with long-term allies.) Putin, after all, could not maintain more operational nukes nor prevent missile defense deployments.

But what Putin got was really what he wanted. Bush acceded to the European-Russian initiative to institutionalize a greatly expanded Russian role in the European alliance. The NATO-Russia Council put Moscow on the ground floor in policy making on alliance peacekeeping, counterterrorism, weapons proliferation, humanitarian intervention and regional crises. The European states want to dilute overbearing and wayward U.S. influence in Europe, which is why they want Russia integrated in Europe -- and why they want new NATO and EU members. No longer will they tolerate being a junior partner to Washington. Europe is mobilizing members to mobilize more power.

Russia wants "in" for the same reason. Russia needs more leverage to temper American self-centered power. And the Europeans are ready and willing to provide it. It is also conceivable that Putin now speaks softly over NATO expansion because, by moving toward Russia's borders, the alliance will eventually swallow Russia and its "near abroad" neighbors. The fox, as an old American phrase has it, will then be in the chicken coop.

Putin has pulled it off. Bush has become a handmaiden for European resurgence. And he is still unaware how Putin has maneuvered him into performing that role. Yes, the Russian leader wants to liquidate the Cold War because the Cold War concluded with U.S. hegemony -- and that legacy is the one to be liquidated.

In baseball terminology, Putin pitched a shutout.

Nicholas Berry, co-author of "IR: The New World of International Relations," contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.