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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit Won't Be All Smooth Sailing

Despite expectation that this week's summit between President Vladimir Putin and President George W. Bush could yield substantive trade-offs, the three-day meeting is more likely to further the two countries' new-found cooperation than to result in any breakthroughs in foreign or economic policy.

While both leaders are likely to reiterate their commitment to the anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, to a more moderate approach to missile defense and to nuclear arms cuts, the resolution of more controversial issues -- such as Russia's economic status and its relations with NATO -- lies further afield.

Putin, set to leave Moscow late Monday, will spend the following day in Washington and the next two at Bush's ranch in Texas, where the men and their wives are expected to feast on tenderloin, pecan pie and lemonade while listening to Texas swing.

The meeting will be Bush and Putin's second since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that helped fundamentally reshape their countries' relationship.

Russia has provided air corridors and intelligence to support the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, as well as help in gaining access to air bases on the territory of its Central Asian neighbors.

Both leaders are likely to cement that teamwork and explore ways to expand it without destabilizing the region.

"I expect Bush will want to brief Putin on plans of U.S. military expansion in Central Asia," said Andrew Weiss, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, in a telephone interview Friday. "It will also be important for Bush to reassure Putin that he has no plans to launch military action against Iraq," a country Moscow has lent political support.

Bush and Putin will also discuss possible compromises on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. When Bush entered office, he declared the treaty a relic of the Cold War, while Putin insisted it was a cornerstone of world peace. But since Sept. 11, both have indicated they may be able to find a middle ground.

The Bush administration recently postponed a missile defense test that might have violated the treaty and has also signaled a willingness to modify the agreement instead of scrapping it.

Putin, too, has softened his position, saying the treaty is "important, essential, effective and useful" but still leaves room for negotiations. Russia also has not rejected suggestions that Washington might be able to conduct limited missile defense tests with the treaty still in place.

This summer the two leaders agreed to link the issue of missile defense with reductions in their nuclear arsenals, also to be discussed at this week's summit.

But in addition to the predictable agenda items, Putin will be traveling to the United States with a list of thornier issues on which compromise will prove more elusive -- among them Russia's trade status and its close relationship with nations such as Iran and Iraq. And while Russia's assistance in the fight against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden has been important, it is unclear whether Moscow now has enough bargaining power to make such serious demands on Washington.

Perhaps the most important of Russia's goals, experts say, is a redefinition of its relationship with NATO and the establishment of a new international system of collective security in which Russia has decision-making rights rather than a watered-down advisory role.

While Putin has said that Russia expects no compensation in return for its support of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism operation, he hinted to foreign correspondents Saturday that there is a link between that support and Moscow's relationship with NATO.

"We could even consider intensifying our joint efforts [in Afghanistan]. But that will depend on qualitative changes in Russia's relationship with leading Western nations ... and such an organization as NATO, of course," Putin said, according to the official transcript.

The president has also made it clear that he wants to persuade Washington to recognize Russia as a country with a market economy.

In Saturday's interview, Putin said that "economic cooperation ... on nondiscriminatory terms" was one of the most significant issues he would discuss with Bush. However, American steel interests and overall concern about the Russian economy have kept Washington reluctant to grant the market-economy status Moscow has requested -- a prerequisite for membership in the World Trade Organization.

"The U.S. can't lower the bar for Russian membership to WTO," Weiss said. "Putin has to structure an overall economic reform plan. So far Russia hasn't done that. Until it does, its accession to WTO remains dubious."

The only economic concession Bush has been pushing for in Congress is an end to the annual review of Russia's emigration policies under the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment -- also necessary for WTO entry.

Moscow will certainly need Washington's help in persuading other Western nations to be more lenient about terms for Russia's admission to the WTO.

Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst, pointed out that the criteria for such decisions have been custom-tailored for political reasons in the past -- for example in the case of the Baltics.

Another sore point unlikely to receive more than a superficial dressing this week is foreign policy in the former Soviet Union. "Until now, an American policy of deterrence has been dominant in the region," with certain groups in Washington supporting anti-Russian political movements in places such as Belarus and Ukraine, Markov said in an interview Friday.

Aside from lobbying for NATO expansion into the Baltics, a particularly contentious point of U.S. policy has been Washington's support for Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, whom Moscow has accused of harboring Chechen rebels.

But Washington sees itself as a defender of stability in the former Soviet Union, particularly in the Caucasus. "The U.S. ... will continue to draw a bright red line around Georgia and tell Russia not to step over it," said Weiss.

While Putin's popularity rating at home has remained unwaveringly high, his success in winning concessions from Bush could eventually prove important for overcoming the discontent that has been bubbling up among Russia's political and military elite.

Local analysts have called the overall mood among the country's political establishment "isolationist."

"In order to overcome this, there must be results, there must be tangible advances" in bilateral relations, Markov said. "Western diplomacy has developed a way of responding to concrete actions with promises. ... There needs to be a move toward genuine compromise."

Nationalist-leaning groups, such as the Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, have criticized the Kremlin for being too soft in defending Russia's security interests.

Some of the grumbling in Moscow has been coming from the ranks of the military-industrial complex, anxious that closer ties with Washington will eventually close off lucrative markets such as Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Washington has long expressed serious concerns over Russia's relationship with Iran, saying that the nuclear technologies Russia supplies could be used to make nuclear weapons -- an accusation Moscow denies.

This issue, as well as U.S. involvement in the former Soviet bloc, resurfaced at a round table last month, when Zhirinovsky said that true bilateral cooperation will be possible only if the United States allows Russia to maintain its trade relations with India, Iran and Iraq and significantly reduces its political involvement in former Soviet republics.

If Putin and Bush can clinch a private agreement on these issues, "like Ribbentrop and Molotov," said the radical Zhirinovsky, "then we'll be able to work together. ... Otherwise, Russia will remain on its own."

But political analyst Anatoly Utkin of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute was skeptical that Russia would be able to walk away from the meeting with any "tangible advances" from Washington.

"The U.S. political culture has no concept of gratitude," he said, "only a business-like approach [to negotiations]."