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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finding Common Language

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The days are gone when the American and Russian presidents greeted each other simply as "Friend Boris" and "Friend Bill." Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton have left the political stage. The new administrations began negatively: George W. Bush caught Russian spies in America, and Vladimir Putin condemned U.S. plans for a national missile defense. Now mutual recriminations are abating. The leaders of the two countries could not even wait for the G-8 summit in Genoa to meet.

The two administrations have much in common, but luckily for Americans, Bush does not have Putin's apparently unlimited power. And luckily for the world, Putin does not have the kind of global reach that Bush does.

Significantly, a meeting between Anatoly Chubais and Dick Cheney preceded the presidential summit. Cheney is officially No. 2 in Washington, while Chubais is influential, but hardly at the top of Russia's bureaucratic heap.

Chubais used to meet with the American leadership before Putin came to power, and Chubais and Cheney really met as representatives of the corporate interests they control in their respective countries, not in their official capacities. Big Business is developing an agenda that the politicians are destined only to carry out. No longer behind the scenes, but openly aspiring to key administrative posts.

Cheney represents the oil business, Chubais the Russian fuel and energy complex. Those interests will in the short-term determine Russian-American relations to the extent that they will focus on "constructive cooperation" rather than "corruption and spies." Russia's energy tsars want to attract American capital. American corporations are eying Russian properties that are selling for a fourth of their value, bribes and kickbacks included. As he left for his meeting with Cheney, Chubais said he intends to study American energy deregulation. Despite California, he considers this a brilliant role model. Considering that Russia's privatized energy system last winter left whole regions without electricity or heat for months, rolling blackouts in California look like an achievement.

While Chubais was selling Russian energy to the Americans, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was marketing the conditions on which Russia will accept the new American "Star Wars." Moscow's rhetorical protests turned into the usual haggling over price. The Kremlin makes no secret that they are ready to drop diplomatic opposition to Bush's project, but only if Russia receives sufficient compensation. Russian companies want good orders under the American program, and the military would like a limited anti-missile defense system. This partly corresponds with Washington's rhetoric: the scale of deployment needed to defend against mad Third World dictators is much less than that needed against Russia. Moscow knows that Washington now sees China, not Russia, as a potential enemy, but such a rapprochement with America would put a weakened Russia against China's growing might. Moscow leaders have found for the time being a brilliant answer. Russia will sell conventional arms to China and simultaneously participate in U.S. high-tech projects. Both sides will pay, and in modern Russia, this is what it all boils down to. Few worry how this new arms race will end.

It's all in the spirit of free trade. If the two parties find a common language, no one will care about the suffocation of Russia's free press or genocide in Chechnya. Why should America worry about dying Chechen children, when for years it has been starving Iraqi children? And why does burned-out Grozny deserve more attention than bombed-out Belgrade? Obviously, Bush and Putin will find a common language.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.