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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Needs Tough Love

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Two days before presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin met last Saturday in Slovenia, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters that the summit will "not achieve anything much in substance, but the atmospherics of bilateral relations will improve dramatically." What then happened was almost identical to U.S.-Russian summits during the 1990s — known as "Boris meets Bill" get-togethers.

Like Slovenia, the "Boris meets Bill" summits were also informal. Washington apparently hoped friendly relations between the top leaders would help advance issues of greatest concern to the United States, namely missile defense and the proliferation of Russian weapons and military technologies to Third World countries including so-called rogue states. But the end results were minute, while the Kremlin was given free reign to do whatever it wished at home and especially in Chechnya.

Bush administration officials have stated repeatedly that they will drastically change former President Clinton's ineffective foreign policy ways. At last weekend's summit, Bush and his foreign policy team had a chance to show whether their words have any meaning. It turns out that they do not.

International human rights organizations, as well as some Russian officials and generals, charge that grave war crimes committed in Chechnya have resulted in the deaths or disappearance of thousands of innocent civilians. There have even been credible accusations that some orders to attack civilians came directly from the top or may have been authorized in the Kremlin. These crimes have gone largely unpunished, and the Kremlin has denied the allegations rather than credibly investigating them.

Absent a serious investigation into these allegations, it is impossible to say whether Putin himself is involved in war crimes or in a coverup. However, in comments about the conduct of the war in Chechnya and during the tragic sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk last August, Putin has definitely made public statements that afterward were proven to be untrue. Nonetheless, Bush looked Putin "in the eye" in Slovenia and proclaimed him "straightforward and trustworthy." He even invited Putin to visit his Texas ranch this fall.

Most likely, Bush and his foreign policy team believe such appeasement will encourage Kremlin concessions on major issues of U.S. concern and will reduce anti-American feelings in Russia. Perhaps they even think it will enhance the influence of liberal reformers in Russia. In fact, though, Bush gave Putin everything the Kremlin wanted from this summit and got nothing at all in return.

Before the summit the Kremlin seriously worried that Russia might be purged from the G-8 group of industrialized nations and otherwise isolated because of its human rights record, the suppression of press freedom and other authoritarian measures. Now all such fears have been put to rest. It's impossible to exclude from the G-8 a leader who visits the president of the United States at his ranch. In fact, Bush gave Putin carte blanche to continue as before in Chechnya and to continue building an authoritarian bureaucratic police state.

Moreover, Russia will continue to sell advanced weapons and military technologies to states that Washington does not like and to stonewall in bilateral consultations on missile defense.

Russian defense and foreign policy today is determined by a small circle of Kremlin bureaucrats — Defense Ministry and intelligence community chiefs (the so-called siloviki) — without any public discussion. This group is afraid of neither American missile defense nor NATO expansion, since neither of these poses any immediate military threat.

However, they will use both missile defense and NATO expansion for anti-American propaganda purposes. They are convinced that a perceived external threat will keep Russians united behind the Kremlin, while anti-Americanism abroad may keep the West disunited and encourage Western European countries to forge closer relations with Moscow.

After the summit, the Kremlin has no incentive to make further concessions. This week Putin told U.S. reporters that Russia might increase the number of its nuclear warheads if the Americans go ahead with missile defense. During future "consultations," Russian officials will be even less conciliatory. Washington will press for more summits with the "straightforward and trustworthy" Putin to overcome these difficulties, but will surely get nowhere. In Slovenia, Putin more or less recruited Bush as his "agent of influence." Bush won't get away soon.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.