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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duped by a Delayer

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The get-together of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Genoa ended in total confusion. A noncommittal three-sentence statement about arms control issued by the two presidents was interpreted as a "deal" and a breakthrough that will cut nuclear arsenals and at the same time allow the United States to deploy a national missile defense shield.

In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott praised the agreement: "I think it's a very big deal." An Australian journalist phoned me to find out if I knew where to find on the web the text of the "treaty on a new strategic framework" Putin and Bush concluded in Genoa.

Of course, it all turned out to be spin. There was no "treaty," no "deal," or any other agreement on anything of substance. Bush and Putin just agreed to continue "consultations" on missile defense and on offensive nuclear weapons.

The basic foreign policy opinions of Russia's minute ruling ring were summarized before the summit in Genoa at a closed seminar in Moscow by a well-informed Kremlin insider: "America is today incapable of being an effective world leader and is proceeding from one foreign policy disaster to another; it's important that Moscow take a position of principle on NMD and refrain from any negotiations on modifying the 1972 ABM Treaty; it's important to have only 'consultations' with Washington on ABM, not 'negotiations' that will end in deadlock and surely worsen bilateral relations; the good news is that Washington is also not really serious about having negotiations."

The difference in diplomatic format between 'negotiations' and 'consultations' is that 'consultations' do not and cannot lead to any formal agreement. 'Consultations' are mostly held to find some common ground, if none in fact exists. After Genoa, American officials interpreted the results as Putin agreeing to NMD in return for a cut in offensive missiles, while Russian officials interpreted it as the United States "almost" agreeing to abandon missile defense in exchange for the same missile cut.

This "deal" that anyone can interpret as he or she wishes has now been passed to lower-ranking officials to work out some "compromise." Of course, eventual deadlock is inevitable. The same happened after the first Bush-Putin summit last month in Slovenia: Nice noncommital statements by the two leaders were followed by a cold shower when lower-ranking officials could not agree on anything.

It is hard to say today if Bush is an innocent layman in foreign policy and is allowing himself to be manipulated by a "trustworthy and straightforward" former KGB spy recruiter, or is he deliberately creating a false impression of a "breakthrough" where none exists.

Bush is receiving lots of public praise for being tough with Russia and so forcing Putin to concede. Maybe the exercise in hyperbole in Genoa was planned just to achieve this result. Or maybe Bush's advisers believe that it's prudent to try to appease Putin into making concessions, and if this does not work, well, America will go ahead with missile defense anyway.

Putin's policies seem to be more consistent and thought over. Only two months ago the Kremlin was in near panic that the West may purge Russia from what it likes to call the Group of Eight for human rights violations in Chechnya, abuse of the free press at home and because Russia's minute GDP does not really qualify it to be a member of the world richmen's club.

To counter this immediate threat, Kremlin insiders planned to forge a personal relationship with Bush, so Putin was nice and agreeable at each of their summits, but noncommital on detail. This policy worked to perfection: The West and the United States have fully embraced Putin, the threat of Russia being ousted from the G-8 is today nonexistent, while Moscow gave away virtually nothing in return.

Civilians in Chechnya were tortured and war crimes were committed while the Kremlin's chief executive was appeased at the summit in Genoa. It is an easy guess that when in several months Putin will be munching barbecue at Bush's ranch in Texas the abuse in Chechnya will still be going on.

After the future ground-breaking summit at the ranch, Putin's conservative apparatchiki (who happen to be his personal friends from the KGB) will again, no doubt, stall "the deal."

The mainstream American press has already figured out that Putin is a young pro-Western "liberal" leader who is forced to appease "conservatives." Putin has obviously learned from his predecessor Boris Yeltsin how to fix a reputation in the West that is virtually impossible to tarnish with any amount of abuse.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst based in Moscow.