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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Whither the U.S.-Russian Partnership?

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Last week's summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin outside St. Petersburg followed what has now become a familiar pattern in the post-Sept. 11 U.S.-Russian partnership: warm personal relations between the two presidents; strong agreement on the need to combat the dangers of terrorism arising from Islamic fundamentalism; commitment to expand economic relations; and acknowledgement of disagreements over a range of issues, including NATO enlargement and the future course of action in Iraq. Friday's summit, however, also included strong, perhaps unexpected, words from Putin about the role of two U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, in aiding and abetting terrorism -- remarks which elicited no public American response.

Bush's visit to Petersburg highlights Russia's continuing importance for the United States in its anti-terrorist campaign. Russia has, so far, been more important than NATO in assisting the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Despite the feel good rhetoric of last week's Prague NATO summit, two major problems were evident: Unless NATO reforms and enhances its military capabilities, its future role with 26 members of widely divergent military strengths is in doubt.

Moreover, most European governments question the need for regime change in Iraq. Then there are the broader disagreements between the "old" NATO members (as opposed to the prospective members who are currently more pro-American) and Washington over a range of political and economic issues. Thus, the conventional wisdom that the transatlantic alliance is qualitatively different from the much more tentative U.S.-Russian relationship is no longer self-evident. Today, Russia shares with America a more traditional view of the role of military force than Europeans, who question the wisdom of using military means to combat terrorism, as opposed to dealing with its root causes. Russia has also adjusted better than the European Union to the role of a preponderant America, perhaps because its international ambitions are more modest than those of an EU seeking a more assertive foreign policy profile.

So far, the new U.S.-Russian partnership is based on a limited bargain: In return for Russia's support for the U.S. anti-terrorist campaign, which includes robust intelligence-sharing and U.S. military access to Central Asian bases, the United States has offered economic incentives, including energy cooperation and accelerated WTO entry, and has remained virtually silent about Russia's domestic situation, including the war in Chechnya.

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This partnership, however, needs fresh impetus. Without a more forward-looking agenda, it could stagnate or deteriorate, if the United States and Russia continue to disagree over issues involving Russia's ties to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. U.S.-Russian ties must have a stronger foundation than a common enemy. There are several areas where Russia and the United States have compelling reasons to cooperate, areas that could provide a firmer basis for a partnership based on mutual interest.

WMD Proliferation: Russia and the United States share an interest in limiting proliferation not only of nuclear, but also of biological and chemical materials. Questions about Soviet-era stockpiles of these materials remain, and there is much that both sides can do together to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

European Security: The NATO-Russia Council offers a new start for NATO-Russia relations and is working better than many had initially expected on issues such as counter-terrorism, theater missile defense, and search-and-rescue operations. The council should focus more on Russian military reform, encouraging Russia's military to interact more intensively with NATO counterparts and pursue new thinking on security cooperation in Europe.

Security in the Post-Soviet Space: If the anti-terrorist campaign is to achieve any lasting results, the powers in the region will have to cooperate with the United States to jointly pursue peace in Eurasia. The United States and Russia should work with China, the Central Asian states and as many other regional powers as are willing and able to establish a new framework for security in the post-Soviet space. Russia should work toward being a guarantor of stability in this area, together with its other partners. There is no more zero-sum game in Central Asia. The coming risks of succession crises and potential instability in Central Asia cry out for partnership, not rivalry.

Energy Cooperation: The October Houston Energy summit and its aftermath have reinforced the importance that the Bush administration attaches to promoting greater U.S.-Russian energy cooperation. While Russia cannot replace Saudi Arabia as a supplier, its impressive increases in oil production and its potential to supply more oil to the world market and gas to Europe have reinforced its significance in an uncertain energy world.

The Middle East: Russia's interests in the Middle East have changed dramatically in the past decade. Moscow's credibility as a more even-handed player in the Arab-Israeli conflict has risen over the past few years and today Russia exercises its influence in the new "quad" format, with the United States, EU and UN. While America remains the key broker in this area, Russia could play a more active role under the right conditions.

New Security Issues: Despite the current preoccupation with traditional security issues, Western relations with Russia will become increasingly focused on non-traditional questions beyond terrorism, such as infectious diseases, trafficking in humans and drugs, and organized crime, that threaten our security and aid and abet terrorism. The United States and Russia must intensify their cooperation in resolving long-term problems whose impact reaches well beyond Eurasia.

Working together in these areas will take time and effort. But it will form the basis of a longer-term and broader-based U.S.-Russian partnership. It will create structures that will ensure a denser network of ties between the two countries and their populations. In the new, uncertain world, Russia and America face the threat of global terrorism and unconventional warfare together. They will need each other as partners for much of this new century.

Angela Stent, director of Georgetown University's Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, served in the U.S. State Department's office of policy planning from 1999 to 2001. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.