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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making Summit of Nothing

This week's summit in Moscow between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin has, for more than half a year, been Russia's main foreign policy priority. A lot of political capital has been invested in making the summit a success and many careers in Moscow hinge on the outcome.

Russian diplomats say they have done a great job and prepared a "serious package of documents" for the two presidents to sign. Now the Foreign Ministry is doing its best to sell this package to the country and to the political elite in Moscow. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has been lobbying the as yet unpublished agreements in the State Duma, telling deputies that the treaty limiting nuclear warheads may be short and lacking in detail but it's the best deal Moscow could have hoped for.

The Bush administration from the outset wanted its hands free in forming future U.S. defenses. The Kremlin pressed for a legally binding treaty and got one in the end. But under the terms of the treaty, U.S. experts say in 10 years time the United States could still have some 4,600 warheads (partially deployed, partially stored for rapid deployment), while Russia will manage fewer than 1,500.

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Ivanov says this is a "compromise" and certainly the accord reflects new realities much better than previous U.S.-Russian agreements signed in the 1990s that were built on the false premise that some equality still existed between the former Cold War adversaries.

Ivanov also told Duma deputies that Washington has agreed to limit its future missile defense shield and that such a pledge is included in a special nonbinding political declaration the presidents will sign in Moscow. Of course, that's a very liberal interpretation of the text. The declaration only states (as Washington has stated many times before) that missile defense is not aimed at Russia.

In general, the desire to create for public consumption the image of a great breakthrough at the summit has pushed government officials on both sides of the Atlantic to publicize lots of vague ideas that will create false expectations, as has happened over and over again during previous U.S.-Russian get-togethers, to the detriment of long-term understanding between the two countries.

Word has come from highly placed sources in Washington that the United States will offer to cooperate with Russia in the building of future missile defense systems and may share technologies. The response in Moscow was instantaneous: Cooperation with the rich and mighty United States is always understood in Moscow as a handout of U.S. taxpayer money to impoverished Russia and its dilapidated defense industry.

But U.S. Congress rules on spending taxpayers' money are strict: No foreign entity can get a contract if there is a valid American bidder. Washington has never managed to run a major joint defense production and procurement program in cooperation with its closest European allies, let alone Moscow.

U.S. companies that are today developing missile defense have already stated categorically that they do not need or want Russian subcontractors. The idea of sharing missile defense technologies will most likely boil down to Washington inviting Russia, together with Japan and NATO countries, to foot part of the missile defense bill by buying some U.S.-made components to install on their territory.

Attempts to find ways to reward Russia for good behavior have much preoccupied decision-makers in the West of late. It's argued that without a visible payback Putin will be severely attacked by domestic critics and may get frustrated with his present pro-Western policies. And then someone in the West may be accused of "losing Russia" again.

In reality, many generals only get the shivers when they see bigger and brighter Western smiles. If the Russian military finally loses its NATO enemy, many of them will surely lose their jobs.

The producers of lousy cars in this country do not want World Trade Organization membership -- they want protective tariffs. Russian arms makers and traders want a "multipolar world" to promote exclusive export contracts with China, Iran and India. No additional smiles or rewards (especially dubious ones) will ever convert the institutional opposition to the West in Russia.

The future of U.S.-Russian relations will be decided in Moscow, not at the summit, but in an increasingly bitter confrontation between the forces of old Russia and the new emerging capitalist classes. And Western involvement in this fray often produces detrimental results.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.