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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Still Some Way to Go

The U.S.-Russia summit has been a success, especially given the point of departure. Remember the cold shower U.S. President George W. Bush gave Russia when he came to the White House at the beginning of 2001? The Bush team seemed to be demanding a cold-turkey renunciation by Moscow of its superpower ambitions and acceptance of the reality of "asymmetry." The message to Russia was: "We're putting you on hold. We'll call you when we need you."

Now Bush has met President Vladimir Putin halfway. He made a present to Putin by signing a treaty on nuclear cuts that he long had no intention of signing, thus helping Putin to deal with critics at home who accuse the president of selling out Russia. Moreover, at least rhetorically, Bush is behaving as if Russia were a major U.S. ally.

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The summit's success is even more evident if one looks at how Bush was received in Europe, where thousands protested against U.S. unilateralism. And Putin delivered his share of the success story.

Putin and Bush have something more substantial to support their personal chemistry: They are the only world leaders who look at the world through the prism of "war on terrorism." Both are wartime presidents, consolidating their nations on the basis of a struggle against the same enemy. But the fact that this war is gluing the new U.S.-Russian friendship is a disturbing sign. History has proven that alliances based on a common enemy end when that enemy ceases to exist.

Some observers herald the fact that the security agenda dominated the summit and that nuclear parity has been preserved. But this is exactly what should provoke concern. Why do Russia and the United States need nuclear parity if we are no longer enemies? Five hundred or even 100 nukes should be sufficient to neutralize potential threats from third countries.

However, the whole obsession with counting nukes clearly demonstrates a sad truth: We have failed to go beyond the paradigm of U.S.-Russian relations based on security threats and mutually assured destruction. Both presidents are hostages of their foreign policy and security establishments that were formed in the old days and are incapable of new kinds of cooperation.

The security challenges faced by Russia and the United States, though, are now different -- the threat of nuclear proliferation is currently atop the U.S. agenda. And discussion of the Iran issue shows the existence of serious disagreements. Two more issues will soon become priorities in the relationship: tactical nuclear arsenals and the safety of 1,000 tons of Russian highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

The summit failed to touch upon prospects for cooperation in creating a missile defense shield. And this is where today's security agenda lies. So much time and energy has been spent on carving a niche for the Russia-NATO Council, but can this effort be productive given that NATO itself is in search of a new mission?

The dominance of security issues only proves that U.S.-Russian relations are still based more on irritants than on an assessment of mutual benefits. Unfortunately, the summit failed to transform Putin's foreign policy revolution -- his shift toward the West -- into a strategy of integration with the West.

Ironically it seems both Putin and Bush are trapped: Upgrading the relationship that both presidents evidently want inevitably leads to security shoptalk simply because there is not much impetus for shifting to the economic agenda. Even discussion of energy cooperation yielded nothing substantial.

That U.S. relations with Russia are now apparently better than U.S. relations with some U.S. allies also provides food for thought, particularly regarding the nature and longevity of Faustian bargains -- that is, ones based on a limited coincidence of interests but not on common values.

Both presidents seem sincere in their attempt to open a new page in relations between their countries, but they have been unable to get rid of the legacy of the previous era. So far, in both capitals we are seeing a lack of political will, courage and vision, as well as a lack of readiness to think big about Russia and the United States in the new century.

However, both countries face challenges that cannot be handled in the traditional manner -- one of them being the need for U.S.-Russian cooperation in Central Asia and the Caucasus. And not just military cooperation, but also joint efforts to assist in building viable democratic states.

The danger of nuclear proliferation forces us to consider more radical measures, such as Soviet debt swaps as an incentive for Russia to rethink its policy toward Iran and Iraq (an idea being widely discussed in Washington). The Russian Far East and Siberia could become areas of economic cooperation between Russia and the West, in which the United States might play a leading role.

Finally, there is need to make the U.S.-Russian relations more productive for ordinary people. Thus, an ambitious program of student exchanges and U.S. help in developing Russia's health system and fighting AIDS should be encouraged. Otherwise, relations will be limited to those between the leaders only.

In order to move toward a more constructive partnership, Russia will have to consolidate a real, functioning democracy, not simply the facade of one; and the United States will have to define its role as the advantaged partner within a relationship of "benevolent asymmetry."

If Russia moves further toward the West and becomes a "normal country," the United States may lose interest in the country -- that will mean an end to summits and the real close of the Cold War chapter. But it will open prospects for a new type of alliance between United States, Europe and Russia, in which the latter, due to the presence of Europe, should be able to feel itself a more viable and needed partner.

Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.