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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit Goes Off Without a Hitch

Neither president could refrain from gushing about the three days they spent together in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"Well, first, the hospitality has been magnificent," U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters in the Hermitage Museum on Saturday. "Secondly, I think the summit ... met my expectations. I hope it met the president's expectations."

The Russia-U.S. summit went according to plan, with no glitches or surprises. Even the weather cooperated. So, if predictability and pragmatism are the new buzzwords of the relationship between the two countries, the summit can be called a success.

"I believe we have every reason to consider this visit a success," Putin told reporters at the Tsarskoye Selo palace outside St. Petersburg shortly after Bush left on Sunday. "The fact that we have reached agreements and even signed documents I believe is tremendous progress."

A year ago, the Bush administration did not want to sign any binding treaties on nuclear arms reduction with Russia, and thus the signing of the treaty Friday, no matter how vague and loose it is, was a feather in Putin's cap.

Other feathers -- such as cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and the granting of market economy status -- have proved harder to obtain. But here, too, there was some progress.

The divisive issues -- Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran and U.S. discussions of a military attack against Iraq -- were relegated to the background or downplayed. Bush took every occasion to praise Putin's leadership and uttered not a single word of criticism, including on the painful issue of Russia's Chechnya policies.

"The main result of the summit is the impression that Bush took home of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Russia in general," said Viktor Kuvaldin, political analyst with the Gorbachev Foundation. "Here Putin and the Russian side overall gave it their absolute best."

President Boris Yeltsin's term of "no-ties diplomacy" seemed to have been forgotten by both Washington and Moscow two years ago, but today it appears more alive than ever, said Yevgeny Volk, director of the Moscow branch of the Heritage Foundation. "It turned out to be impossible to build foreign policy without personal contacts, especially with the Americans."

The two presidents, who call each other George and Vladimir, have developed a camaraderie that has affected the tone, if not always the substance, of U.S.-Russia relations.

"There is a great deal of respect and personal affection," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, Reuters reported. "I think the respect between the two leaders, the understanding of each other's position, the understanding of the needs of each other, give us a more solid foundation upon which to build and move forward."

The summit, and specifically the arms treaty, was proclaimed as bringing an end to the Cold War once and for all. But Kuvaldin said this was missing the point. "The Cold War was buried by the current U.S. president's father and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta in 1989," he said in a telephone interview Sunday. "Now the indefinite post-Cold War period of uncertainty in the development of bilateral relations is over. It turned out that there are many fields in which we have common interests, including the situation in Afghanistan and prospects of war in South Asia."

Visible proof of these new common interests came when Putin and Bush addressed the issue of Pakistan's missile testing Saturday. Bush used strong words to urge Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff, his ally in the counter-terrorism campaign, to exercise restraint, while Putin said he hoped to meet with the Indian and Pakistani leaders in Kazakhstan next month.

But for both countries, the U.S.-Russia relationship is just one aspect of their foreign policies. As Bush left St. Petersburg for Paris, Putin met at Tsarskoye Selo with Finnish President Tarja Halonen and then returned to Moscow where a Russia-EU summit will be held this week.

The United States is the most important partner for Russia in terms of international stability and security, Putin told reporters after the meeting with Halonen. "However, we are not forgetting that we are in Europe," he said. He also mentioned Russia's interests in Asia, where the country has a long border with China, and said relations with Japan "are developing not so badly."

Russia also had something to offer Bush. With a series of political failures in the Middle East and increased opposition to his foreign policy among European allies, Bush needed a positive summit with Putin, Volk said.

For many Russians, however, the summit was of limited interest, and news reports describing Bush's visit as "historic" were met with some ridicule.

"Unlike the meeting between [Leonid] Brezhnev and [Richard] Nixon [30 years ago], the current date is perceived by society with cool irrelevance, and the summit's intense advertising only highlights this tired coolness," commentator Maxim Sokolov wrote in the Izvestia newspaper.