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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Grotesque Parody of Partnership

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the soul-baring friend of U.S. President George W. Bush, is offering another demonstration of why his administration's flighty rhetoric about the "transformation" of U.S.-Russian relations has been premature. Putin's government is doing its best to hamstring Bush's campaign against Iraq; the Russian ambassador at the United Nations rushed to embrace Saddam Hussein's transparently tactical acceptance of weapons inspectors and declared no further action by the Security Council was needed.

Meanwhile, Putin himself is peddling a grotesque parody of Bush's principled stand on both Iraq and Afghanistan: Last week he informed the Security Council, in terms that deliberately echoed Bush, that the war on terrorism may require a unilateral Russian attack on the small neighboring nation of Georgia, that infuriates Moscow merely by existing as an independent, democratic and pro-Western state. This stunningly brazen attempt to cloak an old-fashioned threat of military aggression in Bush's new doctrine of preemption has been accompanied by an even more cynical suggestion of quid pro quo: Allow Russia to crush Georgian sovereignty, Putin hints, and he just might acquiesce in the enforcement of the UN-ordered disarmament of Iraq. Bush administration officials are saying they won't play Putin's game.

The nominal basis for Putin's threat to Georgia is that it is tolerating the presence of Muslim rebel fighters from neighboring Chechnya. Putin insists that these are terrorists, indistinguishable from al-Qaida, and that Georgia is allowing them to operate training camps and pass freely across the border. In fact the insurgents are almost all ethnic Chechens fighting for self-rule who take refuge during summer in the Pankisi Gorge. The Bush administration contends that some al-Qaida operatives may be present in the Pankisi, but evidence is scant.

In any case, the Georgian government clearly has no interest in backing al-Qaida terrorists, or even the Chechens; it has readily accepted an ongoing U.S. training program for its army, and it recently dispatched 1,000 troops to clear out the Pankisi. President Eduard Shevardnadze has asked to meet with Putin and invited international monitoring of the border area; this week his administration agreed to extradite 13 suspects Russia says are Chechen guerrillas.

It's not likely that Russian forces, which have failed to control Chechen movements across their own border, could eliminate or even locate any militants in the Pankisi. But that's not Putin's real aim. His goals are to distract attention from a recent series of military disasters in Chechnya and to use the leverage of Russia's UN Security Council vote on Iraq to achieve suzerainty over Georgia. This is not the behavior of a soul mate, or even a "strategic partner"; and a U.S.-Russian relationship afflicted by such tactics has not been transformed.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.