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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Illogic of U.S.-Russia Relations

In his inaugural address, U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his belief in the absolute good of democracy. To this point, however, Russian-U.S. relations have been dominated by a more pragmatic spirit. Bush gets together with President Vladimir Putin and says: "I'm not real fond of your brand of democracy. What were you thinking when you canceled direct gubernatorial elections?" To which Putin replies: "I'm considering writing off 90 percent of Iraq's debt to Russia." After that, Bush's problems with Russian democracy simply disappear. The U.S. president recounts how he looked into Putin's eyes and knew that this was a man he would go on a covert operation with.

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There are two architects of Washington's Russia policy. The first is Condoleezza Rice. Owing to Russia's relative insignificance as a former superpower, Rice the Sovietologist has more or less on her own implemented an extremely cynical and effective policy of resorting to mild criticism of the Russian regime only in order to win geopolitical concessions. Rice is now expected to become secretary of state, a far more high-profile post than national security adviser. But this is unlikely to alter the basic logic of U.S. policy.

The second architect is Putin. KGB agents were instructed to tell everyone what they wanted to hear. Putin was a good student. During his first meeting with Putin, the deeply religious Bush was moved by Putin's story of a cross given to him by his mother that was later miraculously found in the ashes of a dacha after a fire. If Bush were a member of some other confession, I have no doubt that Putin would have told him about a rosary given to him by a wise sheikh or a piece of advice given by a wise rabbi.

In other words, Russia and the United States would be getting along swimmingly if it weren't for Russia itself. Every time the Kremlin gets into a mess, it blames the mess on the CIA.

Everyone in Putin's inner circle knows that the terrorist attacks on Russian soil are carried out by international terrorists funded by foreign sponsors. And that Viktor Yanukovych, friend of Petersburg chekists and the Donetsk underworld, lost the Ukrainian presidential election because of CIA intervention. They sincerely believe in the existence of a global conspiracy against Russia. As Marx said, ideological labels differ from all others in that the people who apply them also believe in the truth of them.

This helps to explain why on a trip to Washington, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the flabbergasted Americans that they were supporting international terrorism in Chechnya. And why State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, on a trip to Ukraine, stunned Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski by sincerely insisting that violations of election law were also par for the course in the United States.

At some point this situation could reach the heights of absurdity. At the Bratislava summit on Feb. 24, Bush could listen to another story about a cross and tell the world how he looked into his buddy Putin's eyes. And the next day Russia will suffer a terrorist attack, or tanks will be sent in to disperse crowds of angry pensioners, and Putin will announce that they weren't pensioners at all, but CIA agents.

In the United States they'll start asking the question: Who lost Russia? Unlike Bush, the American press has never received any favors or concessions from Putin, and it tends to view him in a far more negative light than the White House does. The answer to this question in the American press will therefore be rather harsh, and not entirely in line with Bush's inauguration address.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.