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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Inept Policy Has Made Bush Powerless

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The upcoming meeting in Bratislava on Thursday between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush will perhaps be the most useless summit in the history of U.S.-Russia interactions since the collapse of the Soviet Union. One side, Russia, no longer cares what the other has to say, while the other, the United States, has lost whatever leverage it once had in Russian politics, both domestic and international. This was the outcome of the U.S. policy orchestrated by the White House and its National Security Council, which until recently was led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This policy, though presumed to be pragmatic, has proven to be extremely ill-conceived.

Domestically, Russia is no longer dependent on the United States' financial help. Booming oil and gas prices allowed Russia to pay off its $3.3 billion debt to the IMF earlier this month. Putin has ordered Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to pay back a huge hunk of the nation's $46 billion debt to the Paris Club ahead of schedule. Clearly, Putin values his freedom to maneuver above all else.

Condoleezza Rice's recent sermons about the United States' desire to spread democracy around the world, which she repeated time and again during her European tour as the new secretary of state, have fallen on deaf ears in Russia. And it's no wonder why: Since Bush came to office in 2000, the White House has developed a new approach toward Russia and has dealt with whomever would deliver whatever it was after, even if they happened to be politically questionable. The Russian side could gain the most from this policy by turning American pragmatism into Russian cynicism. It used those years of White House lip service to castrate democratic institutions and to build its muscle.

Internationally, Russia has clearly chosen to make alliances with countries regarded as the United States' competitors at best and enemies at the very worst, a choice very much against Russian national interests.

Regardless of the much-discussed clash of civilizations and the threat that China might pose to Russia in the long run, the Kremlin is further developing its close ties with the superpower to the east, which are based on Chinese lust for Russia's energy resources. Russia longs to have an ally that would allow it to present a challenge to the United States and Europe.

The same is true in the Middle East. The recent Kremlin decision to excuse more than two thirds of Syria's debt and provide missiles to a country on the U.S. list of terrorist sponsors sent a clear signal to the United States right before the summit in Bratislava. The move sparked an uproar in Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly stated that he asked the Kremlin to refrain from such a deal, as the missiles may end up in the hands of terrorists. Yet Putin chose to disregard Sharon's appeal, making it clear that he is eager to regain the role the Soviet Union once had in the Middle East. Since the leading role in Israel and Iraq has been appropriated by the United States, Russia will play on the other side with Syria and Iran, making yet another proxy war at least theoretically plausible.

Thus, all Bush can do to bargain at the summit will be to beg Putin not to send missiles to Syria and to warn him about the danger of supplying weapons to China. But what else can Bush do? Threaten Russia's expulsion from the G8? For one, Europe, which is highly dependent on energy from Russia, won't go for such a move. And even if Putin wants to share the table with the other world leaders, his entourage back home doesn't. Block Russia's entry into the WTO? Many in Kremlin are against it anyway. Stop foreign investment? The less foreign participation in the economy, the more power goes to the siloviki. Yet one thing is crystal clear: The White House's inept policy toward Russia has ended in disaster. And Russia suffers first from this mess. So much for pragmatism.

Yevgenia Albats is a professor of political science at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.