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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Applying Some Pressure Without Getting Pushy

All that remains of Shamil Basayev are his head and pieces of his prosthetic leg. Regardless of whether the blast that killed the Chechen separatist leader resulted from his own carelessness or Moscow's cunning, his death could not have come at a better time for President Vladimir Putin.

With Basayev's death, Putin is having a banner week. He also will be hosting the G8 summit in St. Petersburg starting Saturday, and Russian and U.S. trade negotiators will try before then to remove the remaining obstacles to Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.

After an initial post-Soviet honeymoon, the West has largely soured on Russia, and the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has notably soured on Putin, judging from the recent criticisms leveled by Vice President Dick Cheney and others.

Beyond Russia's struggles in the Caucasus, Putin has reason to feel confident. Aided by high oil prices, Russia's economy has stabilized. Moscow also has started reasserting itself in relations with the other former-Soviet republics, and Putin has, somewhat autocratically, reasserted his government's control over the private sector and regional governments.

The United States and its allies need to engage Putin as he is, not as they would have wanted him to be. Too often, policy toward Moscow has been driven by wishful thinking. In the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, too many in Washington expected Russia to turn into a docile acolyte of the West -- another Hungary or Czech Republic. Just as that hope was unrealistic then, so it would be foolish now to allow an exaggerated sense of disappointment to drive relations.

Putin has autocratic tendencies -- his attacks on media freedoms and the virtual nationalization Yukos come to mind -- that clearly should not be sugarcoated. But Moscow should also not be judged as if it were a potential member of the Atlantic alliance that went astray. A post-communist Russia was always going to need to play an independent role in global affairs. The Bush administration needs to accept this, while working with Putin on a range of vital issues, such as nuclear nonproliferation and finding methods of dealing with Iran and North Korea.

Russia may not be the sterling democracy or reliable friend some had hoped it would become in the aftermath of the Cold War. But neither is it the "evil empire" it once was. The West needs to prod Putin into seeing areas of common interest, while treating Russia as an important, independent power.

This comment was published as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.