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Russia's Left-Wing Politicians Retreat From Their Support of U.S.-Led War

The Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2002


NEW YORK -- Russian liberals are sounding alarms over what they call the heavy-handedness of Washington's war on terrorism. But for now, little discontent appears to be emanating from the Kremlin, which instead has stuck to stressing the benefits of a new partnership with a former Cold War foe that will reshape arms-control rules and promote Russia's interests abroad.

The development marks a strange twist in Russia's domestic politics. Traditionally it has been the Kremlin that has been an aggressive guardian of Russia's status as a world power, while the opposition liberals have argued for closer ties with the West.

At a meeting of world economic leaders in New York this week, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov played down any disagreements between Moscow and Washington. He insisted the newfound coalition is running smoothly. "People realize that we have common values, and that there is room for cooperation," " said Mr. Kasyanov. Because of Russia's own war with separatists in Chechnya, Mr. Kasyanov said, "Russia understands better than any other nation what has happened in America."

Healthy Incentive

The U.S. is promising Russia a host of advantages in return for its support of the U.S.-led coalition against terror. The Bush administration said it will scrap the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a piece of Soviet-era legislation that ties Russia's trade status to its policy on Jewish emigration. There is also talk of speeding Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, and getting Russia's economy recognized as a free market.

But progress hasn't been all that speedy. The U.S. Congress hasn't yet moved to repeal the Jackson-Vanik legislation, and the U.S. may prove powerless to persuade other nations to speed Russia's entrance into the WTO.

There are rumblings of discontent, meanwhile, over U.S. behavior on the arms-control front. Despite strong opposition from Russia , Mr. Bush announced that the U.S. was pulling out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the cornerstone pact of the Cold War. Then, Washington announced that it planned to store -- not destroy -- some nuclear warheads. Those warheads are part of the two-thirds of the U.S. nuclear stockpile that President George W. Bush promised Vladimir Putin in November that he would get rid of. Mr. Putin had replied that Russia would respond with similar cuts.

The decision to store rather than destroy the warheads is riling even the most liberal of Russian politicians. "That means that Russia is the enemy," liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky said at a dinner dedicated to the development of Russia . He said that Mr. Putin had taken a political risk by strongly supporting the U.S. war on terrorism, but that the payoff has so far been slim. "Russia did a lot and got practically nothing in return," said State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov.

For now, Washington is working harder to allay hurt feelings in the Kremlin, rather than among Russia's dissident politicians. Mr. Kasyanov heads to Washington Tuesday for a meeting with Mr. Bush. At the economic conference in New York, Mr. Kasyanov said he believes the U.S. will repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment and make a decision on Russia's market status soon.

Patient Approach

"I'd like to believe, and there is reason to believe" that these changes will happen this year, Mr. Kasyanov said. "One will come soon, the other later."

Sergei Karaganov of the Russia-based Institute of Europe told the forum that Mr. Putin knew well in advance the domestic political risks of supporting the U.S. war on terrorism. For that reason, he said, the Kremlin is attempting to contain any disagreements it has with Washington, and choreograph the public dialog with regard to them when they become known. When the U.S. announced it would like to amend or scrap the ABM treaty last year, the Kremlin encouraged Washington to do the latter to get the matter over with, he said. "Negotiations would have been a protracted crisis," he said. "Now we have clean hands."

Moreover, Mr. Karaganov said, the Kremlin is already enjoying some benefits of the U.S. war on terrorism. The U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan is destroying rebel bases that Moscow says were used to train rebels in the breakaway region of Chechnya. "The U.S. is already fighting for Russian interests abroad," said Mr. Karaganov. Mr. Putin, he says, is a lot happier with U.S. policy than oppositionists: "Putin is a lot less concerned about Russia-U.S. problems right now than the writing and speaking public is."

See also:

Acts of Terror in the US

The Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2002

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