| MOSCOW — The budding friendship between President
Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin is being tested by the
war in Iraq, but political leaders here doubt the rupture will be
Despite a diplomatic stalemate at the U.N. Security Council last
month and a high-profile exchange of accusations in recent days,
several Russian politicians said they see signs that both countries
are working to limit the damage.
The relationship, forged at a congenial Texas summit in November
2001, reached a low point last week when the Bush administration
accused Russia of selling Baghdad defense hardware — including
electronic jamming equipment, antitank missiles and night-vision
goggles — that could be used against American soldiers.
Russia, in return, has issued increasingly strong condemnations
of the Iraq war. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last week mocked
Mr. Bush's pledge that the day of liberation for the Iraqi people
was coming, and said the war threatened international stability.
Russia also has postponed parliamentary action on an arms-control
treaty with the United States, protested a U.S. spy plane's flight
over Georgia and accused Washington of being party to questionable
deals with rogue states.
Even so, Russians believe the chill in relations is no more than
a temporary setback.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a prominent Kremlin-linked political lobbyist,
has described the rift as a "localized" deterioration
in the relationship.
Russia's most authoritative reform politician, said over the weekend
that the Bush-Putin friendship would not be shaken.
"The war in Iraq will not be the transition to a cold war
between Russia and the USA., nor will it ruin the Russian-American
strategic relations. This is not in our interests," he told
Indeed, the Russian parliament still is expected to ratify the
Moscow Treaty — which will allow both sides to slash nuclear
stockpiles by two-thirds — if only because Russia needs
to make the cuts for economic reasons.
The United States also appears eager to limit the damage. The
political leaders noted that Washington had not described the
suspected sales of defense equipment as official policy, but rather
accused individual firms of evading Russian export controls.
The United States said one Russian company sold at least a half-dozen
devices designed to confound global positioning system gear used
in planes and bombs.
Two other companies are accused of providing Iraq with several
thousand night-vision goggles — devices that give U.S. forces
a huge advantage in nighttime combat. They also sold a "militarily
significant quantity" of antitank guided missiles, U.S. officials
Some Russian politicians said the American charges were intended
simply to distract public attention from setbacks in the war.
They also say the United States and its allies have sold military
equipment to questionable regimes.
The United States "is always criticizing us, but its close
economic partners supply Iran with sensitive technology,"
Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said last week.
The downturn in relations began in February when Russia, together
with France and Germany, opposed a U.S.-backed resolution at the
U.N. Security Council that would have authorized the invasion
Despite a general understanding that Mr. Putin hopes to remain
friendly with Mr. Bush, Russian officials have come out with a
series of harsh public criticisms of the war.
Mr. Ivanov, in particular, has issued scathing daily critiques
of the war, apparently on Mr. Putin's orders. But these are seen
as at least partly designed to appease Russian voters —
who overwhelmingly oppose the war — and the powerful military-security
establishment that supports Mr. Putin.
- US Relations