| MOSCOW -- Russia and the U.S. in recent weeks have succeeded in patching up
the public rifts left after the war in Iraq. But as the two presidents meet
in St. Petersburg this weekend for the first time since the war, there's
little sign they will be able to get the strategic partnership, stalled by
the war, back into high gear soon.
"On the rhetorical level, things have quieted down," says Alexei Arbatov,
deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's committee on defense and a
the liberal Yabloko party. "But [the conflict over Iraq] has done very
The debate over the war revealed deep rifts within this country's
foreign-policy leadership, leading to shifts in Russian policy over the
past year that
often surprised Washington. "There's a rather fierce struggle going on
Russia," says Sergei Karaganov, a scholar and Kremlin adviser, between those
advocating closer ties to the U.S. and traditionalists in the foreign and
elite raised on decades of suspicion of the U.S.
Compounding the wounds from the Iraq debate is Russia's electoral calendar.
Russian officials have already warned Washington that parliamentary
at the end of this year mean Mr. Putin can't appear too pro-American in the
coming months for fear of undermining support for pro-government parties and
bolstering hardline communist factions. Helping out on the issues now high
Washington's agenda, such as curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, will be
particularly hard for Moscow, which has been a longtime supporter of Iran's
Of course, Mr. Putin ignored a great deal of domestic opposition when he
lined up behind the U.S. war on terror in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks, standing aside as the U.S. military moved into Russia's
traditional sphere of influence in Central Asia, stepping up intelligence
cooperation and dropping opposition to NATO's expansion into countries once
in the Soviet bloc.
That dramatic shift won Mr. Putin Washington's gratitude, which came in the
form of support on a range of economic and regional issues. Particularly
important to the Kremlin was Washington's help in Russia's battle with
But in traditional foreign-policy areas like arms control, Mr. Putin's
pro-U.S. shift didn't seem to be paying dividends. For Mr. Putin and the
team that supported the approach, the primary motivation was pragmatic --
diminished power meant that it would get further in the world working with
the U.S. rather than against it.
Mr. Putin's efforts to balance the new approach without alienating opponents
within the government became increasingly difficult as the debate over war
Iraq became polarized. Fierce French and German opposition to the war left
little room for Moscow to take a more moderate position without seeming
Washington than its traditional allies. Kremlin moderates assured Washington
officials that Moscow would make sure its opposition didn't get too
enthusiastic, but other factions in Russia seemed to gain the upper hand as
threatened to block any move to war.
Tensions boiled over as the war began, with Russian officials blasting
Washington and the state media focusing prominently on civilian casualties
But as the anti-American feeling in Moscow spiraled, it quickly became clear
to the Kremlin that the attempt to co-opt the opposition's main issue had
strengthened the hardliners politically. Mr. Putin and his team quickly
to calm the situation, and Russia's state media rapidly shifted their tone.
"It was a mistake on the part of the leadership to make the issue a domestic
one," says Mr. Karaganov.
In recent weeks, Russia has moved to reassure Washington that it wants
relations, taking steps toward resolving a number of lower-profile but still
thorny issues, like Russian restrictions on U.S. poultry exports. Moscow
has signaled it's open to cooperation on missile-defense programs, a major
priority for the Bush administration.
U.S. officials say the Kremlin also seems to be moving slightly closer to
Washington's alarmed view of Iran's nuclear ambitions as evidence has
Iran is working on weapons as well as civilian nuclear programs. But Moscow
so far has taken only limited steps to put pressure on Iran, although an
million (EUR 673.7 million) Russian reactor project there gives the Russians
Russian officials insist the reactor program has nothing to do with any
weapons efforts in Iran, noting that the war in Iraq has added to Iran's
The Kremlin also has been slow to use its leverage on North Korea, as the
U.S. has sought, according to diplomats.
For his part, Mr. Putin has raised concerns about rising lawlessness in
Afghanistan and the surging opium-poppy crop there, which are threats to
in Russia. Washington, meanwhile, still has failed to deliver on promises to
repeal Soviet-era trade restrictions that rankle in Moscow.
Mr. Arbatov, the legislator, says there's no chance Mr. Putin will be able
to pull off another pro-American policy shift as dramatic as the one he did
after Sept. 11. "If President Putin does that again, he'll sharply weaken
domestic position," he says.
U.S. officials are trying to keep expectations of Sunday's summit modest.
"Just getting the relationship back on track is message No. 1," says a
Situation Around Iraq