As war looms in the Middle East, and as the
United States and its allies ready their assembled firepower,
the "strategic partnership" between Russia and the United
States has somewhat soured.
The United States'
insistence on using military force and Russia's refusal to
rule out using its Security Council veto have caused harsh
things to be said on both sides. But does this really mean a
pullback from the increasingly warm bilateral relations we
have seen since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? We think not.
The United States seems to have expected Russia to
back down at the last minute. In assuming this, it
overestimated its own importance and the leverage it had on
its "partner" in the "war on terrorism" and miscalculated.
Now, with the United States threatening Russia with
economic reprisals, the Kremlin is saying that the war may
damage the international coalition against terrorism - in
which Russia plays a pivotal role. Russia's proximity to the
Central Asian former Soviet Republics, as well as its
extensive intelligence data on Islamist radical groups from
Chechnya to Pakistan, make it an invaluable partner for the
United States and other nations that are actively seeking to
The United States and Russia
certainly may not see eye to eye on the Iraq issue, but there
remain large areas of agreement and common strategic and
tactical interests, and co-operation must continue unhindered.
The fallout over the current disagreement, despite the
heated words being tossed about at present, is likely to be
similar. Russia and the United States simply need each other
too much to let it seriously jeopardize bilateral ties.
Most important, of course, is coping with Islamist
radicalism, something that is probably more dangerous to
Russia than to the United States, given the former's
geographical position and large Muslim minority. Contemporary
terrorism is international in nature, and, as such, coping
with it requires an international, coordinated response.
Also, the United States wants to reduce its dependence
on Middle Eastern oil even after Iraq falls into line and
Saddam is ousted. Washington does not want to be at the mercy
of OPEC. Russia's oil majors want to penetrate into the
oil-hungry U.S. economy and hope as well that American firms
will be willing to invest in their ventures. These interests
are vital, and the Russian government cannot afford to
jeopardize this aspect of the partnership.
is economic cooperation in other ways. Foreign direct
investment in Russia is still paltry, and closer integration
could help to change that - and in more sectors than just the
natural-resource-export industry. U.S. help could also
facilitate Russian accession to the World Trade Organization
and help it apply leverage against stringent EU demands the
Russian economy may not be able to meet.
there is the issue of China. As this newspaper has pointed out
in the past, a rising China bodes ill for both Russia and the
United States. Moreover, the North Korean threat is immediate
not only for South Korea and Japan but also for Russia simply
because of geographical proximity - and is of course a concern
for the United States as well.
In short, the leaders
of both countries must look ahead and not lose the wider
perspective of the world we live in. The current spat should
remain just that - a disagreement - and not hurt the longer
term objectives that are common to both countries. Both sides
have too much to lose to let their bilateral relationship
become seriously threatened.