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Experts Do Not Foresee US Conflict with Russia

"U.S-Russian Relations: Is Conflict Inevitable?" That was the title of a day-long conference on Monday at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C. American and Russian experts analyzed the issue and VOA's Peter Fedynsky has this report on their discussion.

The short answer to the question posed at the Hudson Institute is no. Armed conflict between the United States and Russia is neither inevitable nor likely. Indeed, Mikhail Delyagin, an adviser to former Russian Prime Minister Evgeny Primakov, says a struggle with the West in general it is not in the interests of Russian elites. He spoke through an interpreter.

"Representatives of the ruling groups have their bank accounts in the West. And the second point is to understand that the Russian army does not exist and the Russian economy is extremely weak. Our Black Sea fleet is not even at the level of the forces of Bulgaria and Romania," he said.

One of the panel members at the Hudson Institute conference, Moscow political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, says Russia and the United States, dominant powers of the 20th Century, now need to cooperate with one another. "In the 21st century, both the West and Russia are in a much more vulnerable position. We are both challenged by Islamic radicalism, and then, maybe more long term and less obvious, but maybe more dangerous -- the potential challenge of a rising China," he said.

Russian journalist Evgeny Kiselyev agrees that the United States and Russia have common interests. He says that Russians who communicate with Americans or have been to the United States generally have a good impression of this country. However, Kiselyev says some members of Russia's ruling class continue to resent America.

Kisilyev says some Russian leaders suffer from an inferiority complex, and resent America's status as the only remaining superpower, despite its pluses and minuses.

At the Hudson conference, a German member of the European Parliament, Alexander Lambsdorff, zeroed in on American minuses. Lambsdorff says Europe's attitude to what it considers a misguided U.S. foreign policy allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to harshly criticize the United States during an international security conference in Munich last month.

"This traditional Soviet policy of trying to divide Europe from the United States is only possible because (of) the current American weakness in Europe. The amount of understanding that Putin received for this speech would have been unthinkable if we had an American administration that still had some support in Europe," he said.

But Lilya Shevstova of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, indicates that American relations with Europe are on qualitatively higher level than those between the United States and Russia. She says ties between the two countries can improve substantially, if the Russian ruling class raises its level of international trust. To do this, Shevtsova says, the country's elite must avoid narrow interests that come at the expense of individual rights. The Carnegie Center analyst also encourages the United States to devote more attention to what she says are Russia's dynamic social forces, such as young people, the intelligentsia, and businesspeople.

Shevtsova says economic cooperation is a powerful way to help integrate Russia into the Western community of nations. She also urges the United States and the West to encourage democracy in Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia, because in her view, the success of those countries can serve as an example that Russia too can become a successful democracy.