President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for the last time as chiefs of state at the Russian resort city of Sochi on the Black Sea, following last week’s NATO Summit in Bucharest.
Although the personal relationship between President Bush and President Putin remains good, their meeting in Sochi produced no tangible results, according to Igor Zevelev, Washington bureau chief of RIA Novesti, Russian News and Information Agency. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Zevelev says the missile defense issue remains a major problem in the U.S.-Russian relationship. But he suggests that the two leaders have “agreed to disagree” on the subject. Mr. Zevelev notes that President Putin suggested creating a “global” anti-missile shield as a way of resolving the problem.
But Tomasz Zalewski of the Polish Press Agency says he finds Mr. Putin’s suggestion of creating a global anti-missile shield perplexing. Mr. Zalewski says the Russian president seemed to suggest a “common project” – that is, a missile system built jointly and controlled by the United States, NATO, and Russia. NATO nonetheless has declared its support for an anti-missile in Europe, Mr. Zalewski observes.
True enough, says Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, but the German public is utterly convinced that an anti-missile shield is not only “unnecessary” but also “destabilizing.” It is furthermore a point of contention with Germany’s Czech and Polish neighbors who mostly diverge from their governments’ official position. Mr. Rueb suggests that it may represent a “face-saving compromise” for President Bush, who was unable to get a firm NATO commitment to expand the alliance to Ukraine and Georgia.
According to Igor Zevelev, the issue of NATO expansion eastward has “poisoned” the U.S.-Russian relationship. From a Polish perspective, Tomasz Zalewski says, Warsaw is not happy about these debates between Washington and Moscow, including the one over the anti-missile shield. In fact, he says, Poland does not view Iran – against which the shield would be intended to offer protection – as an existential threat to itself. He also notes that Poland has diplomatic relations with Iran as well as some economic interests. Besides, he adds, “nobody believes” that Iran would attack the United States or Europe with its missiles. According to Mr. Zalewski, even an attack on Israel is “not likely.” So Poland tends to view the threat as “exaggerated.”
In contrast, Igor Zevelev says, Russia is quite concerned about the implications of NATO enlargement – that is, the movement of what it regards as primarily a military alliance to its borders – with little prospect of Russia’s ever becoming a member of that alliance.
Although U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated in recent years, Mr. Zevelev notes, its bilateral relations with individual European countries, such as Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, have improved. Matthias Rueb says the so-called “new” European countries, like Poland and the Czech Republic, are very sensitive to being pressured by Russia. But, he adds, Germany is trying to keep an “equal distance” from both Washington and Moscow.
Mr. Rueb also notes that there is a history of a close personal relationship between the German chancellors and the post-Soviet Russian presidents. And he predicts that, when Dmitri Medvedev is sworn in as Russian president next month, relations between him and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also be good. What is less clear is the kind of relationship President Bush will be able to forge with his Russian counterpart. But in Sochi, the two men met for the first time, and Mr. Bush remarked that Mr. Medvedev seemed “forthright.”
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