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Georgia Conflict Casts Shadow Over US-Russian Relations


Diplomatic efforts are continuing in an effort to secure a cease-fire in Georgia and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the former Soviet Republic. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at what the current conflict in Georgia does to relations between Washington and Moscow.

Analysts say relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated over the last few years. Some of the reasons included Moscow's more assertive foreign policy, its opposition to U.S. efforts to place a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe and its strong objection to Washington's support of Ukraine and Georgia to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - or NATO.

But experts say Moscow's recent massive military response in Georgia to Tbilisi's abortive attempt to take control of the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, has cast an even greater shadow on U.S. - Russian relations.

"It probably makes them as serious and as bad as they've been since the Cold War ended, since the early [Mikhail] Gorbachev days," said Marshall Goldman with Harvard University.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said if Russia does not step back from its aggressive posture and actions in Georgia, the U.S. - Russian relationship could be adversely affected for years to come.

Bob Legvold from Columbia University, says over the years, the United States has tried to engage Russia constructively in such areas as nuclear weapons control, climate change and fighting global terrorism.

"Now that kind of engagement, that kind of strategic dialogue becomes far more difficult, because political sentiment in the United States and in Europe has again seen Russia as a fundamental problem, even potentially a threat and an adversary and needs to be treated as such," he said.

During a White House appearance Friday, President George Bush warned Russia that bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century. He also said he hopes Russia's leaders realize a future of cooperation and peace would benefit all parties.

"A contentious relationship with Russia is not in America's interest," said President Bush. "And a contentious relationship with America is not in Russia's interest."

Ronald Suny from the University of Chicago, says in the final analysis, cooperation between Washington and Moscow is vital to peace and stability in the international arena.

"We need Russia in a number of different areas: in Balkan policy, in our relations with Iran and trying to prevent the development of nuclear power in Iran," he said. "So we don't want to jeopardize that relationship. And yet by encouraging Georgia, particularly by promoting Georgia's entry into NATO, we have seriously antagonized the Russians - and now we don't have that many cards to play. Basically, the ball is in Russia's court."

Analysts agree that the most pressing problem now is to enforce a ceasfire and bring about the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. Only then could serious discussions about the status of breakaway regions in Georgia be addressed.

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