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Interview with Nikolai Zlobin, Center for Defense Information - 2003-05-15


The Russian relationship with Iran has become a troublesome point in relations with the U.S. VOA’s David Borgida talks with Nikolai Zlobin, Director of Russian and Asian Programs at the Center for Defense Information about developments between the U.S. and Russia.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, Nikolai Zlobin, Director of Russian and Asian Programs at the Center for Defense Information. Mr. Zlobin, thanks for joining us.

Let's talk a bit about Russia. Russia wants to have a relationship with Iran. Describe that for us.

MR. ZLOBIN
Well, Russia has a tremendous economic interest in Iran, and a big part of this interest in Iran is based on Russian involvement in the Iranian nuclear program. Russia is building a power station in Iran, and this has become a huge conflict of interest between the United States and Russia because the United States believes this nuclear program which Russia is involved in will lead to the ability of Iran to build nuclear arms. And the United States has pressured Russia very hard to stop this cooperation with Iran, and Russia so far is not willing to do it.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk about the overall U.S.-Russian relationship. Secretary Powell was just in Moscow, as we noted. There are some troublesome points in this relationship, Iraq and sanctions and Iran, and other issues. How would you characterize the relationship and the relative success of Secretary Powell on this mission?

MR. ZLOBIN
It's not really relative.

MR. BORGIDA
What is it?

MR. ZLOBIN
I would say that we are at the lowest point in our relations for the last decade, in my opinion.

MR. BORGIDA
Really, the lowest point in relations in 10 years?

MR. ZLOBIN
I think so, yes. I think on Iraq, from both sides, Moscow and Washington, their inability to read each other's positions, to understand each other, is astonishing. And I think Iraq became a kind of magnifying glass through which you can see tremendous disagreements we have on very fundamental issues like the new world order, nonproliferation, international security and stability. It's not just that Iraq became maybe a tactical issue, but behind it is a very serious disagreement on the way our two countries see the world. This is what it's about, and Iraq just became a tactical disagreement, and there is much more behind it.

MR. BORGIDA
Talk to us a bit about the personality issue. President Bush and President Putin, there was a point at which, I believe, the President of the United States said that he could believe Mr. Putin early on, and they seemed to have struck up a personal relationship. That was certainly [the case] that former President Bill Clinton felt strongly about visiting other world leaders. He wanted a personal relationship. Does this mean, in your view that that relationship has failed or is deteriorating?

MR. ZLOBIN
I think both. First of all, this relation, in particular the Bush and Putin relation has failed. And second of all, it's one more time we see how the concept of good relations between two presidents is like the precondition for good relations between two countries [has] failed. It's not a condition, if two presidents like each other, it doesn't mean that our country can have good, reliable and trustworthy relations. Because in the Russian and American case, not only we see that the two presidents kind of did like each other in the beginning, but if you go deeper, society to society, military to military, the economy, business-to-business relations, it was empty. There was nothing. It was a vacuum.

And when there is a conflict, and I think on the Russian side at least, Putin did believe that he could influence the White House at least a little bit, and he learned in the last month that he cannot. And I think President Bush did believe that he can influence his friend Vladimir in the Kremlin, and again he did not. So, they did misread each other's intentions.

Now, I think we not only don't have the fundamentals of Russian-American relations settled after the end of the Cold War, now I don't think we have good personal relations, and we won't have good personal relations between the two presidents anymore.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, that's not a very optimistic note to end our discussion with, Mr. Zlobin, but thanks nonetheless for your views.

MR. ZLOBIN
Thank you for having me.

MR. BORGIDA
Nikolai Zlobin, Director of Russian and Asian Programs at the Center for Defense Information, thanks for joining us.

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