Russia-US Relations: Crisis? What Crisis?

President George Bush’s visit to Moscow and St Petersburg this month comes at an uncertain time in Russia-US relations. The Iraq crisis has interrupted the apparently smooth rapprochement between the former Cold War adversaries after September 11 2001, while talk of like-mindedness has given way to rhetoric that sometimes recalls past animosities. The summit also takes place when many fundamental issues and principles of international relations are in flux. It is no longer meaningful to speak about a unitary ‘west’, while the Bush doctrine of preemptive action raises the spectre of the US acting in an increasingly unilateral and dominant fashion.

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The complex bilateral and international context has enlarged and sharpened what would have been a comprehensive summit agenda in any event. Two sets of issues are likely to dominate. The first concerns the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, with the purported link to international terrorism and the Iraq war. This goes to the heart of the bilateral relationship and will greatly influence its atmospherics over the coming months.

Bush will increase the pressure on Moscow to end, or at least reduce, its assistance to Iran’s nuclear energy programme, while President Vladimir Putin will seek assurances that after Iraq the US will refrain from weapons of mass destruction-related preemptive action in Iran, Syria and North Korea. Putin will reiterate that Washington should engage in direct dialogue with Pyongyang.

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