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The Push and Pull of US-Russian Relations
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By Wang Yusheng


At the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy last Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized US foreign policy and unilateralism. He warned that "almost uncontained use of military force" was extremely dangerous and unacceptable.


He said more countries would be stimulated to develop weapons of mass destruction because no one felt secure.


Furthermore, Putin railed against US plans to build anti-missile defenses in eastern Europe and the eastward expansion of NATO.


Putin's speech seemed to throw a bomb into US-Russian relations. Some US politicians and media considered it Russia's "most provocative" "Cold-War tone" attack, even making a fuss over a possible second Cold War. Such reaction was obviously a pro-US impulse of media and politicians.


In contrast, US President George W. Bush and other officials played down the speech.


US Defense Secretary Robert Gates deflected Putin's stinging broadside, emphasizing that Russia and the United States "should establish partnerships" to deal with global challenges including terrorism.


Gates' rebuttal


Gates declared "one Cold War was quite enough", indicating that the United States had no Cold War intentions and neither should Russia.


Since the end of Cold War, the US government is accustomed to handling US-Russian bilateral relations with "two hands vs two hands" meaning both sides are gambling on their relations.


Bush and Putin both claim they've been friends for years. They never forget to speak well of each other.


Back in June 2001, Bush sang Putin's praises when they met for the first time in Slovenia. Bush said he was "able to get a sense of his soul" and described Putin as "a man deeply committed to his country."


Swapping praise, Putin confirmed the establishment of a good personal relationship with Bush, extolling Bush as a lettered, straight-out and experienced man.


At the press conference two days ago, Bush said, "I think the person who I was referring to in 2001 is the same strong-willed person."


While slamming the US as a "threat to peace", Putin also remembered to compliment Bush, saying "Bush is an honest man and a friend". Putin has made similar remarks many times before, learning from his US counterpart.


In fact, both Bush and Putin are aware that it is very hard to reconcile the two countries' core interests and orientation.


However, the two powers need to cooperate on significant international security issues.


Putin in his speech at the Munich security conference pointed out that "Russia and the US are objectively and equally interested in strengthening the regime of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their deployment.


Shared concerns


"It is precisely our countries, with leading nuclear and missile capabilities, that must act as leaders in developing new, stricter non-proliferation measures," Putin said.


On Wednesday, Bush said that there is a lot that he and Putin can work on together, for instance, on nuclear issues involving Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and on their shared concerns over proliferation of technologies that could cause worldwide harm.


"In other words, where we have common interests, and we work together on those common interests, we can accomplish important things for the security of our own people, as well as the security of the world," Bush said.


Therefore, "two hands vs two hands" is logical.


It was US aggressiveness that led to Putin's strong attack on US foreign policy. From the Color Revolution in former Soviet republics to US Vice-President Dick Cheney's "democracy potatoes", from establishing a US anti-missile system at the gates of Russia to citing Russia's potential threat, the events greatly impacted Russia's strategic space and interests.


Russia cannot be expected to remain silent. "Two hands vs two hands", in the words of some US politicians, continues to describe the two countries' ongoing gambles with their relationship. Not even asking who would win, we just hope a new Cold War will never occur.


(The author is a senior diplomat and a Beijing-based researcher in international relations)


(China Daily February 16, 2007)


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