By Wang Yusheng
US President George W. Bush will meet Russian President Vladimir
Putin at Kennebunkport's Village Green on Sunday.
It will be the latest in a series of meetings between senior US
and Russian government officials, which has been ongoing since
Following visits to Moscow by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the two countries' defense and
foreign ministers may also meet this autumn - the so-called 2+2
format - with their national security advisers likely to sit in as
Moreover, the Russian government has stated repeatedly it has no
intention to fight a "new Cold War" with the US and emphasized the
need for the two nations to create a new "pattern of equal
Meanwhile, Gates and Rice reiterated more than once that
US-Russia relations do not suggest a "new Cold War", although
bilateral ties are at a complicated and difficult juncture. Rice
went so far as to say the US is trying its best to "maintain a
reciprocal relationship" with Russia.
All this constitutes the positive side of the US-Russia ties. Or
it can also be seen as the highlight. If both sides are serious and
match their words with moves, it will no doubt help improve
bilateral relations and benefit the greater environment of world
peace and development.
Noteworthy, however, is that Assistant Secretary of State for
European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said recently: "We do
not want a weak Russia. But a strong Russia must be strong in 21st
century, not 19th century terms."
As positive, mild and reasonable as they sound, these words come
with a but that is hard to ignore: It should be a Russia of the
21st century instead of the one back in the Russian Empire era or
the Soviet era.
The first half of this premise is undoubtedly correct; to a
certain extent, President Putin seems to have answered this
question already. When commenting on some Russians' nostalgic
longings, Putin once mused: "Those who do not lament the
disintegration of the Soviet Union must have lost their conscience;
those who want to go back to old Soviet Union must have lost their
Profound and thought-provoking words, indeed.
Now there is a question: What exactly is a Russia of the 21st
Obviously, in America's dictionary, the most important
definition is that, first of all, the 21st must be a singularly
dominant American century, an era of world peace under US rule,
where Russia is allowed to be strong but only plays a supporting
role and must forget about standing head to head with the US.
Second, America's security is absolute; it can spread its safety
net right outside Russia's front door or in its backyard and the
latter has no veto power over it.
Third, the US can plant its "potatoes of democracy" anywhere it
wants, including Russia's neighbors and even inside Russia and make
sure they take root and flourish. Russia's so-called "sovereign
democracy" is backing away from democracy.
Russia is a rising major power and a quite confident one at
In Russia's dictionary a Russia of the 21st century apparently
has multiple definitions, of which the most important is, first of
all, it should be a powerful and confident Russia that is getting
stronger every day; and it should be one of the key driving forces
behind positive changes in the world. It can and needs to cooperate
with the US, but will not follow US orders like a lowly
Second, Russia will keep going along the road of sovereign
democracy and will not recognize nor accept America's potatoes of
democracy. It hates to see the US planting those potatoes of
democracy everywhere, especially in its neighbors' lands.
Third, Russia must protect its nuclear security interests
militarily or geopolitically speaking. And it is extremely
difficult for Moscow to allow the US to spread its safety net
outside Russia's front door.
It is not hard at all to see in these two different dictionaries
that the Russia America wants is not what Russia has in mind, nor
is it realistic. And the Russia of the 21st century that Russia
wants to be is not what the US is looking forward to and is in fact
unacceptable to Washington. This is actually the root cause of
recent strategic scratches and verbal fire exchanges between the
It is a good thing for the two nations to maintain high-level
dialogue, which can help improve bilateral ties. However, if they
do not try hard enough to find a "dictionary" acceptable to both
sides, such strategic scratches or bumper benders are unlikely to
rule out and even become more frequent and serious in nature.
The author is a Beijing-based researcher on international
(China Daily June 28, 2007)