The last time we had a spy scandal-in April 1999-Washington's governing Class worked itself into a froth. The administration spoke gravely about the damage and threw dozens of prosecutors on the job. Congress announced investigations. The press ran front-page stories for weeks.
Sen. Arlen Specter summed up the conventional wisdom when he declared it to be "the grandest case of grand larceny in the history of the world on the espionage and the theft of vital American secrets." That was Wen and this is now.
The arrest of Wen Ho Lee, the American scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets to China, caused a national-security fright. (Lee was released last year after pleading guilty to one count of improperly handling classified information). And while there is interest in Robert Hanssen, the FBI's Russian agent, his story is mostly being reported as a human drama of greed and betrayal. What explains the difference in reaction to the two dramas?
Perhaps Lee had access to more lethal stuff. But Hanssen worked for the Soviets and then the Russians for more than 15 years. He came across extremely sensitive material about American counterintelligence. He may have given the Russians far more pertinent and useful information than Lee was accused of leaking to China. Russia is the problem from the past; China the fear of the future.
Perhaps it was because Lee is an Asian-American and Hanssen is white. But while his ethnicity certainly didn't help Lee, I don't think racism was behind the rage directed at him. Far more important was the country he was supposedly spying for. Russia is the problem from the past; China the fear of the future.
Tales of spying for Russia have an almost nostalgic air to them, bringing back memories of the cold war and John Le Carré. We know how that story ended. Having watched the Soviet Union's ignominious collapse and Russia's struggle to make it in the new world, it's hard to get scared by Moscow. Been there, done that.
China is another matter. It remains a closed, mysterious political system run by a powerful elite. Revealing little about itself, it allows us to conjure up images of an adversary who is 10 feet tall.
But the reality is that China has a nuclear arsenal of 450 missiles, all tightly controlled. Russia, on the other hand, has an arsenal of 30,000 nukes and enough material for another 70,000-all of it rusting and ready for sale, accidental launch or implosion. It should worry us a whole lot more.
Behind the exaggerated fears about China lies an error that persists in our world view. We assume that the next threat America will face-like the last one-will come from a rising great power with ambitions to spread its global influence. Our next crisis, in this reading, will be a cold-war-style confrontation, except with China playing the role of the Soviet Union.
But the world has changed. In the next decade or two the United States will confront a world of stagnant or self-obsessed great powers like Japan and Germany, failed states like Indonesia and Pakistan and civil wars like those in the Balkans and Congo. Danger now comes not from areas of strength but weakness. The likely problem for the United States is a series of crises in which Russia plays the role of Austria-Hungary, a great power spiraling downward and spreading detritus as it crumbles.
The greatest immediate threat to American physical security remains that of Russia's "loose nukes." Russia is now a Third World country. Its per capita GDP (in purchasing-power terms) is equivalent to Guatemala's. And yet it has an immense nuclear arsenal that it cannot maintain or safeguard in an even remotely adequate manner. Many of it 5,000 tactical nuclear weapons do not have any locking devices on them to prevent unauthorized use. Local commanders could fire-or, far more likely, sell-these weapons without anybody in Moscow knowing, let alone approving. Massive stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium-the critical ingredient in a nuclear weapon-are literally lying around in poorly guarded facilities. A small chuck of this stuff could make Osama bin Laden's day.
Statesmen like Sam Nunn and scholars like Harvard's Graham Allison have made important suggestions on ways Washington could help Russia control and dispose of parts of this arsenal. But an even more vital part of the struggle against loose nukes is intelligence and counterintelligence. America's arsenal might deter President Putin from launching a nuclear strike. But deterrence won't stop the corrupt colonel in Siberia from selling an Iranian terrorist group a few missiles. In an odd sense, the spy-versus-spy game with Russia has become even more vital, because we now need knowledge and control over events that even the Russian government may not have knowledge or control of.
So far we have been lucky not to have faced worse fallout from the Soviet Union's collapse. But we're still in the early years of its decline. Most multinational empires died deaths that were slow, painful and bloody.
This is a tough case to make. Because nothing dire has happened as yet, it sounds like scaremongering. Potential catastrophes don't register anymore.
For Americans, the lesson of the 1990s seems to have been "It will all work out." If we go to war, only the bad guys die. If the stock market plunges, it will soon bounce back. If the savings rate plummets, foreigners will lend us more cash. The tune for our times is "Don't Worry, Be Happy," which the elder George Bush dubbed his campaign song. And look at him. Even though he lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, it all worked out. But maybe the rest of us will not be so lucky. return to menu
2. CIA Report Cites Continuing Weapons Proliferation
Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
The Washington File
26 February 2001
(for personal use only)
(Washington) -- Nations determined to maintain or expand their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile development programs have been significantly insulating them against interdiction and disruption, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report says.
Additionally, the CIA report said that many of the countries that have developed WMD and missile programs are rapidly trying to build indigenous production capabilities to make themselves less dependent on outside suppliers.
"Although these capabilities may not always be a good substitute for foreign imports -- particularly for more advanced technologies -- in many cases they may prove to be adequate," the semi-annual report said. "In addition, as their domestic capabilities grow, traditional recipients of WMD and missile technology could emerge as new suppliers of technology and expertise."
The unclassified CIA report, "Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions," is sent to Congress every six months. The current report, released February 23, covers the period from January 1 to June 30, 2000.
The current report analyzes WMD and missile technology acquisition by Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, India, Pakistan, and Egypt, and also examines the key suppliers Russia, North Korea, China and western nations.
"Some countries of proliferation concern are continuing efforts to develop indigenous designs for advanced conventional weapons and expand production capabilities, although most of these programs usually rely heavily on foreign technical assistance," the report said current trends suggest. "Many of these countries -- unable to obtain newer or more advanced arms -- are pursuing upgrade programs for existing inventories."
The CIA said it remains very concerned about Russian weapons proliferation behavior, as a key supplier, and monitoring "will remain a very high priority."
"Russian entities during the reporting period continued to supply a variety of ballistic missile-related goods and technical know-how to countries such as Iran, India, China, and Libya," the CIA said.
The reason for continued Russian proliferation stems, at least partly, from Moscow's need for "badly needed foreign exchange through exports" from the state-run defense and nuclear industries, which are also strapped for funds, the report said.
The CIA said that because Iran was able to obtain technology and materials from Russia, it accelerated Iranian development of the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM).
In addition Russia has remained a significant source of dual-use biotechnology, chemicals, production technology, and equipment for Iran. "Russia's biological and chemical expertise make it an attractive target for Iranians seeking technical information and training on biological warfare (BW) and chemical warfare-agent (CW) production processes," the report said.
North Korea continues to export significant ballistic missile-related equipment and missile components, materials, and technical expertise to countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa, the CIA said.
The report also said China has continued to provide substantial missile-related technical assistance to Pakistan. It has also provided assistance to Iran, North Korea and Libya, the report said.
Iran remains one of the most active countries seeking to acquire WMD and advanced conventional weapons technology from abroad to develop an indigenous capability to produce biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, the CIA said. It has sought the technology from Russia, China, North Korea, and Western Europe.
"Iran, a Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) party, already has manufactured and stockpiled several thousand tons of chemical weapons, including blister, blood, and choking agents, and the bombs and artillery shells for delivering them," the report said.
A container was impounded by customs officials at Yekaterinburg's main airport on Monday because it was emitting radiation well over the accepted safety level.
Vladimir Kondukov, a press spokes person for the Sverdlovsk regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, told The St. Petersburg Times in a telephone interview on Monday that the container, made of wood and weighing 145 kilograms, was taken by customs at Koltsovo airport - the largest airport in the Urals region - at 12:40 a.m. on Monday.
According to a spokesperson for Koltsovo airport, the container had arrived from the United States on a San-Francisco to Yekaterinburg cargo flight. The spokesperson said that the container, which was empty, was bound for the Energotechnical Research and Construction Institute (NIKIET) in the town of Zarechny, near Yekaterinburg and close to the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station, a BN-600 fast-breeder reactor.
The institute regularly exports various radioactive materials, said Kondukov. He said that NIKIET had sent some radioactive materials to a U.S. organization which had ordered them, but which had sent the container back without cleansing it of radiation.
According to a report on the news and information Web site lenta.ru, the container was emitting radiation over 1,000 times the accepted safety level.
Kondukov could not identify either the nature of the materials nor the U.S. organization to which they had been sent.
NIKIET officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
Airport officials said that representatives from NIKIET and Gosatomnadzor, the state nuclear regulatory body, were were invited to the airport to examine the container on Monday morning.
Customs officials at San Francisco International Airport would not comment on the situation on Monday. return to menu
C. Nonproliferation Policy and Implementation
1. Moscow Seen Admitting Proliferation Problems
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
February 26, 2001
(for personal use only)
An article in "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February said that President Putin has acknowledged that some Russian agencies are not doing what they need to do to prevent proliferation. The paper suggested that the Security Council meeting on that subject on 22 February represented "an act of atonement" with a promise to do better. Meanwhile, Russian officials on 23 February complained that the United States is applying a double standard against Russia by complaining about Russian exports of nuclear fuel to India and by restricting the export of super-fast, high-end computer technology, Russian agencies reported. return to menu
D. Russian Nuclear Power Industry
1. First Post-Soviet Nuclear Reactor Opened
St. Petersburg Times
February 27, 2001
(for personal use only)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Southern Russia - More than 20 years after its conception, Russia's first new nuclear power plant since the Soviet era has been launched by top officials who called it a breakthrough for the industry following years of opposition.
Operators Friday switched on the first reactor at the Rostov Nuclear Energy Station to minimal output and will gradually bring it to full power over the next several months.
Plant and government officials insist the reactor is Russia's safest and will provide jobs and much-needed electricity to the Rostov province and the surrounding North Caucasus region.
But environmental groups and many residents of the forested region nearby strongly oppose it, saying the plant was built too close to a major reservoir and in an area of high seismic activity.
Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov promised Friday that the plant would observe all necessary precautions. "The main thing is the safe operation of the plant," he said at the opening. Later, he promised electricity discounts and medical benefits to the 250,000 residents living within 30 kilometers of the plant.
The reactor had been almost complete when construction on all nuclear plants was frozen in 1990 on government orders, due to public protests prompted by the Chernobyl blast.
But amid increasing blackouts across Russia, prompted by deterioration at coal-powered electricity plants and chronic funding shortages, the government announced a drive to revive the nuclear energy industry. The Nuclear Power Ministry allocated funds in 1999 for completing the Rostov reactor and several other stalled projects.
"We will no longer allow such pauses," Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said at Friday's opening.
Opponents say the reactor was not properly maintained while construction was stalled, and also say its designers have ignored lessons of the 1986 explosion at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl plant, the world's worst nuclear accident.
With Friday's launch, Russia now possesses 10 nuclear plants that produce about 12 percent of the country's electricity. return to menu
E. Export Controls
1. Russia has complaints about U.S. failing to observe nuclear nonproliferation accords
February 23, 2001
(for personal use only)
Russia will respond "more aggressively" to U.S. claims in export control, a highly placed source in Russia's Security Council said.
Russia too, he said, has complaints about "U.S. firms helping nuclear have-nots in developing nuclear and missile programs."
At the same time, Moscow considers that the exaggeration by Americans of the affair of Russia's building a nuclear power station for Iran in Bushehr is a "clear instance of unscrupulous competition and a dual-standard approach," while the U.S. itself is prepared to build just a similar nuclear reactor for North Korea.
Russia, the Security Council source stressed, "monitors scrupulously, together with the security services, all U.S. claims and checks every fact most carefully…Not once has such information been confirmed. And the U.S. openly admits this…But it imposes sanctions instantly, and is too slow to do a reverse action. Meanwhile, Russian industrial facilities are losing profit and pay fines."
"In this area of tough competition of technologies expert inspection allows us to go over from making excuses to a more aggressive position," the source believes. "Combined with actions of increased responsibility, including those related to the criminal code, a mechanism of total control may be brought into play."
"Our business rivals," he said, "proceed this way, and are toughening punishment." A system of sanctions based on an ex-territorial principle, when national law in fact is placed above international law, the only such system in the world, operates in the U.S.
"Over the past decade Russia has lost traditional markets," the source stated. Therefore today "we must use our resources both by looking for new partners and by promoting cooperation with those with whom we maintain traditional ties... especially in such big areas a cooperation in the nuclear sphere." return to menu
F. Nuclear Waste
1. Controversial Nuke-Import Plan to Become Law
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
February 26, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW, Feb 26, 2001 -- (RFE/RL) Russia's controversial plan to lift its ban on importing spent nuclear fuel hit a minor stumbling block this week when legislators postponed the proposal's second reading in the Duma -- the country's lower house of parliament -- until next month.
Still, as RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports, many of the plan's opponents say it is only a matter of time before the Kremlin-sponsored proposal becomes law.
Russian legislators this week put off a decision on whether the country should open its borders to other countries' spent nuclear fuel. The second Duma reading of the controversial proposal, initially scheduled for yesterday, has been put off until mid-March.
The delay came at the request of the 11-member Duma Ecological Committee, who made the recommendation after a preliminary hearing on 19 February to sort through the hundreds of amendments to the plan proposed since its first successful reading in December.
The committee -- whose members hail almost exclusively from pro-government Duma factions -- recommended rejecting a pair of amendments that would place budgetary and legislative restrictions on the waste-import plan.
Igor Artemyev, a deputy with the liberal Yabloko faction, said the rejected amendments were "key" to providing the parliament a measure of control over the proposed import procedure:
"The 'nuclear lobby' (the Ecological Committee) in the Duma rejected an amendment to provide independent parliamentary control over the [import] contracts. Obviously, the nuclear lobby doesn't want any parliamentary control. The second amendment was a proposal by legislators to create a special budget fund by which it would be possible to see how, where, and through what accounts the money [earned from import contracts] is transferred -- whether it goes through the state coffers, and to what projects and programs."
The plan authored by the government with input from the Atomic Energy Ministry, proposes amending an article in Russia's existing law on environmental protection that bans the import of nuclear waste. The plan packages the proposed amendment with two additional bills outlining the conditions under which nuclear materials could be brought into the country for reprocessing or temporary storage.
The plan has been championed by Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, who claims the project could bring in as much as $20 billion -- money he says could be spent, in part, to build a new generation of Russian nuclear reactors and help bolster the safety conditions of those already in existence.
The plan's critics, however, argue that the country's poor nuclear safety record and aging facilities make the proposal a dangerous gamble for Russia.
A number of regional parliaments have protested the plan, with opposition registering especially high in Siberia, where the proposed waste imports would be stored and reprocessed. Many have questioned whether Russia has the resources and technology available to provide safe and reliable storage of nuclear waste for periods of up to 40 years, as the plan envisions.
Environmentalists have added that leaky transport containers and the poor condition of Russian railroads increase the risk of serious accidents during the long trip from Europe to Siberia. But a nationwide referendum on the issue was shot down last December when the Central Elections Commission declared invalid a portion of the more than 2.5 million signatures gathered.
The proposal is predicted to see a relatively smooth ride through the Duma, where the influential pro-government Unity faction holds more than 80 seats. Ecological Committee member Anatoly Greshnevikov -- one of the few members to openly criticize the proposal -- says the waste-import issue is an example of how the Kremlin's strong presence has effectively broken resistance in the parliament's lower chamber:
"It's all very sad. It's very bad that parliament has withdrawn from the control it should be using over such ecologically dangerous draft laws and deals. It's sad that the government is so actively insistent on earning these $20 billion. And since [the authorities] have the Unity faction and have talked other deputies into going along, there's no hope that the process can be stopped."
What some environmentalists and deputies find most disturbing about the plan is the Atomic Energy Ministry's apparent willingness to store the world's spent nuclear waste on a permanent basis. Greshnevikov explains:
"It's said that the temporary storage will last 40 years, but no one knows what will happen in 20, 30, 40 years. There is no guarantee in this law that the country -- for example, Thailand or Japan -- that brought the spent fuel in for reprocessing will then take it back out in 40 years..."
The Norwegian Bellona environmental association echoes similar concerns, reporting in their newsletter that Russia's tentative proposal to reprocess the imported fuel could be a violation of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, since it entails the extraction of depleted uranium that could then be used for military purposes. For that reason, Bellona says, Russia may only be able to attract customers in one way: by offering permanent disposal. return to menu
G. U.S. - Russian Relations
1. U.S. Agrees to Clinton-era Arms Talks With Russia
February 25, 2001
(for personal use only)
CAIRO, Feb 25, 2001 -- (Reuters) The United States on Saturday accepted a Russian request that arms control experts resume talks in the framework developed under Russian President Vladimir Putin and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
A senior U.S. official said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at their first meeting in Cairo that Russia liked the old framework for talks and wanted to know if the Bush administration would continue it.
"Powell said: 'Yes, good idea.' They agreed that our experts group...would meet again soon," the official added.
The group dealt with the full range of arms talks, including offensive weapons such as ballistic missiles, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and defensive systems such as the proposed U.S. missile defense, he said.
It would cover START talks on reducing strategic arms and talks on the U.S. request that Russia modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty to accommodate the missiles defense system it wants to build.
Powell and Ivanov did not set a date for resuming the talks and the Bush administration, which took office on January 20, has yet to decide what position it will take.
President George W. Bush has advocated deeper cuts than Clinton in the nuclear arsenals of the two former superpowers but his administration is also determined to build the missile defense system, despite opposition from Russia, China and even some of Washington's European allies.
The meeting in Cairo between Powell and Ivanov was the first between the former Cold War foes since the election of Bush, but a U.S. official said they were soon on first-name terms.
"They agreed to call each other Igor and Colin. They agreed to deal with issues in a frank and straightforward manner. They were looking to be constructive and to solve problems together," the U.S. official said.
Rival U.S. and Russian missile defense schemes had been expected to top the agenda at the long-awaited talks.
Russia made NATO a counterproposal last week but Powell told reporters on his plane that it did not seem to meet the security needs of the United States.
"My first reading of it is there isn't a lot there yet that we can get our teeth into. It really talks about a different kind of system, more oriented toward weapon systems that might provide theater defense," he said.
Theater defense is military jargon for protecting relatively small areas, especially military forces. The U.S. missile defense system would be designed to protect all the territory of the United States from long-range missiles fired by so-called "rogue states".
Powell brought up the conduct of Russian troops in the rebellious province of Chechnya and said there should be accountability -- a reference to allegations of human rights abuses against the civilian population, the U.S. official said.
He also brought up complaints that the Russian authorities have been harassing Media-Most as part of a crackdown on the independent media in Russia, the official said. Media-Most is owned by tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, now awaiting extradition hearings in Spain in a Russian fraud case which he says is politically motivated.
Both Sides Pleased
Ivanov, an urbane career diplomat, met Powell, a Vietnam veteran from New York's tough South Bronx neighborhood, in a Cairo hotel. Both said they were pleased with their encounter.
"I am...satisfied with our meeting. We had a very frank and constructive dialogue. We exchanged views on the main questions of our relationship and a number of urgent international matters," Ivanov told reporters.
"The main thing was that we found mutual understanding and are ready to build constructive dialogue in the interest of our states and the international community," he said.
Powell said: "I think it was a very fine first meeting and I look forward to many such meetings in the future as we pursue our common agenda," he added.
The Russian "pilot scheme" for missile defense would leave intact the ABM treaty, which bans the sort of nationwide missile defense proposed by Washington, and would be open to the United States.
Russia says the U.S. plan would spark a new arms race that would pull in China and is calling for a three-step alternative approach relying on threat assessment, political measures and deployment of a mobile anti-rocket force as a last resort.
The Russian system would be built around Russia's S-300 interceptor, which some U.S. military experts say is better than the U.S. Patriot missiles deployed during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.
Although the gap between the two sides remains large, some security analysts say they believe Bush can cut a deal with Putin by offering deep cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and giving its European allies the green light to take part in a "Euro-NMD" with Russia.
Passions on the issue have been stoked by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said Russia only had itself to blame for NMD because as an "active proliferator" it had spread nuclear and missile know-how.
That drew a curt response from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told Washington to drop the "evil empire" rhetoric of the Cold War era. return to menu
2. Don't Let This Russia Spook You
Robert G. Kaiser
The Washington Post
February 25, 2001
(for personal use only)
Last week's jaw-dropping spy story, an appalling embarrassment for the FBI, was also a powerful reminder of an unpleasant fact: Those difficult Russians are still with us, occupying their huge landmass atop most of the inhabited world, aiming their thermonuclear weapons at us, spying on us, still alienated from our world and lost in their own. Damn those nasty Russians!
But wait. There certainly are nasty Russians, but they aren't playing this game alone. The United States is still on alert, literally, ever ready to obliterate the Russians in a matter of minutes with the weapons we aim at them. Spying? We caught the FBI agent working for them because a Russian agent apparently working for us turned him in. Nearly a decade after the Soviet Union's collapse -- taking with it any plausible basis for a Russian-American war -- we're still in the grip of Cold War reflexes and assumptions. Who's to blame for this nuttiness? That's probably a futile question. This tango requires the usual number of dancers.
The latest spy story demonstrates how both countries remain on a kind of automatic pilot. Robert P. Hanssen, the FBI man arrested last week, allegedly began selling secrets to Moscow in October 1985, when the Cold War was still intense. Mikhail Gorbachev had been in power only seven months; glasnost and perestroika were still just words in the Russian dictionary. Now that Russia's military machine has crumbled and the Warsaw Pact has dissolved, the idea of a "superpower confrontation" has become ridiculous -- one could only happen now if the United States confronted itself. But Hanssen kept on peddling his wares, and the Russians kept paying for them, according to the charges. The spying game obviously has a life of its own. For the spies, so does the Russian-American rivalry.
The truth is, the old, mortal rivalry is over. We really did win.
Nevertheless, the United States has a big Russian problem. The Russians are in a mess at home, their secret policemen are in the ascendancy, and so is anti-Americanism. Russia, the biggest nation in Europe, is not integrated with its neighbors politically, nor does it participate fully in the global economy. All those nukes, all that oil and gas, all those talented people remain, at best, on the edge of the international community. The Russians are scared, and resentful. And a resentful, unsuccessful Russia can easily make life miserable for its neighbors, and for us.
The United States made the Russian problem worse during the '90s. We sometimes gave too much assistance, as when Americans helped plot the Russian government's economic reform policies. We focused most of our official attention on one man, Boris Yeltsin, and his entourage, and not on pushing Russians to work on democratic methods and institutions. We foolishly over-flattered the garrulous first president of post-communist Russia, encouraging him and his countrymen to pretend they had a much bigger place in the world than they had yet earned. We paid too little attention to corruption, and to politicians outside Yeltsin's orbit.
As the Bush administration prepared to take charge, it signaled its desire to depart from the Clinton administration's Russia policy, first by altering the bureaucratic arrangements for dealing with Russia from Washington. It has downgraded the staff position on the National Security Council that deals with Russia and it initially favored abolishing the role of special ambassador to the countries of the former Soviet Union. "They're organizing Russia down," said Arnold Horelick, an academic specialist on Russia who was the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union in the late '70s. These changes are "bureaucratic and symbolic," Horelick added, "but they begin to matter," particularly if they make it hard to recruit strong, senior people to work on the Russian account in the new administration.
"Downgrading Russia" is part of an argument among Americans about how best to deal with Moscow. Several of President Bush's foreign policy advisers have participated in this debate, which is generally held among and for insiders. The Bush people have tended to take a more skeptical stance: Make the Russians earn their new place in the world, don't just defer to them; show them how they can become important, don't try to make them feel important; don't let them blackmail us with their weakness. But those views don't add up to a real policy toward Russia. They're posturing.
A month in office has been enough to jolt the Bush team. No decision has been made on abolishing the job of ambassador at large (the equivalent of an assistant secretary of state) for the former Soviet Union, and sources familiar with the matter said last week that Secretary of State Colin Powell had heard eloquent arguments to preserve the role, if only to handle a heavy workload more efficiently. "No one is going to marginalize Russia," Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser and a Russian-speaking expert, said in an interview (see excerpts below).
To Russian ears, the argument over downgrading Russia combines insult with condescension. Anti-Americanism has blossomed in Moscow since NATO's bombing of Kosovo nearly two years ago. Many Russians have concluded that the United States' real goal is simply to keep their country weak and insignificant. Some Russian commentators take perverse satisfaction from evidence that President Vladimir Putin has found ways to make the Americans mad. "Russia has been showing itself an ever-more active player on the world stage lately," wrote Dmitri Gornostayev in Nezavisamaya Gazeta in December. This activism, Gornostayev wrote, "is irritating U.S. policymakers. Moscow's decision to renew full-scale cooperation with Iran has dealt a serious blow to American diplomacy. And that could be only the beginning."
Happily, another Russian commentator pointed out what a silly comment this was.
Russia's weight is still felt from Western Europe to China and Japan, not least because it's so near dozens of nations, from Greenland in the West to the United States -- Alaska -- in the East. But Russia is more than a looming presence: The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 shaped the arc of the 20th century. Russian resourcefulness and determination were critical to the defeat of Hitler, and then kept the Soviet Union competitive with the Americans to make the Cold War into a terrifying contest for transcending superiority. The country has always produced large historical figures, from Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to Khrushchev and Sakharov. Times are tough, but the Russians aren't going to slip off the edge of the world and disappear.
Finding ways to bring free, non-communist Russia into the community of nations was the biggest challenge of the 1990s, and no one -- not in the Clinton administration, not in Europe, not in Russia -- rose to it. The Russians themselves failed most dramatically.
These failures shouldn't surprise anyone. Integrating Russia into the world order is a huge task, in part because the devastation left by seven decades of communist rule can't quickly be repaired. Nikolai Shmelyov, an economist in Moscow, observed recently that a third of Russia's industrial capacity is useless, yet much of it pretends still to operate. Russia produces a steadily smaller proportion of the food it consumes. Environmental degradation is ubiquitous, and in some areas catastrophic. Russian men have a life expectancy of less than 60 years, one measure of the country's deteriorating public health.
Russia remains an unnatural country, suspended between a horrific past and an uncertain future. Because the Soviet Union disappeared without bloodshed, the old regime was never fully displaced. Russia is still ruled by members of the Communist Party nomenklatura, defended by the old Red Army, snooped upon by the old KGB (all with new names or labels). The rule of law remains largely a dream. Corruption is taken for granted -- as it deserves to be, because it is so common. The prevailing political culture under Putin is unsavory. Putin has empowered the political police, demonstrated his discomfort with forceful opposition, revived a crude Russian nationalism, and made political hay by waging a brutal, fruitless war in Chechnya. Yet Putin, like his countrymen, craves acceptance in the West, and insists that Russia is a European nation.
Some Russian commentators have had the courage to tell their countrymen the truth. Sergei Blagovolin, a political scientist, noted recently in an interview with the Moscow newspaper Segodnya that Russia was still undergoing "the process of understanding the fact that Russia is no longer a superpower, that we lost . . . ." Asked if Russia is now moving in the right direction, he gave a poignantly candid (and accurate) reply: "It seems to me we are moving in a circle. We are painfully searching for the right path."
The words of the man who appears to be Putin's principal foreign policy aide, Sergei B. Ivanov, have a different cast. At a conference in Munich earlier this month, Ivanov harangued NATO for causing, in Kosovo, "systematic growth of violence and a political impasse threatening European and global security." A U.S. missile defense abrogating the 1972 ABM Treaty, he predicted, "will result in annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability, and create prerequisites for a new arms race, including one in outer space."
Ivanov's bluster nicely captures the frustrations of the Russians who haven't come to terms with their country's poverty or its inability to make its voice heard. Those frustrations help explain why the Russians maintain their enormous espionage apparatus, one attribute of a superpower to which they can cling.
Not that Ivanov's rhetoric is entirely hollow. The missile defense issue is very real. That ABM treaty, an attempt to stabilize the arms race, is now useful to Russia in at least two important ways: It is evidence (when there isn't much) that they and the Americans still matter equally on a big strategic issue, and it blocks a new competition which, if it comes, would only advertise Russia's poverty and weakness.
If Congress and the Bush administration insist unilaterally on a missile defense that violates, and nullifies, the ABM Treaty, Russia will be livid (as may many other nations). It will also be furious if NATO expands to include the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, thus demonstrating Russia's helplessness and aggravating its sense of isolation.
America has its own truth tellers. One, former secretary of defense James Schlesinger, observed recently that there are numerous Americans "who come out of the Cold War [experience] and kind of miss the excitement." Schlesinger, quoting Churchill, said victory in the Cold War argued now for "magnanimity."
Rice is sensitive to Russian sensibilities. During last week's interview she offered no compromises on missile defense or NATO expansion, but more broadly, she said precisely what anxious Russians would most like to hear: "The people who think a weak Russia is a good thing for the United States are wrong. A weak Russia will only be a problem for the international community."
A strong Russia is still just a dream, but not an unimaginable one. Amid all the bad news there are hopeful signs: real economic growth last year, the rise of a generation of productive entrepreneurs, an artistic and cultural boom in Moscow. The 145 million citizens of Russia are members of the nation that produced Pushkin and Dostoevski, Malevich and Brodsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich. One day, new Russian talents will again astound us.
Americans will advance their own interests -- and Russia's, too -- if they confront the Russian problem forcefully and magnanimously. We can try to persuade the Russians they are welcome at the high table, though only if they behave appropriately. We can show them the path to get there. This will require persistent, creative diplomacy. Neither indifference nor petty hostility will help. return to menu