Danger For Russia Is Being Forgotten

APAnti-globalists protesting at the fringes of the World Economic Forum in New York on Saturday. Unlike at Genoa, traffic was allowed downtown and windows were not broken.
NEW YORK -- The burning issue at the World Economic Forum is how much has changed worldwide as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. But, for Russia, the issue is not how much has changed but how much has stayed the same, especially in its relations with the United States.

Less than three months have passed since President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush met in Texas and, with smiles and warm words, forged a new strategic alliance.

However, as Russian representatives at the forum see it, the new partnership is off to a rocky start.

"There have been no major changes," said State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. "Russia did a lot and got practically nothing in return."

Not so long ago it seemed that Russia would get a big economic boost for Putin's support of the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Bush promised to get rid of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a relic from Soviet times that ties Russia's trade status to its policy on Jewish emigration. There was also talk of speeding up Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization and getting Russia's economy recognized as a free market.

In Russia, even bolder plans were discussed -- perhaps Russia would be allowed to write off some of its billions of dollars in debt to foreign countries or be able to form an oil alliance to counterweight OPEC.

Other than political rhetoric, however, little has been done up to this point. Even the seemingly easy task of getting rid of the Jackson-Vanik amendment has stalled in Congress. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, fresh from talks in Washington, told journalists Saturday that he had raised the Jackson-Vanik issue to the same level as the issue of Russia's market status.

"I'd like to believe, and there is reason to believe, that [these changes] will happen this year," Kasyanov said.

Meanwhile, new issues are muddying the waters.

For Russia's part, TV6 was shut down, prompting a wave of concern that press freedoms were under fire. The closure has become a popular topic of discussion at the forum.

"We are concerned about that," said a U.S. State Department official. "The point we make is that this [partnership between Russia and United States] has to be based on common values. This can't be based on a common enemy."

The United States is adding fuel to the fire as well. Despite strong opposition from Russia, Bush announced that the United States was pulling out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the cornerstone pact of the Cold War.

Then, Washington announced that it planned to store -- not destroy -- some nuclear warheads. Those warheads are part of the two-thirds of the U.S. nuclear stockpile that Bush promised Putin in November to get rid of. Putin had replied that Russia would respond with similar cuts.

The decision to store some of those warheads is riling even the most liberal of Russian politicians. "That means that Russia is the enemy," Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky told a dinner dedicated to the development of Russia on Friday.

Some forum participants said the dispute will probably be resolved when Putin and Bush meet in May in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The two leaders hope to reach an agreement on nuclear arms cuts, although it remains unclear what kind of deal will be signed. Russia wants a formal accord, while the United States wants something more informal.

"The main thing is that there will be an agreement," Sergei Karaganov of the Russia-based Institute of Europe told the forum. "They don't want it, but they'll do it."

Giving Russia what it wants will take a lot of political pull from Bush, who for now has his mind on more pressing issues such as the ailing U.S. economy and terrorism.

"They're just not thinking that much about Russia," Michael McFaul, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a telephone interview. "There's not much concern about Russian objections to what we're doing."