The Bush-Putin summit in Sochi on Sunday, their last as presidents, has a chance to become a milestone in the history of U.S.-Russia relations. Obviously, the success of the summit will in great part depend on specific topics the two presidents choose to discuss.
Not surprisingly, there is a plenty of advise to Bush with respect to the issues he should include in the summit agenda. Some of the suggestions, if acted upon, would make the summit a success. Others… Well, they wouldn’t.
First, both sides should push for the completion of an agreement allowing for U.S.-Russia cooperation on civilian nuclear projects. Graham believes that joint projects resulting from such an agreement "would far outweight the benefit of [Russia’s] cooperation with Iran."
Second, the U.S. should intensify attempts to engage Russia in cooperation on missile defense, the idea that Bush has just promoted at the NATO summit in Bucharest (and reportedly articulated in the "Strategic Framework Declaration" he’s recently sent to Putin). Here, Bush could capitalize on Putin’s openness to the issue, as indicated by Russia’s proposal to jointly use the Gabal radar station in Azerbaijan and a radar being built near Armavir, in southern Russia.
Third, the U.S. should tone down its rhetoric "on Europe’s energy dependence on Russia." Graham argues that "[T]he more pragmatic approach would be to welcome growing Russian supplies to Europe and Russian involvement on commercial terms in Europe’s energy sector, while still underscoring the pressing need for other sources."
Finally, Graham calls for accelerated "graduation of Russia from Jackson-Vanik."
Graham doesn’t think that these initiatives are concessions to Russia or amount to "a reward for bad behavior." Instead, he considers them as a means of taking into account Moscow’s interests, but not as an end in itself, but as a way to "change the cost-benefit analysis in favor of closer cooperation with the United States." As he points out:
"As a general rule, we should be prepared to accommodate Russian interests where we can without jeopardizing our own."
Shall we call it the Graham Rule?
The idea of "accommodating Russian interests" seems to be completely alien to Ariel Cohen, of The Heritage Foundation. While conceding that "[T]he U.S. can benefit from improved relations with Russia", Cohen appears to be more focused on denying Russia "a new Cold War posture." His proposal for the summit agenda creates the impression that it’s not Bush who’s visiting Putin in Sochi; rather, it’s Putin with hat in hand who came to visit Bush at his Crawford ranch.
Here are some ideas Cohen’s circulating:
"Request that President-elect Dmitry Medvedev join the talks. It is important for the U.S. and its allies to make sure that the presidential transition in Russia is genuine and that Putin does not remain the de-facto "national leader" of the country…"
Interesting. Is Cohen saying that, upon arriving in Sochi, Bush should summon both Putin and Medvedev and interrogate them on the legitimacy of the March 2 presidential election in Russia?
"Reiterate U.S. support for eventual NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, as well as for a limited missile defense in Central Europe."
Hmm. Bush has said just that in Bucharest, and Putin was in attendance. Does Bush really need travel to Sochi to repeat the same message?
"Call for a more robust cooperation with Russia on limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons, enrichment, and ballistic missile programs. These activities threaten Russia and its neighbors more than the United States."
Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Putin, not Bush, to define the threats to Russia’s national security?
"Launch a discussion of terms and conditions to allow Russia’s sovereign wealth funds to invest in the United States."
"Bush should also raise grave concerns regarding the new "strategic sectors" investment law passed by the Duma on March 24."
Is Bush really prepared to discuss with confidence a particular law passed by the Russian parliament? Besides, can he spell "D-U-M-A" without getting in trouble?
As one could imagine, after completing the list of American "interests", Cohen doesn’t stop to ponder over the issues Putin, the host of the summit, might want to raise. Why bother? Cohen immediately proceeds to the conclusion:
"Russian elites, including President-elect Medvedev, appear to understand that Russia currently has no true significant allies."
Cohen might well be right. The problem is that if his contempt for interests of American partners — shall we call it the Cohen Doctrine? — becomes Washington’s modus operandi, the U.S. will start loosing "true significant allies" of its own.