In March 2006, a group of Russia experts issued a report, "Russia’s Wrong Direction." The report has held that the "strategic partnership" between the United States and Russia wasn’t possible anymore and had to be replaced with "selective cooperation." The following two years have witnessed such a dramatic deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations that even a "selective" cooperation between the two countries became nearly impossible. A shadow of a new Cold War has set in.
Predictably enough, the expectations for the summit were so grossly overinflated by the media and pundits, that only a few completely pathological optimists on the Russian side and a handful of incorrigible "appeasers" of Russia on the American could feel satisfied with the summit outcome.
Too bad, because the "U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration", a document signed by Bush and Putin in Sochi, is definitely worth the paper it’s written on. The most important statement of the Declaration appears to be in its preamble:
"…we are dedicated to working together and with other nations to address the global challenges of the 21st century, moving the U.S.-Russia relationship from one of strategic competition to strategic partnership."
Here it is, the "strategic partnership" yet again. The two leaders turned out to be wise enough to recognize that the United States and Russia are just too interdependent — and bear too much responsibility for the world’s health — to reduce their relationship to an ad-hoc cooperation. When living in the same room, you’re either roommates or else.
Many analysts have questioned the very vitality of the agreement signed by the two lame-duck presidents. Michael McFaul, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Barack Obama and a co-author of the "Russia’s Wrong Direction" report, has suggested that the Bush administration would’ve been better off by "engaging [President-elect Dmitry] Medvedev after May, not Putin in April."
This is an interesting claim. As a Russia expert, McFaul can’t not know that Russia has an unblemished record of honoring international obligations taken up by succeeding administrations. Moreover, there couldn’t be even a sliver of doubt that Medvedev’s foreign policy is going to be a direct continuation of Putin’s.
Bush’s lame-duckness is a different story. I wrote before that Bush’s latest foreign policy initiatives suffer from the fact that they came about 7 years too late. There is no way that in the next few months left in Bush’s presidency, he’ll be able to reach a comprehensive solution of the Middle East conflict, which roots go back to the middle of the last century. In contrast, the agreement he has signed with Putin is modular in its structure, components of which — such as a cooperation on counterterrorism, nonproliferation, and nuclear energy — can be implemented separately and immediately. Besides, in contrast to Bush’s partners in the Middle East negotiations, Abbas and Olmert, one can be sure that Putin will be around for some time.
The problem therefore is not that Bush is a lame-duck president; the problem is a bad habit of American presidents to trash international agreements signed by their predecessors.
There doesn’t appear to be anything in the Sochi Declaration that would be of concern to Sen. Obama; he has previously called for some of its provisions himself. The point that McFaul is making thus seems to be more self-serving: the later Bush begins negotiating with Moscow, the less he’ll be able to achieve by the end of his term. The more credit, therefore, Obama will eventually claim for improvement in the U.S.-Russia relationship.
It’s Sen. John McCain whose presidency has a potential of further aggravating relations between Washington and Moscow. McCain, who’s made his personal hatred for Putin a pillar of his approach vis-a-vis Russia, has repeatedly called for the exclusion of Russia from the G8. By mentioning the G8 three times in the Sochi Declaration, Bush, who’s officially endorsed McCain, may be sending him a message that antagonizing Russia is hardly the best way of advancing American national interests.
Having worked so hard to "regain" Russia, Bush can’t afford letting McCain "lose" it again.