President Bush has just put some expensive additional chips on an
extraordinary gamble. With his visits over the past week to Moscow, St.
Petersburg and Rome in the company of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir
Putin, Mr. Bush has greatly expanded his bid to recast relations between
Washington and the Kremlin from Cold War enemies to "partners."
For this gamble to pay the sorts of long-term returns the Bush
Administration hopes for, however, it must be rooted in hard-headed realism,
based on transparency and practical measures. In particular, it must amount
to more than another spasm of American enthusiasm for the Kremlin-leader-du
jour, the sort of "cult of personality" to which a succession of previous
U.S. presidents have succumbed in the past.
Consider a few of the steps that have already been taken by Mr. Bush
or his predecessors in the hope of encouraging a systemic and irreversible
transformation of Russia, steps that have entailed the dismantling of many
of the instruments upon which the United States and its Western allies
relied to check or counter their Cold War foe:
o A new "Strategic Offensive Reductions" Treaty (SORT) has been
signed, formalizing parallel, but unilateral, commitments by the Russian and
American presidents to reduce their nuclear arsenals by roughly two-thirds
-- reflecting Mr. Bush's view that mutual deterrence no longer is the
governing principle between the two countries.
o Russia has become a sort of guest member of the NATO alliance under
an arrangement that will afford it considerable opportunity to influence
that organization's deliberations but, in theory at least, no veto over
decisions taken by the other, full-fledged members.
o Various Cold War impediments to Russian economic growth have already
been removed or shortly will be. The multilateral regime governing exports
of high technology items with military applications, known as COCOM, is long
gone. Obstacles to Western European dependence on Russian energy supplies
have given way to a natural gas infrastructure that relies heavily on such
sources. For its part, the United States is likely to import much more oil
from Russia and the Caspian Basin in the years ahead.
Mr. Bush has also promised to clear the way for permanent normal
trade relations status for Russia by getting the 1974 Jackson-Vanik
Amendment formally repealed and to use his influence to secure membership
for a free-market Russian economy.
o Putin's refraining from strenuous objections to U.S. withdrawal from
the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty appears likely to be rewarded with
some sort of cooperative role in the American missile defense program. Like
the sharing of sensitive intelligence in the interest of U.S-Russian
collaboration in the war on terrorism, voluntarily affording Moscow access
to such American secrets would have been most ill-advised, if not actually
unthinkable, before now.
Which brings us to the big question: Has Russia changed
sufficiently to this point for these sorts of adjustments -- most of which
will be politically, if not technically, irreversible -- to be in order?
In the course of a hearing last Thursday of the House Armed Services
Committee, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Republican of Maryland, offered a
cautionary note. He called attention to a vast underground facility deeply
buried beneath Mt. Yamantau in the Ural Mountains, upon which some 20,000
workers continue to labor to this day.
According to Congressman Bartlett, one of the few legislators with
real scientific credentials: "In recent years, [the Russians] have had a
ramp-up in activity [there] -- building soccer fields and accoutrements that
they don't provide for anybody else in their society. This is more important
to them than $200 million for the service module on the International Space
Station. It's more important to them than paying the salaries of military
personnel. It is as large [underground] as inside our [Capital]
Beltway....And the only reasonable use of this [sort of facility] is either
during or post-nuclear war. There's no other reason for a country as
financially strapped as Russia that they should continue to pour enormous
resources into an undertaking like Yamantau Mountain.
"Now what does this tell us about the Russian psyche and what
caution [should] it give us about presuming what Russian actions would be in
the future? They apparently believe -- from this and other indications --
that nuclear war is inevitable and winnable, and they're preparing to win
that war....I would submit that this kind of activity by Russia -- that we
should be aware of that when making prognostications of what Russia may or
may not do in any given circumstance."
Mt. Yamantau is hardly the only worrisome indicator of Russian
intentions. Others include the following: The Kremlin apparently is
continuing covert manufacture of chemical and biological arms and has a
"hot" production line for new nuclear weapons; the United States currently
produces none of these. Putin's government continues to dissemble about the
true nature of its supplier relationship -- read, proliferation -- to Iran's
radical and terrorist-sponsoring Islamic regime. According to one of the
most knowledgeable observers of the Soviet and Russian systems, Johns
Hopkins' David Satter, Putin is also covering up the security services'
complicity in apartment building bombings used to justify genocidal attacks
in Chechnya. And Moscow is helping to arm China to the teeth, including
with weapons expressly designed and built to kill Americans.
None of these is, in and of itself, necessarily an argument for
abandoning altogether President Bush's Russian gamble. They do, however --
particularly when taken together -- argue for an insistence on transparency
concerning Kremlin behavior and a disciplined approach on the part of the
West to ensure that measures taken from here on that are aimed at bringing
Russia into the fold are predicated on tangible changes in that behavior,
not just wishful thinking or a blind-faith investment in the likes of