The Bush administration is quietly exploring ways of recalibrating U.S. policy toward Russia in the face of growing concerns about the Kremlin's crackdown on internal dissent and pressure tactics toward its neighbors, according to senior officials and others briefed on the discussions.
Vice President Cheney has grown increasingly skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and shown interest in toughening the administration's approach. He summoned Russia scholars to his office last month to solicit input and asked national intelligence director John D. Negroponte to provide further information about Putin's trajectory, the sources said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has sought to balance worries over Russian democracy with a pragmatic partnership on mutual issues such as Iran's nuclear program, responded by calling her own meeting with outside advisers a week ago. Some involved in the administration deliberations saw the move as an attempt to counter Cheney.
Where to begin? On the geostrategic level, a re-apparaisal of Russia makes sense *if* the U.S. had a coherent and overarching vision of a future global framework and how U.S. and Russian power trajectories fit within. Beyond empty bromides of 'freedom', 'GWOT' and the like. And beyond the immediately tactical and transactional - help on Iran, etc.
The Great Game across Central Asia continues, as does the soft rollback of the 'Near Abroad' of Russian security-cum-Imperial periphery. Partly by design and partly by happy circumstance, the U.S. has established a cordon sanitaire through Ukraine down to Georgia. But responsible Statesmanship would be to use current (and temporary although not necessarily fleeting) U.S. power to build a durable and sustainable framework.
To be surprised or suddenly disturbed by increasing 'Revanchism' (in the classical sense) in Moscow given these developments suggests either disingeniousness or naivete. The Stiftung offers this view with not a little personal experience on the ground 'Over There' during the Cold War and its aftermath. Only those stoned on the Kool Aid of the 'Last Man' liberation theology (or drinking their own bathwater in other respects) would be caught unawares of eminently predictable Russian reactions.
On the purely internal Washington chatter level, this tug of war offers some amusement. Condi has marketed successfully her modest skills as a Soviet and Russian specialist into an outsized public reputation. And she, like Madonna in another context, enjoys the ferocious devotion of certain subgroups who feel marginalized in policy circles. Yet she is not a systematic thinker and after a year shows no real direction, no focus and no real capacity for crafting either.
As Sebastian Mallaby noted (and discussed with wicked humor over at Global Paradigms), the prospects for Rice to be a late bloomer are not good. So we must make do with what we have.
The temptation on some other blogs the Stiftung reads now and then seems to be to impose simplistic templates on things — Cheney 'bad', ergo Rice 'good', etc. Would that things were so. It may be that Rice's limited strategic thinking but real tactical 'people' skills and her relationship with the President are most useful to the Nation in a 'reactive mode', responding to more fully developed and coherent systematic thinking developed by others. In this case, a tug of war may be actually the best hope for something beyond the tactical to emerge. (Recognizing the risks of what 'tug of war' did for a moribund Iran policy, of course).
On a related note, however, Russian self-esteem took another hit this past week. This image was plastered all over Moscow in banners promoting the Russian 'Defender of the Motherland' military holiday. Note that the Russians inadvertantly featured the battleship U.S.S. Missouri all over Moscow as a 'defender' of the 'Motherland' (rodina). Read the link, adjust your tie (if you have one), recall the late Rodney . . . and maybe have some sympathy. Remember, perhaps one day, all this, too (gesturing to the Imperial City) shall pass. History tells us it always does.