Russia shrugs off Bush call on democracy
MOSCOW: Russia on Tuesday played down a call from US President George W Bush for a renewed commitment to democracy, but some experts wondered aloud whether Russian-US relations had veered into crisis on the eve of summit talks between Bush and President Vladimir Putin.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergi Lavrov characterized the call from Bush in Brussels on Monday as an appeal “to develop the strategic partnership between the United States, Russia and Europe” in fighting terrorism and containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In remarks to reporters here, he stressed that Bush, who said Russia “must renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law,” had also called for dialogue on human rights including protection of national minorities, a reference to ethnic Russians living in the Baltic states.
A recent review of US policy toward Russia recommended no major change of course and concluded that US interests in security and energy cooperation with Russia outweighed domestic political concerns, according to accounts of the review in US media.
The United States and western Europe will however continue to prod Putin over controversial reforms labeled by critics as tending toward authoritarianism, and independent political experts in Russia cautioned that a further erosion in US-Russian relations could lie ahead. “Relations between Russia and the West are already in crisis, both with Europe and with the United States,” said Timofei Bordachev, deputy editor of the bimonthly foreign policy magazine Russia in Global Affairs.
For Bordachev, Bush was under growing pressure from US business interests that have made only limited market gains in Russia to toughen his stance in relations with the Kremlin in order to open new opportunities for US investors.
“The conclusion was reached that to close your eyes to what was happening in Russia was not the best solution,” Bordachev said. “There is a critical mass of dissatisfaction with Russia” within US political and business decision-making circles. afp