Odious Debts

The Editor briefing: US and Russia strive to repair friendship

The Guardian, UK
June 16, 2003

George Bush and Vladimir Putin embraced after their recent meeting in St Petersburg. But their rift over Iraq might yet be remembered as a turning point

What was the official line after the St Petersburg meeting?

We have met … to reaffirm our nations’ partnership and our commitment to meet together the challenges of the 21st century … We have been able to exchange instruments of ratification for the Moscow treaty on strategic offensive reductions … The deep reductions of strategic nuclear warheads that it codifies are another indication of the transformed relationship between our two countries. We will intensify efforts to confront the global threats of terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. · Joint Putin-Bush statement, June 1, via the US department of state Did they patch up their differences? That’s certainly the line being pushed by diplomatic spinmeisters in Washington and Moscow … [But] for all the nice noises, the much-touted “strategic partnership” … has suffered serious damage … If the war in Iraq did anything, it was to inject a new realism into US-Russian relations … Russians still insist that the UN should be the main forum for deciding issues of war and peace. The Bush administration continues to argue its right to unilateral force in dealing with security threats. · Christian Caryl in Newsweek, June 9

How have these old adversaries been getting on in recent years?

Before and for some time after September 11, it was the conventional wisdom that US-Russian relations were perhaps better than at any time in history; the conventional wisdom [after the rift over Iraq] was that they were at one of their lowest points since the cold war … After September 11, Vladimir Putin and George Bush rushed into the new relationship … For Mr Bush, the relationship could provide support as he pursued his new-found messianic vision of good conquering evil throughout the world. For Mr Putin, hitching up with a very powerful partner bent on destroying international terrorist groups was a convenient cover for a failed policy in Chechnya. · Peter Lavelle at Transitions Online, May 30

Wasn’t Mr Putin’s position on Iraq risky?

Russia had concrete interests in the preservation of the status quo in Iraq … [And] Russia – like France and Germany – had nothing to gain from another demonstration of US military might … [Mr Putin’s] policy on the Iraq war gave him an opportunity to stand with the so-called anti-imperialists – a cheap normative victory for [a country] that has won few normative points from the international community in recent years. · Michael McFaul in the St Petersburg Times, May 27

How has the balance of influence shifted?

After years of discussion about American-Russian energy development, the Russian oil sector is doing well on its own … And after four years of annual economic growth averaging about 6%, the Russian economy requires no financial aid. Russia, in contrast, has gained some leverage. As one of Iraq’s main creditors, Russia belongs to the so-called Paris Club, which renegotiates government debt of countries in default … Russia’s export of nuclear technology to Iran could also prove challenging … For much of the last decade, the US was able to dictate the terms of its relations with Russia. The war against Iraq showed that Russia can resist America’s demands – and that it can be strengthened in the process. · Anders Aslund in the New York Times, May 29

What can the US offer?

[First], rumour has it that the Americans may compensate [Russian] losses if the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station in Iran is cancelled. Second, the new Iraqi government might recognise Iraq’s debts to Russia … and write them off in return for the write-off of Russia’s debts to Paris Club countries. Third, some of the contracts signed by Russian companies in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq might be recognised as valid. Fourth, [Russia] might be allowed to continue selling conventional weapons to Iran. · From Argumenty i Fakty, Russia, June 3 (via BBC Monitoring)


What is this Iran business?

The Americans say they suspect that, rather than innocently building a nuclear power station, the Iranian government is using the Bushehr nuclear project – to which Russia is supplying critical assistance – as a pretext for a nuclear weapons development programme. The Kremlin denies this, and says what is really in play is a US desire to use the issue as leverage against Russia. · From the Russia Journal, June 11

Categories: Odious Debts

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