Quinn-Judge: We can't rule out the possibility that the Russians will throw their weight behind a Northern Alliance bid to take control. If there's one power that dislikes Pakistan even more than the Northern Alliance does, it's Russia. Even now, there are plenty of voices of incredulity in the foreign policy establishment over the fact that Pakistan has become a key U.S. ally, from people who believe Pakistan embodies so much of what the U.S. has criticized over the past decade, from nuclear proliferation to military coups to human rights abuses.
Their dislike of Pakistan will certainly fuel the Russians' desire to see the Northern Alliance playing a major role a predominant role in a new government in Kabul. Russia and the Northern Alliance certainly agree there's no such thing as a moderate wing of the Taliban, which Pakistan has been urging be represented in a future government. On the other hand, though, the Russians are not inclined to get overly involved in Afghanistan again. They want to see their own borders safe and the Central Asian republics to the south free of any extremist threats. They're happy the Taliban have gone from Kabul, and they want to limit Pakistan's influence in whatever power arrangement follows. But the Russians don't want any direct role on the ground, and that may limit their ability to influence the outcome.
This is the fourth meeting between Putin and Bush this year. Bush has made clear that his immediate concern is scrapping the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty. What does Putin want from the relationship right now?
Content. So far the relationship has been little more than two guys exchanging warm remarks. September 11 provided new opportunities for Moscow to express solidarity, and reemphasize the close working relationship. But there's still nothing concrete there, and that could become a problem for Putin. He's being criticized, for the first time, for moving too far ahead of the electorate in his relationship with the U.S.
While some foreign policy people here want a closer relationship with the U.S. and others don't, all share the view that under both Gorbachev and Yeltsin Russia tried to be really nice to the U.S. and got nothing out of it except condescension. That resulted in the undermining of the prestige at home of both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and there's a growing feeling that Putin needs something to show for his relationship with Bush. Moscow wants a satisfactory resolution of the conflict over the ABM treaty, and wants the U.S. to repeal Nixon-era legislation punishing Moscow for emigration controls.
Underlying all of this is Putin's feeling that he wants to be part of the international community of nations, and he doesn't feel part of it yet. Russia wants its old role back, and wants to be treated as a genuine partner by the U.S.
Bush is emphasizing that this summit is principally about the ABM treaty. Is there scope for resolving the differences and winning Moscow's consent for the U.S. to proceed with missile defense research?
My experience covering countless U.S.-Russian summits is that when an issue is made the centerpiece, that's usually because they've already reached an agreement. They may have to negotiate a few hundred missiles here and there, but my suspicion is that the optimistic talk about the ABM means that a deal is within reach. Remember, even when the Russians were at their most hard-line, insisting that scrapping the ABM would collapse the whole arms-control infrastructure, they were also saying they'd be prepared to discuss the treaty line by line and see what should be scrapped.
What would Russia want in exchange for acceding to the ABM changes?
Most importantly, respect. Putin needs something tangible to point to that defines the relationship. What the Russians may dream of is a reconfiguration of NATO, which they say is also a relic of the Cold War (as Bush calls the ABM treaty) into a new consultative body that includes Russia. And also an international body to wage the war against terrorism, to avoid the impression that Putin is simply trotting behind Bush. But they won't be expecting to get those things. They may also want part of their debt written off, although right now Moscow is feeling so confident perhaps too confident about the Russian economy that economic concessions may look humiliating for Putin.