Fyodor Lukyanov discusses U.S.-Russian relations in the wake of the Russian presidential election:
Putin’s guarded and mistrustful attitude to the United States is common knowledge, and he makes no attempt to conceal it. The reasons for it lie not in his record during the Cold War, as many often claim, but in his experience in dealing with the George W. Bush administration during its first and, particularly, second term [bold mine-DL].
Whether fair or not, Putin has come to the conclusion that a gentlemen’s agreement is not possible with the United States. He thinks Bush responded with base ingratitude to Moscow’s positive gestures more than once [bold mine-DL] – from its support during 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror, to its voluntary closing of military facilities in Vietnam and Cuba. Putin believes that these gestures were met with aggressive efforts of the United States to bolster its presence in the post-Soviet space, expand NATO, and deploy missile defense systems on Polish and Czech territory, to name a few [bold mine-DL]. As a result, Putin has come to the conclusion that agreements with the United States are possible but only following tough and uncompromising bargaining, as was the case with the New START treaty and Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Lukyanov’s account is accurate, but it is a little strange that he refers to these things as if they were just Putin’s perception of what happened during the Bush years. Russia was unusually cooperative in the first two years of the Bush administration. Putin was the first foreign leader to contact Bush after 9/11 to offer support to the U.S., and he accepted the creation of a significant U.S. military presence in Central Asia on the assumptions that doing so would win American goodwill and that the U.S. presence was not going to continue indefinitely. All of this was repaid with a series of provocative actions starting with the expansion of NATO into the Baltics and the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and things went downhill from there as all of the bad old habits of the 1990s took over. Bush did abuse early Russian cooperation (as he abused relationships with many other cooperative and allied states), and then spent the rest of his time in office seeming to go out of his way to pursue policies that were certain to wreck bilateral relations.
Lukyanov may be right that there are no major issues between the two governments that offer the prospect of much progress right now, but there is at least the possibility of a constructive relationship at the moment. Because of the experience of the Bush years, we already know how Moscow will respond if the U.S. reverts to its previous antagonistic and confrontational approach, and that will serve no one’s interests except for those factions in both countries that prefer an atmosphere of mistrust and rivalry.