[OUTLOOK]A quarrel that bears watchingLast Thursday in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin had summit talks for the first time since Mr. Bush’s second inauguration. Prior to the talks, the two governments went through a number of difficulties concerning the agenda of the talks and the agreements to be reached, due to their sharp disagreements over the concepts of freedom and democracy, Iran’s nuclear problem, Russia’s decision to sell missiles to Syria and the United States’ intervention in the Ukraine presidential election.
For these reasons, the two leaders put aside essential issues that exist between the two countries, and included in their joint statement only agreements in principle to cooperate on issues such as peace in the Middle East, anti-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation.
There was also discussion of the North Korean nuclear problem, but they merely emphasized the principle that North Korea should not have nuclear arms. The six-party talks were not even mentioned.
Before last week’s summit, Washington had issued many criticisms of the Putin administration, saying that its hierarchical power structure, extreme centralism, its control over the media and its forced nationalization of Russia’s largest oil company, Yukos, were against the principles of democracy. Given this, the results of last week’s talks demonstrate that both countries perceive that they are in a situation in which the expansion of cooperation is more important than the expansion of conflict.
In fact, this result was foreseen when Mr. Putin clearly expressed his negative reaction to the global proliferation of American values. Emphasizing the need to develop Russian-style democracy, Mr. Putin made it clear that he would not tolerate U.S. intervention in Russia’s problems.
When Mr. Bush mentioned freedom and democracy, Mr. Putin replied by saying, “Russia already chose democracy 14 years ago, and considering the reality of Russian society, it is impossible to return to the past totalitarianism.” But he also made a point by saying, “Democracy depends on each country’s situation. It is wrong to say one country is more democratic than the other.”
The United States, which cannot spare Russia’s cooperation in dealing with global issues, including its wars on terrorism, had little choice but to satisfy itself with this reiteration of principle, instead of escalating confrontation over Russia’s democracy and freedom that would serve no practical purpose.
Although the United States and Russia are presently maintaining the principle of cooperation within a large framework, complaints about each other over details have accumulated. From the United States’ point of view, the Putin administration’s recent diplomatic moves can be said to be a displeasure itself. Washington’s discontent with the Putin administration has been increasing because Russia has taken the lead in weakening the power of the United States, despite the fact that the United States actively supported the country’s economic reconstruction and supported it for G8 membership, despite Russia’s harsh suppression of Chechnya.
Russia has exercised a strategy of separating the United States from Western Europe by persistently exploiting their differing stances when it comes to geopolitics and the global economy. Together with France and Germany, Russia opposed the United States’ war in Iraq. With China, Russia opposed U.S. global hegemony by forming the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and conducting joint military training.
Russia also limited the participation of foreign capital in its energy market, which Washington had had an eye on. In addition, by suddenly signing the Kyoto accord on global warming last November, thus giving the treaty enough signatories to go into effect, Russia exposed the United States to international criticism for refusing to ratify it. The “honeymoon” between Washington and Moscow that has been underway since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States seems to be gradually ending.
The problem for us is the impact that the direction of United States-Russia relations will have on the international situation, particularly on the Korean Peninsula. Considering the stark geopolitical reality, we should thoroughly analyze the flow and changes of the relationship between these two countries, which will greatly affect the fate of the Korean Peninsula, and come up with appropriate measures. In this respect, we need to examine the discussions that the two leaders had about the Korean Peninsula, and analyze its implications.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hong Wan-suk