Reuters latest headline(March-07-06 12:50 PST) is "Rice, Lavrov expose widening U.S.-Russia rift". The story talks about how the U.S. and Russia are supposedly deeply divided over how to engage the Middle East, because the Kremlin invited Hamas leaders to Moscow and has offered to enrich Iran's uranium in Russian reactors.Russia's diplomatic moves on Iran and Hamas come amid rising strains over what Washington sees as President Vladimir Putin's increasing grip on power, one that belies his status as chair of July's summit of the Group of Eight industrialized democracies.
On Tuesday, Rice and Lavrov stood stiffly and at one point the Russian had to reassure Rice, a former Soviet specialist, he had not planted a question from a Russian journalist about trade. "You confirm that you did not (plant it), right?" said Rice, who has complained about the erosion of media freedoms under Putin. That sense of suspicion contrasted with the early days of Bush's presidency when Bush said he trusted Putin after looking into his soul.
While it is unfortunate to see Rice and Lavrov sparring in front of the cameras, once you get past the hype to substance, these apparent differences seem trivial. Hamas, as we've reported here at Russia Blog, received nothing but headlines in Moscow, and its representatives were humiliated. The Kremlin repeated the U.S. position that Hamas must renounce terrorism and enter negotiations with Israel. We've also reported at Russia Blog that Iran has consistently rejected Russia's offer to peacefully enrich uranium at facilities open to international inspectors, which is why Lavrov responded to a reporter's question by saying that the proposal had never been formalized.
Unfortunately, Reuters is still confusing ("Russia denies Iran nuclear proposal" as of 2:20 PST March 07-06) Western readers by making it sound like the Kremlin gave up on a peacemaking proposal to Iran because of Western (read: American) pressure. While this might bolster the notion of warmongering "neocons" still running the Bush Administration, the fact is, Iran's rulers rejected the deal, because they are hellbent on building nuclear weapons as soon as possible.
While the Reuters piece simply reflects the hangover for the mainstream media from the runup to the invasion of Iraq, Richard Pipes piece from March 1st in the Wall Street Journal, "Why the Bear Growls", is emblematic of a deeper problem in how the West views Russia.
Why do the Russians still give us trouble even though the Cold War has long ended? Why do they invite the terrorist Hamas leaders to Moscow? Why do they cut off the natural gas to Ukraine and thereby sharply reduce its flow to Western Europe? Why do they harass foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), accusing them of espionage and incitement to revolution? Why do they carry out joint military exercises with the Chinese, clearly aimed at Taiwan?
Here at Russia Blog we have tried to answer all of these questions. First, Pipes is correct that Cold War views linger among the Russian people, according to opinion polling. However, Gazprom cut off Ukraine's natural gas pipelines mainly because Ukrainian officials were stealing gas and expecting to buy it at rates far cheaper than what Western Europeans pay. The Duma passed the law excessively restricting NGOs because the majority of Russian non-profits are fronts for money laundering, though many continue to do humanitarian work in spite of the new regulations. Finally, Pipes knows that the balance of power between Russia and China has shifted drastically since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow feels little choice but to appease Beijing as the Chinese mass migrate into Siberia.