President Bush has been way too soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin,
according to most of the The Atlantic Monthly's panel of Washington D.C.
foreign policy experts
The April 2007 issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine features two questions presented to a panel of Washington wise men about "Putin's Reign". The first question on page 38 reads: "On balance, has Russia under Putin helped or hurt American economic and security interests?". Sixty nine percent of the panel of Beltway insiders declared that the Putin Administration has mostly damaged American interests. The second question reads: "Given Putin's record of governance, should Russia's membership in the Group of Eight be reconsidered?" Fifty nine percent said no, while only forty one percent said yes. Here are a sample of the comments from some of the most influential people currently shaping American foreign policy towards Russia:
"Putin has not cooperated in the war on terror but [instead has] used it as a justification for his excesses in Chechnya. On Iran, Putin has consistently sabotaged any chance to send a blunt and cohesive signal that nuclear proliferation has a cost."
"The G8 is a club of responsible global stakeholders, not a club of superpowers. Admission should be tied to responsible global behavior. Russia's energy extortion alone merits suspension from the G8."
"Kick them out [of the G8]. Take away the oil from Russia and all you have left is a crumbling, corrupt dictatorship with a mountain of nuclear weapons."
To be fair, most of the panelists disagreed with the idea of removing Russia from the G8 on practical grounds. One panelist even questioned whether the U.S. had the right to do so. "Why we think we are the world's schoolmarm, scolding other great powers for pursuing their own interests, is beyond childish, it's dangerous."
Among the comments from the minority who felt that on the whole, Putin's administration has actually been beneficial to U.S. national interests was this paragraph, "Putin's bark has been much worse than his bite. Despite the confrontational rhetoric, Russia has cooperated with the United States on a host of foreign-policy issues, including combating terror and facilitating the war in Afghanistan. The most significant divergence from the United States is on Iran, where Moscow has hampered Washington's efforts to convince Teheran to shut down its nuclear weapons program."
Given the space constraints of a single page article, none of the panelists were asked the logical follow-up question: if the Iranian regime is hellbent on obtaining nuclear weapons, what difference would Russia pulling all of its workers out of the country make? Incidentally, the same issue of the Atlantic Monthly on page 33 summarizes a report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences claiming that Iran will cease to export oil by 2014. According to the NAS report, Iran may actually need nuclear energy just to keep the lights on in Teheran.
You can read the full Atlantic Monthly article reproduced here:
The Atlantic Monthly, April 2007
The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about Russian President Vladimir Putin's leadership and relations with the West
On balance, has Russia under Putin helped or hurt American economic and security interests?
69% Hurt American interests
"Putin has not cooperated in the war on terror but used the war on terror as a justification for his excesses in Chechnya. On Iran, Putin has consistently sabotaged any chance to send a blunt and cohesive signal that nuclear proliferation has a cost."
"[Putin's presidency has consisted of] a return to an instinctive Anti-American [stance]; [He has been] particularly bad on dealing with Iran."
"It has hurt American interest, but [Putin has been] aided by our go-it-alone attitude in foreign affairs."
"Putin has managed to turn Russia from a budding friend of the United States into a budding enemy, and from a nascent liberal democracy to a nascent authoritarian dictatorship."
"Early on, the Bush administration had high hopes that Russia would choose to integrate more closely with Western economic and security institutions and liberalize its economy and society in the process. Those hopes have not been realized."
"When we look at terrorism, Kosovo and the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Middle East and other key strategic priorities, Russia under Putin is increasingly ambivalent as to whether it wants the West to succeed or fail."
"Economically, Russia still has little impact on us or on the world in general. And there has been no basic Russian threat to our security, as the term is generally defined. But if "security" is defined in the broadest sense--including matters like economic/energy "security" relations with other countries, plus diplomatic approaches to countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Iran--he has hurt our security interests."
"It has hurt American interests, especially given its support of Iran."
"[Putin's leadership has] hurt indirectly, indeed inadvertently. His grab-it-all oil policy just means that Russian oil will not be produced optimally."
"Russians, in general, feel that Putin has put Russia back on the map, helped the economy and that even if there is not yet full fledged democracy there are more individual rights than a decade ago. From an American security perspective, however, Russia has at the very least complicated our military, political and economic interests and certainly slowed down the march to full democratic rights for its people. However, returning Russia to the enemies list is not productive in the world in which we live."
31% - Putin has helped American interests
"Putin's bark has been much worse than his bite. Despite the confrontational rhetoric, Russia has cooperated with the United States on a host of foreign policy issues, including combating terror and facilitating the war in Afghanistan. The most significant divergence with the United States is on Iran, where Moscow has hampered Washington's efforts to convince Tehran to shut down its nuclear program."
"The primary security challenge is securing their vast arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He has insured stewardship control."
"On balance, his policies have probably helped US economic and security interests." "Keeping Russia from falling apart, and its nuclear weapons generally secure, have been two big and unexpected accomplishments."
"[Putin has] helped more than hurt from an economic and security standpoint. It is a different story from a civil rights standpoint."
"To the extent that he frightens Europe and thus retains for the United States a certain security role in European thinking, I suppose it helps. And in an ironic way, Russia's refusal to cooperate with the U.S., e.g. in Iran, may be good for the U.S. in that it inhibits Washington from making further mistakes. Otherwise it has probably hurt."
"Actually, neither. Putin has hurt U.S. interests with his support for Iran. He has helped them directly on counter-terrorism. He has also helped the United States indirectly and unintentionally with heavy handed efforts to intimidate his neighbors. Nobody likes a bully."
"Russia has both helped and hurt our security."
"These are not very good questions. The U.S.-Russian relationship is much more complex than these questions suggest. The United States has not managed the Russian relationship well at all."
Given Putin's record of governance, should Russia's membership in the G8 be reconsidered?
"At this point it would only push Russia into a more intransigent stance that will make it even a more obstructionist player in the international community that has little to lose."
"G-8 is already anachronistic, since it's clear that on most of issues on the G-8 agenda key countries are not presently included. Therefore Russia should stay on as part of a GX which would include, at least, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. This would obviate the problem of having Russia as the only "semi" democracy among the Eight."
"To push Russia out of the G8 would be to validate for the Russians that Putin's view is correct that the West is permanently hostile to Russia and that it must make its future outside of the Western democratic political and economic system. Putin and his successors may well take Russia outside of that system, but we should not do their dirty work for them. If Russia wants to walk away from the West, that must be a Russian decision, not a Western preemptive expulsion."
"It may have been an error to bring Russia into the G-8 but it would be a mistake to expel them now."
"No, it's too late to walk that back. Europe cannot afford to."
"No, the most counterproductive response to our disappointment with Russia would be isolation."
"Kicking Russia out of the G8 would be an empty gesture with a high cost--greater Russian intransigence on issues that matter to the United States."
"Kicking Russia out of the G8 would only exacerbate tensions with the West and do little to encourage political reform in Russia. Engagement, not isolation, is the best way to nudge Russia toward political and economic liberalization."
"Kicking Russia out of the G8 will only support hard-line nationalists within Russia and diminish any leverage the West has. Better to establish criteria that G8 members have to meet to stay in, to create some possible future pressure points."
"No. Engagement has been the right strategy; indeed, if we had done more economic engagement of Russia--e.g., membership in WTO in the 1990s, and an economic strategy to complement that decade's basically successful diplomatic strategy--we would be much better off than we are now in dealing with Russia."
"Not if the G8 wants to continue to be relevant. Why we think we are the world's schoolmarm, scolding other Great Powers for following their own interests, is beyond childish...it is dangerous."
"Logically, yes, of course. But in practice, having come this far, we'd do more harm than good by a grandstanding rejection [of Russia from the G8]. It is too late for that."
"We should at least hold out the prospect that Russia's membership in the G8 should be revoked. Russia was first brought in with the hope that doing so would cement its commitment to democracy and propel it further down that path. It has veered far from that path and threatening to rescind its membership is both logical and might sober the Russian government to the consequences of its behavior. At the very least, it would prevent an autocratic Russia from hindering the collective action of the world's leading democracies."
"The G8 is a club of responsible global stakeholders, not a club of superpowers. Admission should be tied to responsible global behavior. Russia's energy extortion merits suspension from the G8."
"It wouldn't hurt to show Putin that we disapprove of his membership in G-8, which should be reserved for free countries. It's not an entitlement to belong to the club."
"Russia was invited to join the G8 because of its movement toward economic and political liberalization. The reversal to state control of the economy and presidential control of politics should have consequences - starting with its being thrown out of the G8."
"Yes, in order to send a signal that it is not business as usual."
What sort of legacy will Russian President Vladimir Putin likely leave to Russia?
62% Putin's legacy will be generally negative
"Russians will see his contributions as positive: a wealthier and more stable Russia. Yet relative to what could have been, Putin will have missed the chance to create a more open and competitive state that would have had greater resiliency to serve the interests of Russians and advance Russia's standing internationally. His legacy will be that of taking advantage of Russia's energy wealth when prices skyrocketed, and using that wealth to entrench in power a new elite with roots in the KGB."
"There has been backsliding on the rule of law. Instead of pulling Moscow towards the West he has been pulling it towards the East, towards the 'Golden Horde.'"
"President Putin has crushed the shallow roots of Russian democracy and exploited a yearning for stability to create a petro-nationalist state which will end up being bad news for the West, Russia's neighbors and the Russian people themselves"
"Generally negative--the only positive dimension will be stability and predictability, and that is not an unalloyed virtue."
"Putin may have inherited a mess when he entered office, but he used it to consolidate his own power and that of the presidency at the expense of all other centers of political power - executive, legislative, judicial, and regional - as well as of the media and private interests. He came to power in a country that was slowly becoming democratic and leave power in a country that has reverted to authoritarian rule."
"[Putin's leadership is] a return to autocracy."
"Negative to the west, somewhat less negative in Europe than in the United States."
"One that is generally negative. The oil boom has enabled Putin to lift Russian spirits. He has not, however, addressed Russia's fundamental problems. Its population continues to shrink. Corruption and gangsterism are on the rise. Rule of law remains elusive. Political power is personalized rather than institutionalized. The economy has little to offer the world outside of oil and guns. Once oil prices fall--and they will--the Kremlin will no longer be able to hide the country's ills."
"Generally negative, but Much depends upon what happens after Putin. If, as I suspect, Russia continues to slide backwards into an authoritarian, syndicalist state with sharp limits on individual freedom of choice and expression then I think that history will see Putin as the facilitator who positioned the levers of power to make this happen."
38% Putin's legacy will be generally positive
"Despite the backsliding on democracy, Putin will have overseen a major economic recovery, the building of state institutions, and the formulation of a foreign policy that has assertively pursued Russia's national interests."
"Putin has given Russia some stability, however [by] returning to authoritarianism. That wasn't preordained to happen."
"Putin's economic legacy will be far better than the chaos that resulted from Yeltsin and gave democracy itself a bad name among ordinary Russians. But as he becomes increasingly authoritarian, apparently eliminating his enemies, his long-term legacy will depend on whether the usual liberalizing forces connected with economic growth can outpace the revived habits of Russian authoritarianism."
"Positive, but the de-democratization of Russia will punish the next generation and set the conditions for a future mini revolution."
Several respondents answered the question by saying that Putin's legacy will be positive to Russia and negative to the West.
"[His is a] mixed legacy, some positive some negative--too soon to tell."
"One that is generally positive--as seen by Russians, and one that is generally negative --for Europe and the United States."
"The answer depends on who you are. For Russians I suspect the answer would be generally positive. Putin has restored a measure of internal stability and I suspect the average Russian feels safer than in the period immediately before he came to power and may also feel that Russia's standing in the world has improved. On the other hand, democracy has certainly not flourished under Putin and from the perspective of Russia's neighbors Putin's legacy will, I suspect, be negative."
"For Russia, positive, for America, negative."
"Positive for Russia, and negative for other countries (that is, it is not possible to give one answer)."
"He will be seen as positive from Russian but not from a Western point of view."
"For Russians, it will be positive, for the rest of the world, negative."
PARTICIPANTS (42) (Not all participants answered all questions.): Kenneth Adelman, Graham Ellison, Ronald Asmus, Samuel Berger, Max Boot, Stephen Bosworth, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Daniel Byman, Warren Christopher, Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke, Eliot Cohen, William Cohen, Ivo Daalder, Lawrence Eagleberger, Douglas Feith, Jay Garner, Leslie Gelb, Marc Grossman, John Hamre, Gary Hart, Bruce Hoffman, John Hulsman, Robert Hunter, Tony Judt, David Kay, Andrew Krepinevich, Charles Kupchan, John Lehman, James Lindsay, John McLaughlin, William Nash, Joseph Nye, Carlos Pascual, Thomas Pickering, Kenneth Pollack, Joseph Ralston, Susan Rice, Wendy Sherman, Anne-Marie Slaughter, James Steinburg, Anthony Zinni.