My short answer is: no one. Living in America and travelling back and forth from Russia, it's hard not to notice that both nations consist of normal people, whose interests are not wrapped up in complicated politics or disputes over missile shields, but in enduring values like family, faith and earning a living. My recent business trips to St Petersburg, Moscow, New York, Philadelphia and Washington have reminded me of these fundamental truths. Here in the Pacific Northwest, many Seattleites are getting ready for a wonderful summer, and the city is buzzing with activity. Friends are hiking, waterskiing, and golfing--and not exactly worried about the headlines screaming that there is a "New Cold War" underway.
Let me offer a very uncommon point of view on the recent Cold-War-style rhetoric between America and Russia: it proves that our respective nations are fundamentally friendly towards each other and have a lot in common. Any conflict between the two can be settled quickly and easily, just like between two kids who yell at each other and then are laughing at the next moment. To do this, you just have to put them together in a quiet room with "adult supervision." It would seem that this is the role the G8 summit plays between our two countries--that of an adult to mediate between our heads of state. And it appears to be working.
As former U.S. presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan recently wrote, the United States' decision to build missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is as nonsensical as Russia putting missiles in Cuba or Venezuela. But that point aside, the current and largely invented "missile-crisis", is easily resolved. One solution would be to put American missiles in Russia or on Russian military bases in the former Soviet republics near Iran. Today Vladimir Putin suggested doing exactly that, declaring that Russia would be open to the Western nations placing radars and missile defense systems in Azerbaijan, a country that enjoys excellent relations with Washington and Moscow.
Considering Putin's remarks earlier in the week, this development may seem stunning to Western observers. Unfortunately, most Americans are unaware that Putin was the first world leader to call President Bush on 9/11 and offer the use of his country's airspace and military bases for America's upcoming response to the terrorist attacks.
Although the response today from President Bush was brief and diplomatic, "Interesting proposal - let's let our experts have a look at it," many analysts believe that Putin's proposal could resolve the international row. For his part, President Putin said the proposed relocation would alleviate Russia's concerns about a European missile shield: "This will make it unnecessary for us to place our offensive complexes along the border with Europe". According to Forbes magazine, he laid out several other conditions, as well:
- The U.S. must take Russia's concerns into account.
- Both sides must be given "equal access" to the system.
- The development of the system must be made transparent.
"Then we will have no problem," the Russian leader concluded.
"We asked the Russians to cooperate with us on missile defense, and I think what we got is a willingness to do so," said White House National Security Adviser Steve Hadley.
"I've not said that friends do not act in this way," Putin said, to which him and Bush laughed heartily and jostled each other.
So what was really behind the "crisis", and subsequent blowing off of steam?
The recent Cold-War-like tensions between America and Russia would seem to benefit politicians in both countries. With sure to be heated elections coming up in the near future in both America and Russia, candidates and leaders in both countries need an enemy, one that can be quickly scaled up, and bashed openly without fear of serious reprisal. Sound brutal? It is, but it's also easier for politicians to live in the past then deal with the new threats -- and opportunities - that the 21st century offers. The Cold War still lingers in the political culture in both capitals, and it may take another generation coming to power before the U.S. and Russia can enjoy a fully "normal" relationship.
For a moment, imagine if President Bush made some of his recent Russia-related statements--but insert China or Saudi Arabia, instead. The result could have been a real conflict with real financial or even military consequences for the both parties involved. In essence, Russia is a safe topic for America and vice-versa. Americans and Russians know that neither side will draw weapons and attack each other any time soon. It's very similar to making your "mother-in-law" the greatest villain on Earth. No matter what you say about her, she isn't likely to do much other than berate you. Try making a few derogatory statements in a bar, and you're in for a totally different experience.
As the Kremlin and the White House spokesmen bask in loud and lousy statements, we here at Russia Blog suggest our readers to look into much more practical things. Like stock market options in both countries. We also suggest that Russians and Americans with the means to travel do so! Russians should visit the beautiful West Coast of the US--and the nation's capital, while Americans will find exciting adventures and new friends awaiting them in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
If anyone still wants to watch Americans and Russians go to war, there's always Tom Clancy novels and video games to keep them occupied. Given the increasing economic ties and common interests shared between the U.S., Russia, and Europe, that is where the fighting will stay - in the realm of virtual reality, and in the minds of a few aging pundits on both sides.