Moscow and Washington are once again engaged in a battle of words that many observers have been quick to interpret as a turn for the worse in U.S.-Russian relations. The subjects of debate haven't changed the United States doesn't approve of Russia's policy in Chechnya and with the authorities' incursions on civic freedoms, including freedom of speech. Russia, meanwhile, likes neither the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty nor the White House's attempts to meddle in Russian court proceedings.
I wouldn't start over-dramatizing, however. This flare-up of words is most likely just a sign that our relations are back on their normal track after the euphoria of the last three to four months, which saw a vast number of articles and all kinds of declarations about Russia's about-face towards the West, its turn to the European home and strategic partnership with the United States.
This euphoria was reminiscent of the romantic hopes held by the dreamers of the early 90s for a swift transition to democracy, the rule of law and a market economy. But processes like these take decades and require concerted effort by the whole of society. We have to learn to be patient.
Creating a genuine Russian-U.S. alliance will take a lot of time and will be possible only if both countries can find enough active people willing to work seriously towards this aim. We could easily lose the opportunity to bring Russia and the United States closer together if we don't carry out systematic work to integrate our respective economic, political and military interests. Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin have clearly stated their support for the idea of a partnership and alliance, but in both countries there are powerful opponents of the idea, and it won't be easy to overcome their resistance.
But, as mathematicians like to say, if you've set the objective correctly, you are already halfway towards its solution. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, for example, called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire" and set himself the seemingly impossible aim of casting communism onto the dust heap of world history.
We all remember what a fuss this caused. The Western press and many Sovietologists called Reagan an uneducated cowboy who was pushing the world toward nuclear war. Soviet propaganda also did its utmost to discredit Reagan. But, despite all these outbursts and the warnings of his advisers, Reagan achieved his aim, pouring trillions of dollars into the U.S. and NATO military machines and bringing communism down within a relatively short time.
With ideological opposition now a thing of the past, the outlook for a Russian-American alliance is a lot more favorable today. What comes to the fore now are economic and geopolitical problems that must be resolved through negotiations that take into account the interests of both countries.
I will not list all these problems, as they are sufficiently well-known. But if we leave them entirely in the hands of politicians, we will not get very far. It is a rare bureaucrat who is capable of making bold and original decisions instead of being more concerned with protecting himself from risk and keeping a firm grip on his cushy jobs.
This is why we need a powerful and independent public organization let's call it the Russian-American Alliance that will develop new ideas, bring them to the attention of the U.S. Congress and government, as well as Russia's State Duma and the Kremlin, work with the media, publish newspapers and magazines, hold conferences, etc. This organization must bring together U.S. and Russian political and military experts, journalists, professional lobbyists, etc. It should create an institute to train young specialists, set up a scientific-research center, organize graduate studies, a publishing house, and so forth. Who will finance all this is a separate question, but it is a realistic idea.
There is always plenty of opposition coming from Moscow to this or that aspect of U.S. policy, but these various statements sound more like the complaints of offended school pupils and often simply get ignored. If Russia is genuinely interested in a real alliance with the United States and the West, it has to leave behind the complaints, learn how to lobby its interests and attempt to have some serious influence on the Congress and on U.S. public opinion.
(Eduard Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow and publisher of The Russia Journal's U.S. edition.)