Russian Federation President Vladimir V. Putin will meet with President Bush at Camp David at the end of this week. According to the White House press release, "The President looks forward to this meeting as another opportunity for the United States and Russia to deepen their cooperation to deal with the shared challenges of the 21st century."
Understanding is the basis of effective cooperation. So, this is a good occasion to ask: How do the strategic purposes of the Russian Federation differ from the strategic purposes of the old USSR? The name has changed, but you'll find it in the same place on your world map. The rulers, too, are essentially the same, though they go under a new acronym. In the Soviet days, they used to call themselves the KGB; today the FSB (Federal Security Service) wields much the same power and is run mostly by the same people.
In connection with our current Middle East preoccupations, Ion Mihai Pacepa, former chief of Romanian intelligence, recalls in Monday's Wall Street Journal that Yasser Arafat is a "career terrorist, trained, armed, and bankrolled by the Soviet Union and its satellites for decades." He was "an Egyptian bourgeois" whose identity was changed by the KGB, who "trained him at its Balashikha special-ops school east of Moscow [and groomed] him as the future PLO leader." Did the KGB disown him when it became the FSB? Is the strategic pawn of the Soviet Union now a stranger to the Russian Federation?
In the same connection, in recent testimony to the International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control, expressed serious concern about Syria's continuing hostile actions. According to Bolton's testimony, Syria "is continuing to develop an offensive biological weapons capability," and Russia and Syria "have approved a draft program on cooperation on civil nuclear power," that could be applied to a weapons program.
In the Fall 2003 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Harold Rood discusses the "wider strategic overtones" of the war in Iraq. "Iraq," he reminds us, "was a client state of the Soviet Union...for decades. In that respect it joined that Soviet club in North Africa and the Middle East, which comprised Algeria, Libya, Syria and the two Yemens before they were united."
Has the Russian Federation abandoned or simply forgotten about the strategic interests of the Soviet Union? Well, "[i]n April, while the second war for Iraq was underway, elements of the Russian Fleet from the Black Sea and the Pacific began deployment from Sebastapol and Vladivostok to join together off the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden whence they were to proceed together to join in exercises with the Indian Navy." Just getting together, perhaps, to swap a little vodka and curry.
Rood argues that the Iraq war must be seen in the perspective of grand strategy. This is a perspective that extends beyond even the mysterious horizons of the present war on terrorism, a perspective that democratic peoples, and Americans in particular, find especially difficult to adopt and sustain.