US-Russian poker

This was not a typical G8 summit. It was not just talks and bargaining among the world’s most influential political leaders. The mood was sour – and remarks by US President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin did little to change that. Clearly, concerns that US-Russian ties would slide back to the Cold War days were unfounded. None would stand to gain from such a development. However, the apparent friction would appear to be more than a temporary misunderstanding. The US wanted to see the Russian bear on its knees, but the Yeltsin days are over. Washington is trying to maintain its strategic advantage on the bilateral front by installing a controversial anti-missile shield and bashing Moscow’s human rights violations (the criticism here is not unfounded). For its part, Moscow is more confident than in the past, when it would turn a blind eye to provocations to avoid a direct confrontation with Washington. Armed with state power and facilitated by soaring energy prices, Putin has gradually retaken politics and economics from the oligarchs. Washington’s anti-missile shield plan was the last straw pushing Moscow in search of a new equilibrium. Putin’s Munich speech signaled that Russia will no longer tolerate US machinations. Pouring more oil on the flames was a catalyst for a new equilibrium in US-Russia relations – an equilibrium that will better reflect Russia’s growing leverage. The recent successful testing of a new ballistic missile confirmed Russia’s superpower status. Remarks by the two presidents show that neither wants to push things to a head. It’s still early to draw final conclusions but Moscow has certainly scored a few points in this diplomatic tug of war.

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