US and Russia

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(HOST) The ever-increasing policy differences between the United States and Russia have commentator Barrie Dunsmore wondering where relations between the two may now be heading.

(DUNSMORE) Almost every week there seems to be a story about how differently the United States and Russia see the world. A couple of days ago the Russians took great umbrage that the genocidal Serbian dictator Milosevic had been refused permission to leave his war-crimes cell in the Netherlands to go to Moscow for medical treatment. Whatever was the true cause of Milosevic’s death, Moscow’s abrasive reaction seemed right out of the Cold War.

I was particularly taken with another story out of Moscow last week. At a meeting with foreign reporters, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev blamed the United States for losing a chance to build a safer and more stable post-Cold War world. “Ending the Cold War was given as a gift” to the United States, he is quoted as saying, but it only strengthened America’s arrogance and unilateralism.

Having brought about the demise of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has absolutely no influence or support in his own country; nevertheless, I thought his interpretation of how things had developed in the past fifteen years was worth noting.

Meantime, the Council on Foreign Relations has just issued a report that concluded, “U.S. and Russian relations are clearly headed in the wrong direction.” The report was the work of a bi-partisan task force headed by former Congressman and Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former Senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. The report says Russia’s political system is becoming ever more authoritarian and corrupt. However, the report also acknowledges that Russian cooperation is central to achieving a wide range of American interests in Iran, North Korea, the Middle East and especially, preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As Senator Edwards put it, “U.S.-Russian cooperation can help the United States handle some of the most difficult issues we face. Yet regrettably, cooperation is becoming an exception, not the norm.”

It’s always easy to blame the other guy, but in my view neither side is blameless in the deterioration of this relationship.

In the fifteen years since the Soviet Union ceased to exist, as the self-declared, only true super power, the United States has behaved on the world stage with the attitude that it can do as it likes – the invasion of Iraq being the major case in point. For its part – Russia has gone backward instead of forward on democracy – as President Putin has exploited his country’s historical desire for stability above all else. Putin also has grossly interfered in the politics of many of his former Soviet Union member neighbors – Georgia and Ukraine to name just two.

We are not there yet. And we definitely don’t have to go there. But if this country and Russia should once again find themselves staring at each other across a nuclear abyss in the midst of a new Cold War – that would indeed be among history’s greatest tragedies.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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