March 3, 2005


Bush and Putin: Could Bush Be Right? -- Take Two (Charles Hawley, February 25, 2005, SPIEGEL ONLINE)

[I]n Bratislava, the similarities between Bush and Schroeder in their approach to Putin ended with the smiles and the backslapping. In fact, it was the subtext of the US-Russia meeting that was most interesting -- a subtext absent from Russia-Germany get-togethers. Bush, as it happened, had spent the weeks leading up to the Slovakian summit firing off frequent admonishments to Moscow. He is concerned about the course Putin is steering and let the world know about it.

Schroeder? Aside from a meek, privately issued hand slap delivered by telephone during the Ukraine election crisis in December, silence has reigned.

Causes for concern are many and primarily focus on Putin's seemingly ambiguous commitment to democracy. Putin, in recent months, has presided over the somewhat questionable break-up of the oil giant Yukos, rescinded the rights of Russian citizens to elect their own regional governors and placed that power firmly in his own hands, and has silenced a number of media outlets critical of his leadership. In addition to democracy issues, however, Bush and Putin have also butted heads over a number of foreign policy differences, most recently highlighted by Putin's avowal that he believes Iran is not interested in building a nuclear weapon -- a position Bush categorically disagrees with.

The European media has been fond of taking Putin to task for his waywardness. The silence from European leaders, particularly from Schroeder, has been deafening.

To be fair, Schroeder has a defense at the ready. He feels that the best way to ensure that Putin continues (or resumes) his careful approach to the West is to be gentle. There are also a number of German business interests at stake in Russia -- centering primarily on Russia's enormous oil and gas deposits -- that Schroeder is midwifing.

But Bush, for all his diplomatic bumbling prior to and even since the Iraq war (and including his faux pas on Wednesday night when he neglected to take off his gloves when greeting his Slovakian hosts), is not shy about confronting Putin when he sees a problem. Furthermore, he does so publicly, making it much more difficult for Putin to return to business as usual. Indeed, the cheery press conference -- while to be expected -- was all the more interesting for the clear disagreements separating the two leaders and the direct way Bush addressed those differences. Diplomacy, Bush seemed to be saying, can -- and perhaps should -- work like a friendship. Tell your friend when you think he or she is straying. But at the same time, show your commitment to the foundation of the relationship.

Chancellor Schroeder should take the lesson to heart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2005 4:53 PM
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