As Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to receive U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Moscow tomorrow, Russian observers are speculating on the likely agenda of the discussion. The United States is likely to raise concerns about Russia's eroding democracy. But Russian analysts say Washington will prefer this time to focus on nuclear issues.
Moscow, 18 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected in Moscow tomorrow for a two-day visit, during which she is due to meet with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Officially, Rice will be in Moscow to prepare for U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming visit. Bush will be in Russia for the 9 May ceremony commemorating the end of World War II. U.S. officials have not provided any further details on the agenda for Rice's talks in Moscow.
Rice, who is a Russia specialist, told reporters before her visit that she would press on with the U.S. campaign to encourage democracy and a free market in Russia. The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the Kremlin tightening its grip on politics and the media. Bush criticized Putin during a meeting in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, in late February.
Most analysts, however, speculate that the United States will soften its criticism during this week's talks. Viktor Kremenyuk is the deputy head of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute at Russia's Academy of Sciences. He told RFE/RL that security issues are likely to eclipse U.S. concerns over democracy in Russia.
"It is a deal. Concerning Iran, Russia can show more understanding for the U.S. concerns. Despite the harsh tone of the American president in Bratislava, ideological conflicts sometimes have to be put aside in favor of partnership on more important questions, such as security, terrorism, or the threat of nuclear proliferation," Kremenyuk said.
The United States has long tried to talk Russia out of building a nuclear plant in Bushehr, in the south of Iran. Together with some European countries, the United States fears that Iran could upgrade nuclear fuel to produce nuclear weapons. Washington also increasingly fears that terrorists might steal nuclear material to manufacture weapons. Russia, however, has always dismissed these fears as unfounded and maintains that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.
Masha Lipman, a Moscow-based independent political analyst, agrees that nuclear issues will take center stage at this week's talks in Moscow. She says that the United States will most likely tone down its criticism of Russia's poor democratic credentials.
"My cautious guess is that the tone will probably be softer. One of the reasons may be that there is not much America can do about Russia's democratic record unless the Russian people feel the urge to change the political situation in Russia and demand more democracy," Lipman said.
Lipman, however, said that anti-American sentiment remains strong in Russia even though Russian and the United States call themselves friends and strategic partners. "There are all sorts of signals coming from rather high-ranking Russian officials talking vaguely about certain forces in the West seeking to weaken Russia," she said. "There is a problem of anti-Western sentiment among conservative elites. There is a lot of resentment towards what is regarded as the meddling of the West and the U.S. in the Ukrainian electoral crisis."
From Moscow, Rice is scheduled to travel to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where she will attend a regular NATO meeting. She will also meet Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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