Izvestia, May 16, 2002
Michael McFaul is one of the most well-known specialists on
Russia in the United States. Some even regard him as the main
ideologue and consultant to the Bush administration on Russian policy.
He was invited to the White House solely to help the president prepare
for the first meetings with Vladimir Putin. What can we expect from
next week's Russian-American summit? Michael McFaul spoke to us about
this at Stanford University.
Question: There are many hawks in the Bush administration, who do
not welcome close contacts with Russia. They are Vice President
Richard Cheney, head of the Pentagon Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy
Paul Wolfowitz. Can they interfere with success of the summit?
McFaul: This is hardly likely to happen. After the events of
September 11, these people are alarmed not at Russia or China, but at
different problems. This allows such people as Colin Powell and
Condoleeza Rice to dominate in the foreign policies. As far as
President Bush is concerned, he is not just a passive on-looker as it
may seem. The idea of closer contacts with Putin belongs to him. Bush
does not have the experience of the Cold War, at that time he was not
in politics yet. He dealt with other things, such as baseball, and I
believe that he has never met a Soviet leader. In contrast to those
fighting against the USSR, Bush is sure that Russia is a part of
Europe. He has no stereotypes in regard to Putin. It does not matter
to him that Putin used to work with the KGB.
Question: Does it matter to you?
McFaul: Yes, it does. I have certain fears in this connection. I
fully support all what Putin is doing in economy. His foreign
policies, even if they do not correspond with the United States's
interests, prove that he is a very competent person. I have questions
to your leader concerning democracy. I know civil servants of the
Kremlin and of the Russian government. They believe that dictatorship
can secure economic growth. But this can be so only in agrarian
countries, willing to become industrial ones. And now Russia has post-
industrial economy. I am afraid that Putin does not realize this.
Question: Do you hint at the stories about NTV, Berezovsky?
McFaul: I speak in general. I think that Putin does not
understand that criticizing power can help this power. How do we fight
corruption in the United States? There are two forces - independent
media and powerful opposition party.
Question: What are the priorities of the administration in your
relations with Russia?
McFaul: After September 11 the priorities have essentially
changed. Some time ago I thought that there was nothing more important
for Bush and Condoleeza Rice than contacts with Moscow. After the
terrorist acts they stopped paying due attention to Russia. In any
case, the United States aspire to secure membership of your country in
the western community - this is their prior task now. It means
cooperation in fighting terrorism and the planned admission of Russia
into the WTO. The administration does not Bush and Putin to talk only
on the standard set of topics during their Moscow meeting - nuclear
arms, stability in Europe, regional conflicts and suchlike.
Question: Will the summit become a significant stage in the
development of the Russian-American relations?
McFaul: I think so. Firstly, the administrated wants to conclude
an agreement on reducing strategic offensive arms and believes to make
Putin happy with this. By the way, earlier Bush was not ready to sign
it. Secondly, the United States is likely to cancel the Jackson-Vanik
amendment about Russia. Thirdly, the administration is interested in
closer contacts of Moscow with NATO. This will be discussed at the
summit. And the question of Iraq, too.
Question: Many believe that the military operation of the United
States in Iraq will take place at the end of the year. Is it so?
McFaul: At least, we wish to do so. A month ago I was sure that
the United States would strike at Saddam Hussein, at the end of the
year. But while the Middle East is at war, while the countries do not
reach an agreement, the White House will not start the operation.
Question: At the new stage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the
White House acted in a different way than Israel had expected.
Terrorists did not offer any choice to Israel with their explosions in
cafes, markets and buses.
McFaul: Bush announced, quite unexpectedly for me, that there
should be a state named Palestine. This is the cornerstone of the
problem, the cause for the disagreement between many Israeli
politicians, who refuse this idea point-blank. Of course, Bush
supports Israel as a country counteracting terrorism. This is our main
ally in the Middle East.
Question: Why did not the United States change its critical
attitude toward Moscow's actions in Chechnya after September 11? This
has been proved that Al-Qaeda financed, armed and instructed Chechen
McFaul: Many Americans believe that the previous position should
be changed. I am not one of them. "We should use the experience of
Russians in Chechnya", said one congressman. But I would like to draw
a historical example. If I am not mistaken, in 1985 Nelson Mandela was
mentioned in documents of the State Department of the United States as
a communist terrorist. He supported units destroying white farmers in
South Africa. Yet the sole purpose of Mandela was independence. The
situation in Chehcnya is very similar: there are extremists, who need
an Islamite order who think about destroying Russia, the United
States. And there are young people, who just want to be independent
from Russia. They fight together like it was in Angola, Zimbabwe, SAR,
Question: And what do you suggest?
McFaul: I advise Chechens to stop taking money from Islamites, to
declare that you are not with them, with terrorists. Maskhadov is too
weak for such declarations. But I am sure that the political process,
not the military one, will prevail in Chechnya. All wars end in
agreements. It is better to do it now than in twenty years.
Question: You do not support Russian military actions in
Chechnya, do you?
McFaul: I supported the military response of Russia to Basaev's
sortie to Dagestan in 1999. We would have done the same if some
revolutionary from Mexico wanted to liberate Texas from the United
States. Of course, Russia should protect itself. Yet the continuation
of this war and the present tactics of military operations will not
secure the major task - they will not protect the country. Now all
extremists of the Arabian world want to fight in Chechnya. Is it in
Question: Do you think that negotiations with Maskhadov is the
only way out?
McFaul: I cannot think of any other way out.
Question: Who is it more advantageous to keep contact with -
Moscow or Beijing?
McFaul: I will answer in a different way: the contact with
Beijing is more complicated. The progress with the relations with
Russia is obvious. And it is not clear yet what we will have with
China. We have a good trade with it but let us remember: the USSR
traded with the west before the WW II very well. I am sure that the
threat to the world in the 21st century will come from China.
Question: Does Russia pose a threat to the United States?
McFaul: Americans do not think so any more. And I am worried
about the destiny of democracy in Russia. The conservative military-
industrial complex is still influential in Russia. It is it, not Putin
that needs to export nuclear technologies to Iran. Look, each
trustworthy ally of the United States is a democratic country, each
enemy is a dictatorship. Now Russia is much closer to the democratic
standards than a decade ago. But it has not come to them closely
Question: The development of the Russian-American relations is
obvious. Now we have more agreements than disagreements.
McFaul: That is why I am optimistic. We have got the basis, we
just have to use it correctly. The relations between Putin and Bush
are also good. They are just as close as those between Yeltsin and
Clinton, and even more stable. Both the presidents are pragmatic, in
contrast to their predecessors. That is why they have found a common
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