Are the U.S. and Russia on a Path for Conflict?

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that U.S.-Russian relations are likely to remain strained as long as President Bush continues to talk up his missile defense plans, and Russian President Putin continues to provoke with thinly veiled insults.


NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is something of a student of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia and formerly, the Soviet Union. He reported for Moscow during the Cold War and he observed summit meetings from Eisenhower-Khrushchev to Reagan-Gorbachev, and he's been keeping a close ear on the current rhetoric.

DANIEL SCHORR: President Bush may think he is only imitating President Reagan in developing a missile defense system and cramming it down the throat of the Russian president. Some Reaganites believe that the 1983 strategic defense initiative, dubbed "Star Wars," hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then as now, there was no operational system, but that doesn't prevent the White House and the Kremlin from being at each other's throats.

Conditions, however, are much different. It must rankle President Vladimir Putin that Poland and the Czech Republic, once Soviet satellites, are now planning to provide bases for elements of a system that Putin seems convinced is targeted on Russia. It must also occur to Putin that the Baltic resort where the G-8 summit is being held was once located in Soviet-dominated East Germany.

In the run-up to the summit, Presidents Bush and Putin have been exchanging some nasty words. Bush accuses Putin of derailing economic and political reform and suppressing free expression. Putin, in a Victory Day speech last month in Red Square, without mentioning the United States by name, complained of new threats to human life as during the Third Reich era.

Putin, with billions of dollars a year in oil revenues, apparently feels he can bait an America bogged down in a war in Iraq. The tension between the two may boil over during the G-8 summit or it may not. Bush has invited Putin to the senior Bush's compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1st and 2nd.

Assuming the invitation is not withdrawn, that will provide an opportunity for clearing the air if they are so minded. But these soulful(ph) days seemed to be over. Clearly, Putin has decided that he no longer needs to cater to America, the winner of the Cold War. And relations are likely to remain strained as long as the American president continues to torque up his missile defense plans.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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