Kerry treads in Bush's Russian footsteps

One of the main objectives of the Democratic convention, which opened in Boston on Monday, is to show US voters the real John Kerry. The people of America do not know the Democrat candidate-elect well enough. Some Western analysts even claim that Kerry is a big blank spot, except for the striking detail that he volunteered to fight in Vietnam.

Russians, including those who take a great interest in international politics, do not seem to know much about Kerry either. Naturally, they would like to learn more about this man, who could be the next president of the United States, a country that was once the Soviet Union's main enemy and is now Russia's strategic partner. Many Russians now read foreign newspapers and surf the Internet to learn John Kerry's opinion of their country and his possible strategy for developing US-Russian relations should he win the White House.

Russian political scientists, as well as ordinary Russians, are inclined to think that Moscow traditionally maintains better relations with Republican, rather than Democratic, administrations. However, Bill Clinton managed to charm Boris Yeltsin to such a great extent that he did not object to the US withdrawal from the 1972 ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty, which shook up this stereotype a great deal.

Mr Kerry's campaign statements enable one to draw the following conclusion: this Democratic leader comprehends Russia's significance in the system of US foreign-policy priorities and would like to assure Moscow of his goodwill.

Among other things, Mr Kerry praises Russia's successes in forging an open and free society, market economics and democratic rule over the last few years. Kerry believes Russia's commitment to these values is "admirable" and he has promised to help the people of Russia strengthen the foundations of democratic society and the primacy of law. Grateful Russian citizens can only welcome this.

Of course, Mr Kerry would not be a Democratic contender, if he did not believe that his Republican rivals are pursuing an incorrect policy.

In the "Russia" section of the Democratic campaign headquarters' official document dedicated to European security, Mr Kerry and his running mate John Edwards resolutely insist that America's Russian policy "must consist of more than just words." The document reads, "Russia deserves a real agenda for co-operation, opportunities for engagement, and candid communications."

Any more or less bright reader may suppose that the Republican administration's Russian policy had, until now, consisted of mere words. But how does the Democrat ticket intend to fill the alleged vacuum, if they make it to the White House?

The Democratic candidate is sending out a clear-cut message on this score. Kerry repeatedly mentions Russia as a new source of energy resources along with Canada and Africa's non-OPEC countries. In his opinion, Russia could thus rid the United States of its dangerous dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Kerry should admit for the sake of justice that, instead of merely filling in a possible vacuum, this highlights an intention to follow in the Republican administration's wake.

The point is that Russian and US business circles, with Washington's most active participation, have been conducting an intense commercial energy dialogue for the last two years. It promises to become a key element in bilateral economic relations, with the US Chamber of Commerce and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Businessmen acting as co-chairs.

It is public knowledge that US gas prices have soared 100% over the last 12 months, while 95% of all US power plants use natural gas. The most conservative estimates claim that nationwide gas demand will double within the next 20 years. In its search for new gas resources, the US business community turned its gaze to Russia a long time ago. Although the bulk of Russia's supplies now go to Europe, Russia could become America's biggest gas supplier.

For instance, a group of US businessmen would like to build a liquefied-gas factory on the Yamal Peninsula to ensure deliveries for the US East Coast. Moreover, four major Russian companies intend to lay a pipeline from Western Siberia to Murmansk. Once overhauled, the Murmansk seaport would supply crude oil to the US at Middle Eastern prices. Analysts on the global oil market are positive that proven Russian oil deposits will mean Russia's share in the US oil imports will rise to 15% or even 20%.

Therefore, by singling out Russia as an important energy source, Mr Kerry, although he is entirely correct, is not saying anything new. Indeed, the Republicans have taken some specific measures in this sphere.

Mr Kerry's Russian-policy statements also highlight his intention to ensure the security of Russia's weapon-grade nuclear materials as soon as possible. The Democratic candidate's experts believe that it will take 13 years to prevent rogue states and prospective terrorists from laying their hands on former Soviet nuclear materials. "We cannot wait that long," Mr Kerry said in a recent speech entitled New Strategies To Meet New Threats. "I will ensure that we remove this material entirely from sites that can't adequately be secured during my first term."

RIA Novosti's military sources claim that Kerry, who voices good intentions, does not comprehend the scale of this problem clearly enough. It is impossible to guarantee the security of nuclear materials all over post-Soviet territory in one go and to remove them elsewhere during in just four years.

Still it should be mentioned for the sake of justice that Kerry is also treading in Bush's footsteps here. The Republican Administration is doing a great deal to help Moscow scrap its obsolete nuclear weapons and ensure the security of fissionable nuclear materials. Among other things, the G8 summit in Kananaskis endorsed the Global Partnership Program with Washington's blessing and on its initiative; the program aims to accomplish a Herculean objective. The United States undertakes to provide $10 billion within the next ten years, with other G8 members contributing another $10 billion.

Russia and other CIS countries are quite grateful for this aid. However, this sense is not so heartfelt when it comes to politically motivated strings, such as inspections at military bases and top-secret R&D agencies, because this affects national security.

On the whole, one can draw the following curious conclusion: John Kerry's Russian policy differs little from George Bush's. Benevolent co-operation with Russia is turning into a bipartisan category. The Democrats are merely vying with the Republicans in terms of their ambitious plans. And this can only be welcomed, because such policies will facilitate enduring and long-term Russian-US co-operation.

Vladimir Simonov, RIA Novosti

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Author`s name: Editorial Team