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Russians Demand Substance Over Style

Diplomacy: Criticism of Putin's budding relationship with the U.S. is growing. Many want concrete results from his talks with Bush.

November 16, 2001|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The ranch summit between Vladimir V. Putin and George W. Bush may make for a great Texas barbecue, but back home in Russia, some of the more ornery hombres are asking: Where's the beef?

"It is time for [Russian President] Putin to come home with a bird in the hand rather than two still in the bush," said Viktor A. Kremenyuk of the independent USA-Canada Institute. "This is the fourth meeting in a year, and every time, Putin comes back empty-handed--even though the phraseology gets more and more friendly each time."

The problem for Putin, Kremenyuk said, is that he has gotten ahead of much of the Russian establishment in his push for closer ties with the United States. That is especially true on subjects related to strategic arms and on U.S. presence in Central Asia, which Russians regard as their backyard.

Although Putin remains popular with his public, there has been a groundswell of criticism lately from nationalist, hard-line and left-of-center elements, as well as from influential former military officers.

On the eve of his departure Monday for the U.S., Putin met with senior army officers to quell discontent reportedly brewing over the new coziness with Washington.

Top brass had expressed its sentiment in an open letter, published Saturday, by 18 former generals and admirals saying they "do not care for" the direction the leadership is taking Russia. Among other things, they criticized Putin's plans to downsize the military and close its bases in Lourdes, Cuba, and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, which symbolized Russian aspirations to remain a global military power.

The newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta said Tuesday that there is "growing disagreement within the Defense Ministry with the way in which the Kremlin is structuring its participation in the anti-terrorist coalition. To put it in agitprop style, the boot of the American soldier is trampling the recently Soviet soil of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. That is absolutely at odds with the philosophy" of the armed forces leadership.

Newspaper comments on the summit were generally positive but not overly enthusiastic--and in some cases cynical. A headline in Vremya MN said: "The Cold War Is Over, One More Time."

Especially in left-wing newspapers, the commentaries reflected a sense of disappointment that Putin gained little of substance and a belief that important Russian interests were being sacrificed.

"No matter how much they pat each other on the back and give each other bearhugs in front of TV cameras, they will not become equal partners," the hard-line Sovietskaya Rossiya said of Putin and President Bush.

"Bush represents the countries that are headed toward global hegemony, while Putin represents a country in full retreat," it said.

Even pro-Kremlin newspapers underlined that there was no written, formal agreement by the U.S. to cut its offensive weapons to a specific level, only Bush's promise to do so. And there was no clear resolution of the two countries' dispute over the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. has threatened to abrogate to begin testing of a national missile defense system.

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Sergei L. Loiko of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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