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A POTENTIAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN BUSH AND PUTIN COULD BE NAMED AFTER SLOVAK CAPITAL

Geography behind "strategic" role

ACCORDING to Bruno S Sergi, Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin have a chance to dramatically improve global stability when they meet in Bratislava on February 24. On the other hand, if the US and Russian leaders do not manage to show the world a united front on certain sensitive topics, such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism, for example, then the outcome will mostly count against Bush, he says.

ACCORDING to Bruno S Sergi, Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin have a chance to dramatically improve global stability when they meet in Bratislava on February 24. On the other hand, if the US and Russian leaders do not manage to show the world a united front on certain sensitive topics, such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism, for example, then the outcome will mostly count against Bush, he says.

Sergi teaches European Economics at the University of Messina, Italy. He is also a research fellow at the University of Melbourne's Contemporary Europe Research Centre and an adjunct professor of International Business at City University Bratislava. The Slovak Spectator spoke with him recently about the upcoming presidential summit between Bush and Putin, and his opinion of the potential impact on Slovakia - and the world at large.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why in your opinion have the USA and Russia chosen Bratislava as the location for the summit?

Bruno Sergi (BS): Bratislava is at a crossroads between the East and West in Europe, and it may well have been seen as the most desirable capital city for the summit in a Central-Eastern European context. Slovakia is a strong ally of Washington but also respects Russia's traditional political and security concerns. Slovakia also has good relations with Ukraine, which is one possible component leading to the summit.

I think this summit could help shape a new strategic relationship between the US, Europe and Russia, greatly helping the establishment of stability and a more coherent political and economic world. Thus, Bratislava appears to be a sort of strategic central location for hosting such a summit.


TSS: What concrete benefits could such a summit bring to Slovakia apart from the formal status of being the host country?

BS: In theory, it may have a positive impact on the country's visibility throughout Europe and globally. To make the most of this opportunity, though, both government and media should engineer a very impressive campaign of support, not only about the meeting per se, but also about indicating the importance of Bratislava as a national capital. If both leaders reached an agreement that would be named after Bratislava, the impact could be much stronger than imagined.


TSS: Do you think that the visit could potentially weaken some of the negative feeling that part of the population has towards the USA? Can we view the summit as another step towards visa-free entry for Slovaks travelling to the USA?

BS: Apart from those organized groups that seem to always dislike the political and cultural dominance of the US and the fact that it is the world's only superpower, a possible weakening of anti-US feeling rests on two main pillars. First, whether the leaders will make certain important agreements. For example, a mutually shared strategy toward democracy, counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or a common global antiterrorism campaign could help both leaders' popularity a great deal. On the other hand, a failure to reach an accord would increase negative sentiment toward the US. Second, the manner in which the media presents the summit to the local and international community will matter.

Concerning visa-free entry into the US for Slovaks, it is unlikely the US could or would drop visa-entry requirements for Slovaks following a meeting such as this, unless there were dramatic agreements of such importance that lifting visas became politically necessary.


TSS: What do you think the main focus of the Bush-Putin summit will be?

BS: There are several issues both leaders could thrash out. US President George W Bush could talk about Iraq and Russian President Vladimir Putin could explain the Yukos affair. In light of the Yukos affair, Bush may enquire after fears of Putin's autocratic tendencies in Moscow and Chechnya, the role of Moscow in the recent Ukrainian presidential elections, and concern over the entire significance of Russia's policy toward China. If democratic slogans and speeches have become the new motto for the White House regarding Russia, then Russia-China interplay in the oil sector in light of burgeoning increases of Chinese oil imports from Russia must be addressed. Additional issues of geopolitical importance include the recent interest by China for Russian gas, the $6 billion China has borrowed from Russia, and the fact that Russia is the major supplier of military technology to China. In contrast, Putin could ask Bush about its overall policies in the Middle East, the situation in Iraq, and the "triad" of issues concerning Iran, Syria and North Korea, which includes discussions of weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism.

I truthfully believe the two leaders will have to successfully communicate most of their issues without reprimanding each other. Searching for a renewal of mutual confidence, sharing common values and efforts in fighting the menace from global terrorism, paving the way for Russia into the World Trade Organization (the US and Japan have not yet given final approval) are major points that can only be dealt with pragmatically by both sides.


TSS: Do you expect the summit to bring any decisive changes or movements in US-Russian relations?

BS: If the summit is a success it will benefit the world, not simply the two leaders or the overall US-Russia relationship. In reality, global issues deserve decisive solutions by major players; therefore, Bush and Putin must move their respective administrations towards the realities of the complex global society in which we live. The world has already witnessed enough summits held at various levels and locations resulting in impressive action plans but, unfortunately, moving the world no closer to viable solutions, Bush and Putin could obtain an immensely important return of goodwill globally, by addressing world issues in a coherent ethical and moral perspective. This would add to their own respectability within their countries, to overall public approval for the two leaders, and a permanent shift regarding this summit's outcome from one of short-term scope to one of long-term commitments concerning their ethical obligations to the entire world.

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