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US-Russia relations deteriorating sharply, experts warn

June 7, 2006

By Guy Dinmore in Charleston, South Carolina
Published: June 7 2006 Financial Times

Relations between the US and Russia are deteriorating badly and there is a danger of conflict in the flashpoints of the south Caucasus, according to senior former officials and corporate leaders advising the EastWest Institute (EWI).

EWI board members at the think-tank’s annual meeting in Charleston were almost unanimous in calling for moves to prevent what one called an emerging “cold peace” between the US and Russia.

John Mroz, founder and president of EWI, called the deterioration worrisome. He placed the trend in the context of growing distrust between the major powers, including China, with the world in a state of transition between globalised and marginalised societies “no longer on automatic pilot moving towards a market-centric world”.

This had resulted in the rise of ethnic and nationalist identities, with growing numbers seeing globalisation threatening their cultures and religion.

Western societies were also losing their moral authority, he said, citing the example of the reported massacre of Iraqi civilians by US troops in Haditha which would inflict “enormous damage” on the US.

Several speakers – who under EWU guidelines spoke on condition of anonymity – expressed concerns that “populist” presidents in Taiwan and Georgia risked overplaying their nationalist hands and triggering military incidents or conflict between the US and China, and the US and Russia.

With Montenegro newly independent, and Kosovo on the way to statehood, the dangers of domino-style conflict were rising in the breakaway, Russian-backed enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.

“Georgia is an alarming situation and worse than thought,” said one former official.

“The mood is ugly and getting uglier,” said a corporate executive on the state of US-Russia ties.

Noting that every declared US presidential candidate was “bashing Russia”, one speaker predicted a worsening trend as both countries headed towards elections in 2008.

Established in 1980, EWI describes itself as a “do-tank”, working mostly behind the scenes directly with governments to address global security concerns. In the mid-80s it arranged “non-meetings” of senior US and Soviet defence officials in Budapest to discuss confidence-building measures.

Under a new initiative, Germany has seconded Ortwin Hennig, a senior official dealing in conflict prevention, to EWI to head a task force on US-Russia relations. Washington and Moscow are also each appointing a senior diplomat to focus on the south Caucasus. EWI is working with diplomats from all sides preparing for the G8 summit in St Petersburg next month.

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