Published: May 31, 2007
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, accused the United States of starting a new arms race and implicitly threatened to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution that, like the one proposed by the United States and its European allies, would recognize the independence of Kosovo.
Even as the White House and the Kremlin were announcing plans for a rare kiss-and-make-up meeting between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin, their top diplomats were clashing here in the historic castle where Churchill, Truman and Stalin met to decide how to carve up Germany after World War II.
This time, the big issue was the carving up of the former Yugoslavia, where the mostly Albanian-inhabited province of Kosovo wants to secede from Serbia. That, along with the American plan to place antimissile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, has pitted Russia against the West in a war of words with flashbacks to the cold war.
Mr. Lavrov harshly criticized Washington’s plan to build a missile shield over countries that were once part of the Soviet sphere of influence. And he took issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for calling Russian concerns about it ludicrous.
“All they’re saying is, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not aimed at you,’ ” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference after the meeting. “It’s such answers that are ludicrous.”
“We quite agree,” Ms. Rice said with a sly smile, countering that Russian officials themselves have bragged that their strategic defense systems can easily overwhelm any missile defense system that the United States puts up in Europe. Mr. Lavrov was having none of it. “I hope that no one has to prove that Condi is right about that,” he interjected.
Their clashes are indicative of a chill in their countries’ relations. In February, Mr. Putin delivered a blistering speech accusing the United States of undermining international institutions and making the Middle East more unstable through its clumsy handling of the Iraq war.
Russia is also deeply unhappy about the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and about the perception in Russia that the West has supported groups that have toppled other governments in Moscow’s former sphere of influence.
Mr. Bush, Ms. Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates have tried, without success, to reassure the Russians that the missile system is aimed at preventing attack by the likes of Iran or North Korea.
The tensions have heightened to the point that the two countries have decided to hold a one-on-one session between Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush on July 1 in Kennebunkport, Me. But it is hard to see how that will tone down the sparring, given how far apart the two behemoths are on Kosovo.
The United States and its Western European allies favor a draft United Nations resolution endorsing supervised independence for Kosovo, where a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 helped defeat Serbian forces. Russia is adamantly opposed.
At the meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Lavrov repeatedly questioned why the United States was so intent on resolving Kosovo’s status when other areas of the world were in dispute.
“Lavrov said, ‘Why don’t we solve the case of Western Sahara first?’ ” said a European official who was at the session, speaking on condition of anonymity under customary diplomatic rules. “He even brought up Abkhazia,” the obscure Black Sea region that has been trying to secede from Georgia. “And every time Lavrov said something, Condi would jump in,” the official said. “It was like tennis.”
Mr. Lavrov did not tone down his ire over the Kosovo plan after the meeting, when the foreign ministers held their news conference and most tried to act cordial. He hinted, as Russian officials have before, that Russia would veto any Security Council resolution seeking to recognize Kosovo as an independent country, unless Serbia agreed first, which diplomats said was very unlikely.
“I can’t imagine a situation where the Security Council will approve such a resolution,” Mr. Lavrov said. “Such a situation will not happen.”
A senior Bush administration official acknowledged that the administration, in more than six years, had not figured out how to manage its relationship with Russia. “There are a lot of things we have that are of common interest, and at the same time, we need to push where necessary,” said the official, speaking anonymously under diplomatic rules. “And to be able to do both things at the same time is hard, particularly for American administrations. We either tend to do one or the other, and for this to work we have to do both.” Fair use from NYT,Washington Post.