As the hapless George W. Bush and the venomous Vladimir Putin gather for a summit at Kennebunkport, there is a sense of lost glories. These summits are no longer the peace or war, life or death discussions that they were under the cold war. However that is not to say that the meeting could not have some highly significant consequences. Particularly if Dubya repeats his "I looked into his soul" stuff from their first meeting in Ljubljana.
The fact is that Putin is a despot at home and an aggressive expansionist abroad. The American idea of who "lost" Russia, as laid out by Marshall Goldman in this piece, is very dangerous. It is not a question whether Dubya lost Russia- in fact Russia never truly joined the West, and is certainly not a part of it now. The US, as a part of NATO, has treaty commitments to countries that Russia has explicitly and dramatically threatened- as Estonia's President Ilves will have have reminded the Administration when he visited Washington last week.
The repeated use of illegal and aggressive measures has already put Putin's Russia beyond the pale. It is not the case that friendly concessions from the West will be reciprocated, rather they will be treated as signs of weakness. Therefore the West must return to its traditional policy of "containment": recognising that Russian intentions towards third parties are likely to be malign to the interests of democratic powers.
We have already woken up to the attempts by Russia to split NATO by alternately isolating then rewarding different members- with the exception of the UK, whose anger at Litvinenko's murder is not so easily stilled.
The shear brutality of Russian policy in recent weeks has already placed dramatic strain on the political connections between the West and Russia. However, the failure to adhere to minimum standards of rule of law has also undermined Russian attempts to attract inward investment. Although BP managed to make a profit (largely by ensuring a strong dividend flow) , the fact that even BP has failed to secure its position, despite clear commitments and legal contracts, has warned off many other investors. Although some may say that capitalists will always chase a profit, the fact is that the real issue is risk-reward, and unless the rewards of doing business are absolutely stellar, the risks are simply insurmountable for most major direct investment- as the withdrawal of DSG, the British retailer, from a proposed investment in Russia has shown quite clearly.
Bush is a discredited President, and any supposed "historic deal" that he may emerge with from his discussions with the Russian leader will more likely reflect his own weaknesses than any significant improvement in Russo-American relations. We watch with interest and concern.