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Russia's slide into the past

Beyond Iraq and the fight against terrorism, serious security and foreign policy challenges face the winner of the 2004 election.'s Kari Huus reports on 5 crises that can't be ignored.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks there was a flurry of good will between the United States and Russia, as Moscow threw its support behind the war on terrorism.  Russia’s government was cooperative when U.S. troops were sent to bases in the region.

In 2001 President Bush set aside earlier criticism and seemed to forge a close bond with President Vladimir Putin, declaring him a man to be trusted. “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush said.

But Putin has steadily dismantled Russia’s fledgling democratic institutions – attacking press freedoms, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and the parliament. He recently announced he would appoint governors rather than having them elected.

“It’s been a systematic rollback of every independent source of power in the country,” says Carnegie associate McFaul, who also teaches at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He says it is the biggest setback for democratization in decades.

Meanwhile,Russia has failed the United States on key issues, such as pressuring Iran to halt its weapons development. The Russians have an $800 million contract with the Iranians to build a light water reactor at Bushehr, despite the possibility that spent fuel at the reactor could be diverted for nuclear weapons.

And Putin’s approach to Chechen separatists has been an awkward local version of the global war on terrorism. Moscow’s four-year long effort to root out terrorists has devastated the whole society, while possibly spawning new extremists in the region.

“We need to rethink the deal we made with Putin,” says Tom Carothers, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It’s not clear our interests are in common anymore.”