A confrontation with Russia over Georgia is hardly a part of the Bush Administration's strategic design-U.S. priorities include major issues like Iran, where the U.S. wants Russian cooperation, and Russia's WTO accession, which many hope may open the way to significant U.S. investment in Russia's energy sector as well as helping to arrest a wider decline in bilateral ties. But when the White House initiated a phone call between Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin on those topics, Mr. Putin insisted on devoting a considerable part of the conversation to the Russian-Georgian dispute. And it was apparent that the Russian leader felt quite strongly about perceived U.S. encouragement of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to pursue a hard line toward Moscow. Moreover, while Putin did not suggest any explicit linkage between the U.S. support of Georgia and Russia's response to Iran, there is clearly an implicit linkage. The bottom line is that just as Moscow's position on Iran's nuclear program is becoming a defining issue in U.S. policy toward Russia, so is U.S. involvement with Georgia becoming a defining consideration in Moscow's willingness to satisfy American concerns.
Russia announced sanctions against Georgia after Moscow was reliably informed by the U.S. government that Russian officers detained on spying charges would be returned home through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This was after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally called Saakashvili-at Russia's request-and persuaded him to send the arrested Russian officers to Moscow promptly. So the Putin government's decision to introduce sanctions against Georgia was clearly not the constructive response Washington hoped for after its private diplomacy.
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