Russia had far too long been ignored by the United States from its global strategic calculus and the management of international security. The Washington policy establishment was dismissive of Russia as a 'had been superpower' and now lacking any substantial political or military clout comparable to the United States.
This was a gross misnomer as a reality check would have indicated that following President Putin's ascendancy to power in 2000, Russia's resurgence had commenced and by 2007 as on today, Russia was back in business. It could no longer be ignored and exhibited firmly that it had regained its relevance in the global strategic calculus.
The above stands dramatized in President Bush's personal invitation to President Putin for an 'informal summit' which took place not in Washington but at the Bush's family home at Kennebunkport in Maine on the Atlantic coast.
Traditionally and symbolically, US Presidents have resorted to personal diplomacy when relationships with a particular country had reached a downslide of critical proportions and which could not be untangled by the foreign policy bureaucracies of the two countries. Inviting foreign Heads of State to presidential family homes away from the glare of publicity attendant in Washington helped in defusing political differences even if no substantial outcomes emerged.
Russia today stands as a resurgent state bent on re-emerging as an independent global power center and re-establishing its traditional spheres of influence. This has been made possible by Russia's burgeoning oil and natural gas revenues. These financial resources have facilitated Russia achieving a tremendous strategic, political and economic clout all around.
Europe is significantly dependant on Russia for its energy requirements and a network of pipelines emanating from Russia virtually shackle European countries. This makes Russia a significant player in European affairs and provides a coercive instrument against the erstwhile Warsaw Pact allies of Russia now cozying up to USA and NATO.
On the other end of the globe, China once again has moved into a quasi-strategic alliance with Russia driven by fears that the United States has initiated 'China Containment' policies. Reacting to the United States' unilateralism policies of the post-Cold War era and the ignoring by the United States of the strategic sensitivities of Russia and China, these two countries reacted to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a counterfoil. This was to arrest the gradual creep of NATO's frontiers towards Russia and China. In geographical terms this encompasses virtually the whole of Russia , China and Eurasia. It challenges the so far unquestioned strategic predominance that the United States had acquired in the post Cold War era.
Russia also has embarked in the last two years on a program to introduce into service a whole new generation of ICBM's and nuclear submarines which earlier could not be produced due to lack of financial resources.
In addition, President Putin made diplomatic forays in West Asia targeting traditional and strong US allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar besides Israel. That such US allies were willing to engage Russia now indicates the growing strategic stature of Russia. Add to this the close ties of Iran and Syria with Russia and that indicates the strategic hold of Russia in West Asia especially in relation to Iran intent on defiance of the United States in relation to its nuclear program.
With such a contextual background it was not surprising that the United States President was prompted to invite President Putin to his family home and engage him to find out ways to overcome Russia's strong opposition to the US and NATO's plans to grant independence to Kosovo from Serbia and the US plans to deploy US missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic. On both these sensitive issues for Russia's security , President Putin had issued strong public warnings to USA, NATO and East European countries.
President Bush was also keen to seek Russia's assistance and its support to rein in Iran's nuclear program. The United States has now become well aware that it cannot make any headway without Russian assistance in view of the tremendous leverages that Russia enjoys over Iran.
The discussions took place between President Bush and President Putin on July 1-2, 2007 in an informal atmosphere interspersed with fishing trips and family dinners. No joint statements or formal communiqu's are issued after such informal summits and the full parameters of discussions are not available. Suffice it to say that even if no substantial outcome may have emerged, the very fact that a dialogue took place and the rigidity and strong rhetoric that was getting prominence on the contentious issues indicates that a crisis may have been averted.
What is important is that the United States policy establishment has recognized that Russia has regained its relevance in the global strategic calculus and cannot be ignored in the management of international security and global stability.