The movement of Russia into the community of nations, nudged by the United States, proceeds apace with little notice. While the Yeltsin government was convulsed with parliamentary rebuke and resignations from the war in Chechnya -- and while the U.S. shuttle Atlantis was docking at the Russian space station Mir -- Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin were leading platoons of bureaucrats signing papers in Moscow.
In the long run, those pieces of paper will be remembered from the events of the week, if only as part of a larger flow. This was the fifth semi-annual meeting of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. It failed to resolve the worst problem before it. But, isolating that one, it moved forward on others. And the relationship between the two giants was knitted a little stronger, better able to withstand the flare-ups that will continue to occur.
The most notable achievement was agreement on joint ventures to exploit oil and gas on Sakhalin Island and offshore. Exxon and a Japanese company will play major roles. The $15 billion deal will transform Russia from a major oil producer to a major exporter (even if western Siberia exploitation remains frustrating), provide it much-needed exchange, free Japan from over-dependence on the Persian Gulf and reduce the dominance of world markets by politically fragile gulf producers.
This development is in virtually every American's interest, and every Russian's. It ought not be held hostage to political melodrama in Moscow, or to serious disagreements between Washington and Moscow on other matters. And it was not.
There were other deals. Where the relationship failed to make progress was in the effort of the United States to dissuade Russia from selling Iran $1 billion worth of light-water nuclear reactors.
The U.S. remains convinced these will help Iran develop nuclear weapons, and Russia that they will not. Mr. Chernomyrdin affirmed with the need to prevent Iran from developing such weapons, so the goal is not in dispute. The Russia-Iran reactor deal remains an open subject for further discussion.
It will take years for this relationship to solidify, starting as it does without a legal framework underpinning private enterprise in Russia. There is a great deal as yet unresolved in business relationships, arms control and technological cooperation. But the mutual interest in these areas is enormous.
In all probability the "Gore-Chernomyrdin commission" will continue whittling down the differences between the United States and Russia long after Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin have left their respective scenes.