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Deputy Assistant Secretary Russel: U.S.-Russian Relations: First Year of the Obama Administration

World Russia Forum



(As Pepared Remarks)

I want to thank the Discovery Institute and the American University in Moscow, and Ed Lozansky in particular, for the opportunity to reflect on U.S.-Russian relations with you today. A little over a year ago, President Obama and Secretary Clinton committed the United States to a policy of principled engagement and, just a few weeks ago, Presidents Obama and Medvedev met in Prague to sign an historic arms control agreement. So, this is an auspicious moment for stock-taking, and the World Russia Forum is an ideal forum for doing so.

Perspective on the Last Twenty Months

As somebody – like Ambassador Kislyak — who has experienced more than a fair share of ups and downs in U.S.-Russian diplomacy, I confess that this complicated relationship sometimes seems like a rollercoaster ride.

Less than two years ago, in the wake of the Russian-Georgia war, many of us here today worried about the very real danger of a steady adversarial drift between Washington and Moscow. The Council on Foreign Relations already had warned that “contention [was] crowding out consensus” and that “the very idea of a strategic partnership no longer seem[ed] realistic.” Likewise, then-President Putin’s speech at the Munich security conference had highlighted the disarray in our relations. We faced a situation where mutual frustration threatened to overwhelm our mutual interests. While U.S. and Russian officials rightly noted that there was no ideological basis for a “new Cold War,” we lacked the diplomatic architecture and political ballast that would have helped defuse or prevent successive conflicts over Kosovo, NATO enlargement, energy security, and the escalating tensions that culminated in Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

Today, the difference in outlook is striking. Promising a “fresh start,” President Obama and President Medvedev set the tone for a new relationship, using last July’s summit in Moscow to reinforce the notion that, on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation. President Obama underscored that “America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia;” acknowledging that only if Russia “occupies its rightful place as a great power” can we achieve the partnership required to tackle the challenges of combating nonproliferation and terrorism, promoting economic opportunity and energy security, and advancing an international system that protects sovereignty and human rights, while promoting stability and prosperity.

The power of this pragmatic diplomacy is reflected in two trends. A majority of Russians now have a positive view of America — a jump of 16 percentage points in the last year. Equally significant is President Medvedev’s assessment that “trust, openness, and the readiness to heed each other’s interests” now characterize our relations. I’m not naive — the legacy of the Cold War will not be overturned overnight and the United States and Russia have real differences, particularly on issues like Georgia. Even in areas where we agree, competition can jostle cooperation. But I am convinced that we need a strong Russia on our side, not on the sidelines or siding against us.

Accomplishments of the Reset: Year One

At their first meeting in Geneva last March, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov promised to begin working immediately to translate our words into deeds. Fourteen months later, the results are tangible.

First, the Administration achieved its highest priority: the conclusion of a legally binding and verifiable arms control treaty to replace the START agreement. The new treaty’s required cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces are significant. Strategic delivery vehicles will be reduced 56% below the START limit; strategic warheads associated with deployed strategic delivery vehicles will be reduced 30% below the Moscow Treaty limit. The negotiations themselves were an important confidence building measure, with each side having to address the core concerns of the other, stripping aside polemics for pragmatic and fair compromises. Cooperation on nuclear security is continuing. The signing at the Nuclear Security Summit two weeks ago by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement Protocol will neutralize enough plutonium for 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Second, even as we worked to reduce our arsenals, the U.S. and Russia have intensified efforts to ensure other countries do not acquire them. Over the past year, Washington and Moscow have worked closely with our European and Chinese partners in the P5+1 to hold Iran to account. Russia was a close and constructive partner in developing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s proposal to provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor — a fair and creative proposal that would have given reassurances to both sides and bought time for diplomacy, while helping to meet Iran’s humanitarian needs. Bilaterally, Russia has reinforced to the Iranian leadership the costs of defying the international community. While sanctions are not Moscow’s preference, President Medvedev has reaffirmed Russia’s readiness to move forward on a new United Nations Security Council resolution in the face of Iranian intransigence. While we may have differences of opinion on tactics, the U.S. and Russia have never been as united on the objective of preventing Iran’s emergence as a nuclear weapons power.

Third, Russia has become a vital partner in the defeating the Taliban and securing Afghanistan. People often ask what’s new in the “reset” and my short answer is “cooperation on Afghanistan.” President Medvedev’s offer last April led to agreement on an unprecedented transit air corridor over Russia. The Obama Administration also took Moscow up on its offer of non-lethal ground transport to NATO Allies. As a result, more than 6,000 cargo containers and 23,000 military personnel have crossed Russian territory in the past year. There have been over 200 flights over Russia in support of our efforts in Afghanistan and transit flights are now averaging two-a-day. We have deepened our cooperation on countering Afghan narcotics and drug financing, including information-sharing between our drug enforcement agencies Together we are seeking other opportunities to work together to stabilize Afghanistan and assist in its economic recovery.

Our fourth accomplishment is the creation of the Bilateral Presidential Commission which is overseen by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov. The Commission, with its sixteen working groups, serves as both a catalyst and a venue for broadening our cooperation beyond the traditional Cold War confines of arms control and security. Some examples of our new engagement include: strengthening aviation security and our ability to counter violent extremism; facilitating business ties in high-tech industries such as aviation; and establishing new partnerships between our universities and new exchange programs for our youth in math, science, and sports.

The Commission, for example, helped facilitate an “Innovation Delegation” of CEOs from leading American technology companies, such as Twitter, eBay, and Cisco. The delegation responded to the Russian government’s call for modernization through innovation. Together, Russians and Americans came up with new ideas for using social media to promote better governance, combat trafficking-in-persons, and improve education and healthcare, tapping into the 45 million Russian internet users, who enjoy unfettered access to the worldwide web. We’re now trying to help turn their innovative proposals into a reality, just as the Commission is tapping into the creativity of Russians and Americans in new areas, such as for our scientists to expand programs on carbon cycle monitoring, including in the Arctic; for our energy experts to exchange best practices on green building design and smart grid technology; and for our health professionals to devise new e-solutions for improving health care delivery and to perform joint research.

Bilateral Agenda for the Future

While the results of the last year have been significant, our ambitions are much greater. I’ll briefly sketch out an agenda for a strengthened U.S.-Russian partnership.

First, our joint leadership will be required to further reduce nuclear stockpiles, prevent nuclear proliferation and promote the safe use of civilian power. The new START agreement represents an essential step toward deeper, even more meaningful nuclear reductions in the future. Such reductions could potentially include U.S. and Russian reductions in tactical nuclear weapons and in non-deployed nuclear warheads.

As we pursue these deeper cuts, it is essential that existing materials be safeguarded. As President Obama has urged, the U.S. and Russia have an opportunity to turn the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into a durable international institution. Likewise, while maintaining our own bilateral goals for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, we need to work together and with our G8 partners to expand the scope of the Global Partnership. And we are also working closely with Russia to transfer the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership into a broader, international framework to develop civil nuclear energy, to include the development of a safe and secure “cradle-to-grave” approach to nuclear fuel production for civil nuclear reactors.

A second imperative will be to enhance security and stability, not just in areas of conflict, but in relations between Russia and its European neighbors. As Secretary Clinton laid out in her speech in Paris in January, we agree with President Medvedev’s premise that security must be indivisible. We look forward to more detailed discussions in the OSCE, NATO-Russia Council and bilaterally, as to how we can increase strategic stability through steps that reaffirm the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the NATO-Russia Founding Act. We share NATO Secretary General Rasmussen’s emphasis on practical cooperation in areas of clear common interest, whether counter-terrorism, nonproliferation or Afghanistan. When it comes to missile defense, we have much to learn from each other, and the U.S. is ready to begin a new chapter in our relationship with Russia — both by sharing our resources and experience in assessing the threat we face, and developing joint cooperation, bilaterally and with NATO, that can contribute to our common defense against this growing danger. Given this spirit of cooperation, it is disappointing that Russia continues to suspend implementation of the CFE Treaty. Our new special representative, Ambassador Toria Nuland, will be putting forward ideas to help all parties to the CFE Treaty move beyond the current stalemate.

A third goal is to break down barriers to investment and trade, while encouraging Russia’s economic and political modernization. The global economic crisis was deeply humbling for both the United States and Russia. As American officials grapple with the prospect of persistent unemployment and financial regulation, Russian officials have had to ask why their economy was disproportionately battered. In his state of the federation address in November, President Medvedev acknowledged that Russians have not freed themselves from “dependence” on raw materials, but as importantly pointed to Russia’s weak democratic institutions and pervasive corruption as critical factors in Russia’s poor performance. The United States has a vital interest in whether Russia sees its future as a democratic state, integrated in the world economy. Russia remains the only G20 member outside of the World Trade Organization. WTO accession, which would set the stage for Permanent Normal Trade Relations and the long overdue repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, is at the top of our agenda. But the pace at which we can move along a roadmap toward accession will be affected by Russian decisions, whether positive — such as full implementation of our 2006 bilateral agreements — or negative, including recent protectionist measures.

A fourth and related goal is to promote the innovation society that President Medvedev seeks to create, while unleashing the potential of public-private and people-to-people connections. As Secretary Clinton underscored last October to a Moscow State University audience, in an innovation society, “people must be free to take unpopular positions, disagree with conventional wisdom, and know they are safe to peacefully challenge accepted practice and authority.” While Russians will determine the pace and trajectory of Russia’s political evolution, the goal of midwifing a modern and innovative society is more difficult when a high-profile lawyer dies of neglect while being held in pre-trial detention, when the murders of nine journalists in 2009 go unpunished, and when peaceful expressions of dissent are not tolerated. President Medvedev’s stress on ending legal nihilism, his endorsement of empowering civil society, and his warnings about an intrusive government bureaucracy strike us as sensible, but Russians and their leaders face tough choices.

Russians will find, however, that American firms and citizens are primed to respond to and participate in opportunities in Russia. While two-way trade and investment at $26 and $20 billion respectively is anemic, major U.S. firms such as Microsoft, Alcoa, and Boeing have expanded investments as a sign of confidence in Russia’s long-term economic health. As Russian firms increasingly invest in the U.S., such as Aleksey Mordashov’s multi-billion dollar bet on the U.S. steel industry, the opportunities for cross-fertilization grow.

Conclusion

While I have only touched the surface of U.S.-Russian relations, I’ll end with from a comment my friend and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council Mikhail Margelov made last week on Capitol Hill: “I am sick and tired of answering questions every 4-8 years on the state of U.S.-Russia bilateral relations. I want to get to a point where we have a normal, stable relationship and no one thinks to ask about the success of the ‘reset’”. I share his sentiments and he has set a worthy goal for us all. Our agenda is complex and demanding, but it is vital, and vital to get right.

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