Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ambassadors Address 200 years of US-Russian Relations

It is 200 years since Russia and the United States established formal diplomatic relationship. Currently, relations between Russia and the West are not necessarily good under the Putin administration. In an atmosphere of growing self-assertive nationalism and czarlistic authoritarianism, presidential election will be held in Russia next March.

In view of present Russian politics and diplomacy, ambassadors of Russia and the United States contributed a memorial article on the 200 year anniversary of US-Russian relations to the International Herald Tribune (“Relations for a New Century”; September 24, 2007). They present five recommendations for the US-Russian relationship in this century.

(1) Despite natural differences and disagreements between America and Russia on global political and economic affairs, both nations must identify and advance common interests.

(2) In view of rapid changes in the post Cold War era, the United States and Russia need to reshape their global strategies. Violent anti-Americanism poses graver threat to the world.

(3) The US-Russian relationship improves when both sides pursue common interests to develop shared solutions. Issues like terrorism and WMD proliferation have not been resolved, and there is much to be done.

(4) In addition to regular diplomatic channels between leaders, further institutionalization of dialogues between cabinet and sub-cabinet levels must be explored.

(5) Encourage broader contacts among scientific, social, and religious organizations. It is necessary to change visa systems for this purpose. Also, expand economic ties beyond WTO entry of Russia.

Certainly, it is important to develop further cooperation between the two giants. However, this message is excessively “diplomatic”, and more straight talks are essential to understand US-Russian interactions.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted an event, “200 years of US-Russian Diplomatic Relations: Ambassadorial Conference” on September 24 and 25. A panel discussion was held on 25th, moderated by Mark Medish, Vice President for Studies of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Jill Dougherty, US Affairs Editor of CNN International. Let me review the event (PDF, Windows Media Player, Quick Time, and Pod Cast).

This luncheon panel discussion was more straightforward than the article in the International Herald Tribune to commemorate 200 year anniversary of US-Russian diplomacy. The moderator Jill Dougherty has much experience in Russian affairs, as she received BA degree in Russian studies from the University of Michigan and has been a Moscow correspondent of CNN in 1990s. She is in a good position to chair the debate on Russia in post Cold War transition.

To begin with, Dougherty asked immediate question regarding rocky relations between the United States and Russia in face of presidential election in both countries. Former US Ambassador to Russia James Collins who is currently the Director of Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, mentioned that the election should not disturb relations between Russia and the United States. On the Russian side, Former Ambassador to the United States Vladimir Lukin points out common interests and disagreements between two countries. Both the United States and Russia share vital agendas such as counter-terrorism and WMD non-proliferation. On the other hand, there are many issues of discord in regional problems like Kosovo and the Middle East, said Vladimir Lukin. As Jill Dougherty explained it, the United Sates was ready to accept Kosovo independence, while Russia adamantly opposed to it. Lukin raised the same concern as Collins that Russian presidential candidates might be tempted to impress a strong Russia in their election campaigns.

Yuri Dubinin who was Russian ambassador to the United States in the “Yalta to Malta” period, says that both Russia and the United States are in democracy now, and insists “we need to know the opinion of our peoples, what is it that they want, and to solve the objectives, the problems the way the people want and not the way this or that country wants us to do”, to fill the gap between America and Russia on Kosovo.

Despite stark differences, Former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur Hartman tells Americans to be patient with progress of transition in Russia, and not to see the world solely through American perspectives.

Another critical issue was energy, whether Russia considered using it as political and economic weapon against the West. Regarding this question, both Vladimir Lukin and James Collins agrees that market determines the price of oil and gas, and the unique relationship between Russia and former Soviet republics changes inevitably.

Although this luncheon discussion was in a friendly atmosphere, both US and Russian ambassadors talk about the rise of nationalist sentiments in Russia associated with election. In a policy brief, entitled “Russia’s Strategic Choice”, Dmitri Trenin, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, says that Russia’s ultimate interest is a major power status in the world, vis-à-vis the United States and China. He points out current Russia is frustrated with NATO expansion to the Baltic area, and increasing US military influence in Central Asia and Georgia. More and more former Soviet republics are out of Russian hands. Trenin says the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty raises further concern on the Russian side.

Despite friendly atmosphere at the commemorative event of the 200 year anniversary of Russo-American diplomatic relations, turbulences are expected between the two giant nuclear powers. Russian presidential election this March will be one of turning points for US foreign policy after the Bush administration.