The level of the Russian economy did not match that required of a G8 member

An interview with US Ambassador Nicholas Burns.

Question: The recent meeting of G8 finance ministers in Moscow invigorated the speculations that the level of the Russian economy did not match that required of a G8 member. What difficulties does it create for G8 countries? What do these large industrial powers expect from Russian leadership?

Nicholas Burns: The Russian economy advanced greatly from the period when I was a political advisor with the US Embassy in Moscow a decade ago. It is a growing economy now, not an economy in ruins anymore. The more open it becomes, the better it integrates into the global economic institutions – from membership in the World Trade Organization which I earnestly hope will be granted Russia as soon as possible to IPO.

When we evaluate the work of the G8 and particularly the forthcoming summit in St.Petersburg, it is important to view it as a chance. As I always tell my Russian friends, a great deal of correspondents always cover these summits and they are not going to concentrate on the formal agenda alone. No, they will be interested in every aspect of development of Russia, both internally and from the international angle. In short, I view the forthcoming summit in St.Petersburg as a chance to demonstrate in which direction Russia is heading from the point of view of economic and political development, or from the angle of how it is using its clout with the rest of the world. I’d say that this is a chance not to be missed.

Question: Is Russia an equal member, in your opinion? Or is it being looked down at as a pupil?

Nicholas Burns: I believe that Russia is an important G8 member.

Question: Important or equal?

Nicholas Burns: Important and equal. The matter concerns Russia’s participation in the G8 when it hosts the summit. Russia is an equal participant of the negotiations over all issues on the agenda. When G8 leaders meet, they will discuss Iran, Middle East, and other matters where Russia’s opinion carries weight.

Question: Senator Mckane will disagree. He suggested Russia’s expulsion from the G8 all over again not long ago, but the White House stands for Russian membership. Does it mean that the United States is prepared for a deal on so vital an issue as democracy in Russia: we do not notice a slowdown of democratic processes but we will cooperate in the energy sphere? Or else: in the name of cooperation in the sphere of non-proliferation or energy the United States pretends not to notice curtailment of institutions of democracy in Russia? Does it mean that energy is more important than democracy? Say, the recent Russian law on non-government organizations was criticized by the US Administration (among others), but it is not to be discussed at the G8 summit…

Nicholas Burns: That’s quite a mouthful… For starters, let me say that President George W. Bush made it plain that Russia remains and should remain a G8 country. We count on Russia’s successful leadership.

Our relations are so multifaceted that there are lots of speculations about deals and so on. The world and relations are, however, so complicated, that there are spheres where we can and do effectively interact and there are spheres were we disagree. It should not shock anybody. Expansion of the spheres of interaction and cooperation is the only thing that should worry our governments and societies.

For example, we interacted effectively in the matter of the Iranian nuclear program or, to be more exact, the threat that Iran may come into possession of nuclear weapons. There is an even broader sphere of nuclear energy where Russia and the United States may demonstrate an advanced approach. Responsibility of our countries is truly unique – from the point of view of development of a peaceful atom and non-proliferation. There are lots of interesting ideas. Say, bilateral cooperation in the matter of the fuel cycle.

It is in the interests of all our countries to see Russia integrated into global trade institutions be it the World Trade Organization or anything else. There are, however, some spheres were we disagree. For example, in the matter of Russian neighbors. Or in the attitude towards matters of stability. All G8 countries need stability in this region. As far as the United States is concerned, stability is not a static phenomenon. I.e. when governments and societies do not make new opportunities available to the people and do not respond to their worries, it plays into extremists’ hands and breeds instability. The way it is happening in Uzbekistan and in some other republics, which cannot help worry us. From America’s point of view, it is not an attempt to undermine Russia’s clout or to promote American interests at Russia’s cost. We want to know, however, and it is not unreasonable – exactly what is meant by stability in this or that region. No, we do not have answers to all questions. This is a part of the world you know better than we do. This is a part of the world where Russia’s interests in history, culture, language, and economy are deeper and broader than America’s. And yet, I believe that we should maintain a direct and honest dialogue in order to bridge a gap between our views and approaches.

Neither did we fail to make plain our concerned over what we took for unnecessary centralization of power in Russia. State Secretary Condolleezza Rice and President Bush dwelt on it. We did not bring the matter up because we have all answers. We did so because we know from our own experience and experiences of other societies that the system of checks and balances and open media outlets are important components helping society deal with the challenges that crop up. Corruption is a serious problem in Russian society. Even the Russians recognize it as such. Can corruption be fought by any means other than independent media outlets that compel state officials to be responsible and to answer to the people?

We disagree on the subject of the law on non-government organizations as well. We made our stand on the matter clear – just like representatives of Russian non-government organizations, Europeans, and others did. Some nuances we had mentioned were taken into account, others were not. For example, some definitions given in the law worry us – say that concerning “political activities” in application to non-government organizations. How will the law be observed? Very many people, even the ones in the Duma and in the Public House, ask this question. As we see it, it will first and foremost benefit Russia itself to have civil society developing and non-government organizations contributing to the process in whatever sphere they operate – be it health care, education, or whatever. This is another sphere where we should be on a level with each other.

Question: You mentioned Russia’s neighbors. Many of them and particularly in East Europe (say, Poland) bring up the subject of Russian gas. What do you think of it? How do you perceive the future of the Russian-American energy dialogue, particularly in the light of the pause in it caused by the so-called YUKOS affair? Negotiations over it are not as frequent as they used to be…

Nicholas Burns: I will begin with deliveries to Ukraine, if you do not mind. We welcomed the accord between Russia and Ukraine. We are aware of the eagerness of Russia as an exporter to bring prices up to world standards. In the meantime, in modern global economy things like that are done openly, with the interests of all involved parties taken into consideration. So, everyone welcomed the signing of the accord as a step that could show Russia for what it is – a country that acts on the basis of a clear approach based in its turn on clear and understandable market rules.

A few words on the energy dialogue. We did maintain it in the last century. Every now and then, however, we lacked action. Some steps were taken though. Like Sakhalin 1. Exxon Mobil invested between $4.5 billion and $5 billion in it. ConocoPhillips is interacting with LUKOIL… I mean, we both have things we can offer to the other. I mean, the dialogue is important, but it will be better to shift it to a practical plane.

From the point of view of the forthcoming G8 summit in St.Petersburg, I believe that it will offer Russia a unique chance as long as it presents its vision of the future of the energy market and cooperation. Say, a plan of development in the next 10-20 years: how oil products will be delivered to the world market, how pipelines will be built to the Pacific Ocean and to the Baltic Sea, how the Caspian Pipeline Consortium will develop, and so on.

Question: You are one of the leading specialists of the US Department of State on the Middle East. It is only logical therefore to ask you to clarify the American view on the situation in the region, particularly in the light of the invitation of HAMAS leaders to Moscow.

Nicholas Burns: It is up to Palestinians to elect their own parliament. Well, they have made their choice. In the meantime, the only way for the Palestinians to develop – and this is a hard way in any case, for them and for Israelis alike – is through recognition of both states. If you want to make progress in the Middle East settlement, if you want recognition of the Palestinians’ aspirations and promote the interests of Israel at the same time, then you need a government that accepts the necessity of recognition of both countries, that will recognize Israel’s right to existence, and recognize diplomacy as the only means of accomplishing it. Unfortunately, this is not what HAMAS is promoting at this point.

Russia, as a member of the Middle East Quartet, does not formally view HAMAS as a terrorist organization. It decided to make use of its direct contacts with the Palestinians to impart on them the position I’ve just outlined here. To make it plain to them that recognition of the criteria of the peace process is the only way forward both for them and for any government formed by HAMAS. We’ll see what it results in and what HAMAS’ reaction will be. The content of the message Russia is sending them is what counts. What we hear from senior Russian officials indicates that the message is going to be straightforward and stiffly worded.