Russia remains important for American foreign policy

America’s hopes for productive cooperation with Russia reached a peak after the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. There were hopes of a strong, lasting partnership. It was not expected that disputes would disappear – but everyone expected that we would learn to cope with them.

An impressively long report (over 100 pages) with an equally impressive collection of authors (about 20 politicians and political science experts) was added recently to numerous analytical documents timed for the upcoming G8 summit in St. Petersburg (July 2006). The research for “Russia’s wrong direction: what the US can and should do” was done under the aegis of the Council on Foreign Relations. Its authors, mostly connected with the Democratic Party, criticize the incumbent Republican Administration and President George Bush personally for striving for excessively close partnership with Russia and President Vladimir Putin. The report maintains that partnership as practised by the US, and by the West in general, should be “selective” – and should be combined with skillfully- applied methods of pressure. Among the authors of the report from which these excerpts are taken are Senator John Edwards, former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot, former member of the national security council Mark Brzezinski, and former State Department coordinator for Russia and CIS countries Steven Sestanovich.

America’s hopes for productive cooperation with Russia reached a peak after the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. The Bush Administration and outside experts assumed that favorable conditions had arisen to develop a strong and lasting partnership that would help the US to fight serious new threats to national security. In this positive context, it was not expected that disputes would disappear – but everyone expected that we would learn to cope with them.

Russian-American relations do not quite meet the criteria of real partnership. In the near future it will be impossible to place the relations on such basis. There is no mutual confidence required by partnership. When the US and Russia cooperate this mostly likely deals with strictly individual cases and the space for cooperation is accurately outlined.

The US needs to explain more clearly and consistently why the developing authoritarianism in Russia causes a natural concern on the part of America and how can the new regime influence the policy of the US towards Russia and other states in the former Soviet Union.

Realistic American policy cannot be based on deceptive notion that a democratic regime can hold its ground in such a large and diverse country as Russia. Only Russians can determine which institutions and leaders serve their interests better. Nonetheless, the few reasons due to which America should keep providing assistance to Russia in the future include support of development of free and just democracy.

Earlier there were disputes between the US and its European partners with regard to evaluation of Moscow’s policy. However now, when authoritarianism in Russia embraces a growing number of areas and influences formation of a negative position of Russia on international arena, opinion of American and European governments started coinciding in many aspects. The time has come to secure this agreement. Only if the US and Europe express a joint protest against the policy of Russia towards its neighbors Moscow will most likely believe that these statements are supported by real force and political will. Unity of Western powers will also become an important message not only for official Russian authorities but also for the entire Russian nation.

When members of G8 discuss energy security they should also discuss the policy of Russia including the deeds by which it undermines this security.

Democratic countries of G8 – the United States and its allies – should use the old format of G7 as a coordinating and guiding force inside of the group. Even after inclusion of Russia into the club of great powers industrially developed countries proposed meeting within G7 for discussion of certain financial issues. It is also necessary to discuss some political issues in the old format now too.

We hope that Russia can be a member of such organizations as G8 but if it does not comply with the necessary requirements it is not worth making it a member having full rights.

In the short term this statement is applicable to negotiations of Russia on entrance into WTO. We advocate joining of Russia to the organization but with one condition: agreement with admission to the WTO should not become a political present to Moscow (at least on the eve of the G8 summit at which Russia will be the chair as a result of granting of another political present). Russia’s entrance into WTO should mean that the Kremlin accepts and observes the norms of the system of trade based on international law. If Moscow sees that it is accepted due to political reasons it will have less reasons to play according to the rules.

The US and its allies should also study advantages and drawbacks of the wish to preserve the Russia-NATO council.

United States should broaden cooperation with Russia to prevent the most dangerous international entities from obtaining the most destructive weapons, technologies and materials. This is the fundamental interest of America in the area of security.

Being the only power cooperating with Iran in the nuclear sector, Russia can play the decisive role in creation of conditions for hindrance of nuclear activities of Tehran. Russia is also the only state that can threaten Iran efficiently with nuclear isolation if Tehran keeps building secret equipment for accomplishment of the nuclear cycle.

Now America needs to recognize openly what it has not wished to talk about before: Russia limits nuclear cooperation with Iran to non-secret technologies. This recognition can justify giving up of the traditional negative stance of the US towards the reactor in Bushehr.

In turn, Russia should accept what it has never recognized directly or indirectly. Moscow needs to understand that very soon international community may encounter Iran being so decisive in its wish to create fissile materials that it will be necessary to stop all nuclear cooperation between Moscow and Tehran including the reactor in Bushehr. If Russia accepts this point of view this will be a test for strength of the possibility to broaden the Russian-American partnership.

Russia and the US need to sign a so-called “agreement 123” named so after the number of the section in the law on nuclear energy obliging America and Russia to work out general terms for long-term cooperation in the civil nuclear activity. If this agreement is signed it will allow broadening of cooperation in many areas including the initiative of the Administration of Bush regarding global partnership in the nuclear energy sector. Such interaction will reflect the position of Russia as one of the main players in nuclear trade starting from supplies and storage of nuclear fuel and ending with sale of reactors and research of the highest level.

Restarting Russian-American nuclear arms talks at the highest level is necessary to solve problems connected with size, structure and transparency of nuclear forces of both parties. It is possible to start negotiations from tactical nuclear weapons.

The tasks, ideology and methods of some terrorist groups struggling against Russia and the US coincide. Sometimes they act in cooperation, that is why Washington and Moscow also need to develop cooperation in the antiterrorist activity.

It is possible to conclude that military and intelligence communities of both countries have common interests. Nonetheless, three recent events cause concern about the way this bilateral cooperation is carried out.

First, this is applicable to Russia’s attempts to limit access of the armed forces of the US and NATO to based in Central Asia. Second, invitation of the leaders of HAMAS to Moscow by President Putin raises concern. Third, opinion of Russian authorities that security and stability in the North Caucasus is under a bigger threat now than six years ago when the second Chechen war has started raised concern too.

The US may engage into a growing confrontation with Russia in the next five years in the east of Europe, in the Caucasus, in Central and Eastern Asia. Such rivalry seldom meets American interests and hence should be avoided where it is possible because it increases influence and ideas of those representatives of the Russian elite who do not wish development of cooperation with the US.

It is not worth for America to prohibit Russia to try to prevail in the neighboring countries. The US also should not prefer Russian interests in this field. Legal interests of Russia in the region deserve respect but there is nothing legal in limitation of opportunities of the neighboring countries to get integrated into global economy, to choose their allies and security partners or to strive for transition to democracy.

Of course, China is the most important country situated on the border with Russia. The future policy and development of Russia and China will determine if the group of the leading global powers will be divided into two blocs on the basis of differences in the political regime (democratic and authoritarian states) or even into two military blocs.

Prevention of division of the great powers into two camps is in the field of American interests. Attempts to satisfy these interests may be successful only if positions of Russia and China are taken into account too. Thus, the strategy of America towards each of these countries should be based on a wish to make these relations as viable and efficient as relations of these countries between each other.

Russia is the world’s largest gas exporter and the second largest oil exporter, that is why it should play a central and positive role on the global energy markets. Bearing this in mind the US should revive the American-Russian strategic dialog in the field of energy, pay attention to this issue on a high level and propose an ambitious program promising benefits to both countries. This restarted dialog should be aimed at provision of American energy security.

For the US and its allies, it is important to prevent politically motivated manipulation of energy resources flows by Moscow. Along with this, actions of Russia show that it is impossible to rely on its verbal guarantees even on a high level. The US not only should advocate growth of Russia’s supplies to the global market but should also support the efforts of Europe aimed at diversification of supplies and reduction of a risk that Russia uses energy as a tool of state power. The US together with the European Union should demand ratification of the European energy charter signed by Russia more than a decade ago.

In the light of negative impact of corruption in the Russian energy sector the US together with G7 partners should achieve observance by Russia of the initiative related to transparency in extracting sectors approved by all participants of the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005.

The current slowdown of growth in oil and gas production in Russia threatens to become a long-term trend. To prevent this the American-Russian dialog should focus on factors of increase of investments – both domestic and foreign – in exploration, development and production.

The US should keep moving Russia towards the WTO. It would be better to hold a meeting of G8 with Russia that has not joined the WTO than to admit it on preferential terms.

The agreement on acceptance should be based strictly on economic and legal criteria because after Russia is accepted into the WTO, the US Administration will have to persuade Congress of the need to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment for Russia. It will not be good for Congress members to demonstrate by their voting their agreement with Russia’s departure from democracy or indifference to this deviation, that is why the Administration will have to persuade the legislators that it will be able to influence Russia efficiently by other methods. If the Administration fails to react convincingly to authoritarian trends in Russia American business will encounter the worst-case scenario: Russia is admitted to the WTO and the Jackson-Vanik amendment is not repealed, due to which the US cannot use the WTO mechanism for resolving of commercial disputes.

The Bush Administration correctly indicated that Russia is deviating from democratic standards. In the light of the upcoming beginning of the politically important period of parliamentary elections of 2007 and presidential elections of 2008 Western governments will have to pay more attention to this topic both in public and secretly.

The US together with its European allies should announce the main criteria on the basis of which they evaluate legitimacy of this process.

There is a very real risk that after 2008 Russian authorities will be considered illegitimate both inside of the country and outside of it. That is why Western governments should achieve certain steps from Russian officials in favor of organization of the upcoming electoral cycle in conditions of openness, constitutional actions and pluralism.

The US and other governments should include support of local organizations for monitoring of elections into their programs of assistance to “promotion of democracy” in other countries including Russia. It is necessary to provide money and technical aid to them. The European network of organizations for monitoring of elections (coalition of 17 groups of observers) should be admitted to control over the elections of 2008 and OSCE should play a noticeable role too.

Free and developing contacts between nongovernmental organizations of the US and Russia are needed. In the future they will help normalization of American-Russian relations according to the principle “from the bottom to the top.” In circumstances when the US cannot broaden the size of state financing of exchanges between the two countries it is necessary to single out priority programs. Student exchanges deserve priority attention. The US should broaden training of specialists for Russia. Along with this, inclusion of the Russian language into the list of foreign languages financed at expense of the budget in accordance with the “Language initiative in the field of national security” is fully justified.

The report points out problems that it is difficult to solve without cooperation between Moscow and Washington. Among the critically important problems there is a threat posed by the nuclear program of Iran, as well as a risk that insufficiently protected Russian nuclear materials may go to the wrong hands.

There are also issues cooperation on which is becoming increasingly difficult. Among them are relations between Russia and other post-Soviet countries. American policy should counteract to pressure on the part of Russia aimed at undermining of stability and independence of its neighbors. It should also be aimed at assistance to the countries that wish to leap to the main stream of European policy.

Most likely, strengthening of the authoritarian political system in Russia will become the most important negative factor in the American-Russian relations. This trend will prevent both parties from finding of common grounds and from cooperation even in cases when they find such grounds.

The task of drawing Russia into the political mainstream of the West remains critically important for American foreign policy. This would enable the US to implement the idea of an undivided Europe and assist with the peaceful inclusion of China into the circle of great powers, as well as solving many other important international problems. Only Russia can make the decision to change its course, but other countries can help it make a choice by explaining what can be gained and how much should be done for this purpose.