Jeanne Shaheen

The Future of U.S-Russia Relations - Nov. 28, 2012

Jeanne Shaheen
November 28, 2012— Washington, D.C.
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Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here today in front of such a distinguished audience. I want to thank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for your continued leadership, particularly with respect to your programs on Russia and nuclear policy. Thank you.

This year, we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is hard to believe that it has been a half-century since those thirteen days shook our nation and brought the world to the brink of disaster. Remembering that close call provides some important context on how far we have come to move beyond the crisis-driven, nuclear-armed brinkmanship marked by Korea, Cuba, and Berlin.

Today, however, as we try to chart a path for U.S.-Russian relations beyond 2012, we are reminded of the celebrated Russian author, Anton Chekhov, who once remarked that anyone can face a crisis, “it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” On a day-to-day basis, there are few more complex relationships in the world today.

The United States and Russia have a long history of dramatic ups and downs and seeming contradictions. In World War II, we fought shoulder-to-shoulder as allies against Hitler…only to move quickly into the Cold War, where we threatened each other’s annihilation. We eagerly developed a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction….then subsequently worked together to reduce them and limit their spread. We pulled out all the stops to race each other into space…yet, now our astronauts travel together to a joint space station on Russian rockets. And, more recently, we have famously looked into each other’s eyes…only to see Russia soon thereafter invade and occupy a NATO Partner.

It is enough to wonder if our bilateral, and at times, bipolar, relationship might benefit from a therapy session. It is this complex and challenging history that complicates any discussion on the future of our relationship.

Unfortunately, in the hyper-sensitive, media-frenzied arena of Washington, this difficult and multi-faceted topic will no doubt be boiled down to one overly simplistic and politically charged question. Namely: “Is the reset a success?” How one chooses to answer is clouded by political prejudices and long-held biases, yet it is important to focus on the facts.

I would argue that the “reset” is not the dramatic tectonic shift in strategy that some would have you believe, but it has proven a limited success for what it set out to do. The subtle change in tone brought on by the reset was both appropriate and necessary to move beyond the stalemate in relations that we faced. The shift brought some concrete progress in areas of mutual interest, but it has not dramatically altered Russian calculations on any number of disagreements – nor was it likely to.

The Obama Administration came into office with U.S.-Russian relations at perhaps their lowest point since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russians had just invaded sovereign Georgian territory, and every facet of our relationship was in decline. This, at a time, when our two countries shared a wide range of mutual – and urgent – security interests.

The reset tested the notion that the United States and Russia should work on areas of mutual interest, even while continuing to disagree on a number of important issues. In that respect, we have seen areas of significant progress over the last three years.

As a result of the New START Treaty, the U.S. and Russia will have the fewest operationally deployed nuclear weapons since the days of Eisenhower. In Afghanistan, the agreement to create the Northern Distribution Network has allowed us to ship tens of thousands of containers of equipment to our troops – a fact that proved even more critical when Pakistan shut down our ground lines of transportation for nearly a year. We’ve seen limited cooperation on Iran, including another round of UN Security Council sanctions as well as the cancellation of the sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. As of August, Russia is a WTO member, where it must abide by international rules on trade and investment. In addition, there continues to be relevant, if not headline-grabbing, progress on a whole host of cooperative efforts from clean energy to global health.

The reset has brought limited, but truly significant and concrete benefits that are firmly in the security interests of the United States. But, we do need to recognize that the reset is not the huge strategic shift that some might have anticipated, nor was it ever likely to result in some dramatic altering of Russian political calculations.

The fact is that the concrete successes occurred precisely because they were in Russian interests as well as American ones. A new arms control agreement was helpful to Russia as it sought to limit the costs associated with its expensive nuclear arsenal. The Northern Distribution Network provides additional revenues for Russia and helps ensure relative stability in Afghanistan. WTO accession, Iran, and counter-terrorism cooperation can also be seen in the same vein.

Just as we must be careful not to oversell the depth of the reset moving forward, we should be equally skeptical of those who would cite the reset as the root of all complications in our bilateral relationship. Despite what some would have you believe, the reset is not the cause of Russia’s recent deterioration of human and civil rights, nor is it the reason Vladimir Putin decided to reclaim the Presidency. And it surely is not the impetus behind Russia’s actions in Syria or its continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty. The reset neither created these problems nor made them worse.

So, where do we go from here? I believe that the dynamics underlying the “reset” are still very much in play. There remain numerous areas of mutual interest we should continue to pursue. But we must be honest and admit that the areas of agreement are narrowing, while the areas of disagreement may move to center stage.

Perhaps one of the more pressing issues for today’s bilateral relationship is the human rights situation in Russia. Indeed, over the last six months, we have seen perhaps the worst deterioration in Russian’s human rights record since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Upon Mr. Putin’s revelation that he would return to the presidency and the subsequent widespread manipulation of the parliamentary and presidential elections, Russians across the country took to the streets. In response, Mr. Putin has chosen to clamp down and severely restrict civil society in Russia.

We should be up front about what is happening in Russia. I am concerned that Kremlin’s actions are creating an environment of fear inside the country.

We’ve seen the United Russia party enact a series of new laws that restrict protests and public expression and severely constrain civil society in the country. We’ve also seen what happens to critics of the Kremlin with one of the most egregious examples being alleged abduction of an anti-Kremlin activist seeking asylum in Ukraine who was forcibly returned to Moscow by Russia agents.

Blaming “outside forces” for the ongoing disaffection voiced by the Russian people, the Russian government has now expelled our USAID program from the country.

Now, my state motto is "live free or die." We are not ambiguous regarding how we feel about the principles our country was founded on. We believe that the drive for freedom is a universal one – shared by Americans and Russians alike. The United States is not, should not, and will not be shy about our staunch support for democratic values around the world. Russia will be no different.

I am under no illusion that our speaking out on human rights will suddenly result in some dramatic change in policy. Ultimately, change will come from the Russian people themselves. But a strong, successful and transparent Russia that protects the rights of its citizens is squarely in the interests of the United States, so we should not stand quietly waiting on the sidelines.

We should not only voice our concerns, but also look for new ways to raise the profile of this important issue. The Magnitsky Act, supported almost unanimously by Russian opposition and civil society figures, is one such tool we should employ. As our USAID programs end, we will also need to find creative ways to transition these programs and continue our cooperation with Russian NGOs. Finally, we should do more to coordinate with our allies in Europe on this effort.

Another major source of disagreement likely to remain on center stage is Syria. Russia’s stance on Syria at the UN Security Council is deplorable. However, Russia is paying a price for its intransigence. Russian flags burning on the Arab street – as we know here in the U.S. – have a long-term cost, and Russian influence in the Arab world will wane over time. We should continue to highlight our differences and demonstrate to the Arab world who is standing on the side of the people and who is standing with Mr. Assad.

Even as these areas of disagreement are pushed to the forefront, I would hope that we can continue to find agreement in areas of mutual interest.

As the two largest nuclear powers in the world, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to work together on arms control issues. I believe we can further reduce strategic deployed weapons and there is still a deal to be struck on reducing tactical and stockpiled weapons. We can also do more to address Cold War-type targeting issues, transparency of our arsenals, reductions in alert postures and the possibility of multilateral discussions.

Obviously, missile defense remains a difficult sticking point, but this can be an area of cooperation. There is a whole menu of mutually beneficial options on the table in this area, including information exchanges, early warning support and a joint data fusion center. But, we need to be clear. The limited U.S. program poses no threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent, and at the end of the day, a legal guarantee will not be necessary or possible.

Nonproliferation is always an area where we can do more. Together, we have historically led the world on this agenda, and it would be a shame to end this important cooperation. Much has been made about the possibility of ending one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives of this generation, the Nunn-Lugar program. However, I believe there is room for a follow-on agreement, particularly with respect to third party countries, and I think it is incumbent upon both of us to finish the job we started.

Other possible areas of cooperation include rule of law and the fight against corruption, trade and commerce, the development of the Arctic, and counterterrorism in North Africa and the Middle East.

We still have a large bilateral agenda to pursue, while at the same time making crystal clear where we stand on our disagreements.

From containment to détente to today’s reset, we have perhaps too often tried to encompass our Russia policy in a catchy little phrase. Unfortunately, foreign policy by bumper sticker just doesn’t cut it in today’s world. We forget that Kennan’s explanation of containment took 8,000 words. The complexity of our modern day relationships, especially with Russia, cannot be captured in a Tweet.

As we look forward, we will have to be both pragmatic and principled. It was Reagan who called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and urged them to tear down a wall, even while negotiating directly with the Russians on an arms control agreement. Kennedy, while going “eyeball to eyeball” with Khrushchev over Cuba fifty years ago, approved a security guarantee for Cuba and the withdrawal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

A successful policy with Russia will find a way to both protect our interests and defend our values. It will not be easy, but it never has been. The reset provided us an opening. We should continue to build on that. Thank you.

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