At a press conference Thursday, the Partnership
for a Secure America (PSA), a bipartisan group of top foreign policy
and national security officials, released a concrete list of steps the
Barack Obama administration can take to revitalise cooperation between
the two countries.
The statement, "U.S and Russia: A Window of Opportunity," says
that the U.S. and Russia share a wide range of critical interests, from
preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to addressing
global energy concerns, to combating international terrorism and the
illegal drug trade - all points many analysts agree on.
But strains on the relationship in recent years have held back robust cooperation.
"The U.S. and Russia need to build a very strong, positive
bilateral agenda if they are in anyway going to be able to overcome the
negatives that have so prevailed in our relationship in recent years,"
said Amb. Thomas Pickering, a highly regarded diplomat and signatory of
the statement, at Thursday’s press conference.
Pickering referred to "sensitivity with respect to the
potential for difficulties in the future" because the two countries
combined posses more than 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
He approved of moves that were already being made by the Obama
administration and said that many of them mirrored the statement even
before its writing. But he said that the statement could be a
"sign-post" for further building.
"Both U.S. and Russian leaders appear open to improving ties
and increasing cooperation on our many shared interests," PSA Advisory
Board Co-Chair former Rep. Lee Hamilton said. "The Obama administration
should take advantage of this window of opportunity to move ahead on a
series of steps that will rebuild trust and confidence between our
countries, and make future cooperation possible."
"Today," said another signatory, former Ronald Reagan
administration National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, "I think the
opportunity is better than it has been in the last eight years to move
The statement was signed by more than 30 top foreign policy
and national security officials, including nine former senators, two
former representatives, four former secretaries of defence, two former
national security advisors and four former ambassadors to Russia.
"President Obama and his administration have an opportunity to
turn the page and, as Vice President Biden said on Feb. 7, ‘reset’ the
relationship. Doing so is in the U.S. interest," said Steven Pifer,
visiting fellow in Foreign Policy at the Centre on the United States
and Europe at the Brookings Institution, in testimony before the House
Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.
These recommendations come on the heels of Kyrgyzstan’s
agreement to close a U.S. air base inside the country, which many
believe was the result of Russian pressure in exchange for 2.0 billion
dollars in loans and grants. A similar deal was made with Uzbekistan in
Many experts and diplomats consider the U.S.-Russia relationship to be in its worst shape since the end of the Cold War.
According to Pifer, "The Moscow summit in May 2002 represented the high
point in U.S.-Russian relations under Presidents Bush and Putin. It
produced the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), a joint
declaration on a new strategic partnership, and joint statements
promising broader cooperation in areas such as energy, missile defence
and people-to-people exchanges. The presidents spoke of ‘a new era’ and
‘qualitatively new relations.’"
However, with the two presidents preoccupied with other
issues, including the war in Iraq for Bush, and cultivating relations
with Europe for Putin, "the two countries failed to realise this
potential," said Pifer.
Relations declined in the coming years. Russia saw the 2003
Rose and 2004 Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, respectively,
as U.S.-organised and a direct threat to Russian interests in the
region. Russia’s more assertive policy in Eastern Europe sparked
anxiety in Washington over Russia’s intentions
"The trajectory of the relationship has been steadily
downward," Micheal McFaul, Stanford University political science
professor and expert on post-Soviet countries, told the Los Angeles
Times in early 2008. After peaking just after the Sep. 11 attacks,
"it’s now the worst it’s been in 20 years."
The Russia-Georgia conflict, in which the U.S. pledged its
support to Georgia, in August 2008 further eroded the shaky
"We are not doomed to repeat history," said Matthew Rojansky,
executive director of the PSA. After meeting with Russians across the
political spectrum in Moscow recently, he reports their reaction "as
very positive" to the call for revived diplomatic relations.
"The key term here is ‘window of opportunity’ and we have to
do some concrete things," he said, pointing out that the new
recommendations will "open up and build confidence."
The statement said the Obama administration can restore mutual
confidence and trust with Russia by taking steps including emphasising
the importance of the NATO-Russia Council and inviting Russia to
participate fully in a collective security strategy, beginning with
peace and stability for Afghanistan.
Rojansky contends that "a baseline of trust on issues" must be
established between the two countries in order to continue to work on
common interests. One way to do this, he adds, is to quell Russia’s
fears about the existence of NATO so close to its borders. "The key is
to find NATO and Russia to work together so it is clear that NATO is
not a threat to Russian security," he said.
Other recommendations include: Reiterating U.S. support for
Russia’s WTO candidacy, calling on Congress to repeal the
"Jackson-Vanik" trade sanctions, and encouraging other member states to
offer Russia a clear path to membership based on its commitment to the
WTO Charter; Expanding the U.S.-Russia dialogue on energy and climate
change, to include seeking common ground on environmental concerns and
new oil and gas pipelines to guarantee reliable energy supplies for the
entire North Atlantic region; and Encouraging Russia to take a
leadership role in multilateral negotiations with Iran to stop uranium
"Russia has a key role to play in overcoming our most serious
international challenges, from Afghanistan to nuclear
non-proliferation, to combating terrorism and the drug trade," said
McFarlane. "But it is essential that the U.S. and Russia address these
challenges in concert rather than in competition."