December 2, 2015

US-Russian Relations

I offered these comments at NYU in New York City in late November, 2015

I was part of a panel, other members consisting of  former Senator Bill Bradley; former
Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock; historian, Stephen Cohen and former Ambassador William vanden Heuvel

Key Points:
1.     proving very possible to continue to do business in Russia, despite the geo-political tensions between our two countries and the significant financial challenges growing from the decline in the price of oil and, to a lesser extent, sanctions.  Russian political leadership has stopped short of falling into the trap of impeding American business in Russia.  Neither the political leadership nor the public has entered into what we have seen in some countries in the past, such as boycotts of U.S. products. 

Russian leadership has stated that it is open and anxious for investment and multi-country collaboration.  It has been very consistent on this position, including the recent summit meetings of the Foreign Investment Advisory Committee attended by over 30 CEOs and chaired by Prime Minister Medvedev. 

The rank and file in Russia appreciate the higher standards that have been set for employees and for business by multi-national firms like ours.

These businesses have had a positive influence on life in Russia.

People often raise with me whether corruption has affected our business and the short answer is “no”; while overtures have been made, they have been refused and people understand that’s just not something we would do.

Note that there is another aspect of doing business in Russia I’d note.  My own experience over 25 years has given me and other business leaders the opportunity to come to know Russian men and women, in the government, universities, and our own employees that has helped us even more understand how common our basic interests are, underscoring even more the need to come together where we can.
2.     Let me make just a few observations following the comments from my associates:
a.     What is Russia’s/Putin’s long-term intent?  Some see it as wanting to extend its geographical reach and presence in ways analogous to what existed under Communism.  I do not.  Time will tell.  I think Putin’s goal is to achieve a sustaining, economically thriving, respected Russian state, looked at and treated as a partner in critical world matters and free of what would appear to be encroaching threats on its immediate borders.

There is no question that for Russia to have a healthy, growing economy, and for the entire world to be safe from terrorism, Russia needs constructive, non-adversarial relationships with the U.S. and the West. 

Whatever, I believe the main thing we need to do is to understand what are our core goals as a Nation, goals which parallel what the world needs and identify those which, in order to achieve, require that Russia and the U.S. (and others) work together.

Today, I believe those goals—those threats—are, most importantly:
·      Terrorism
·      Failed states
·      Nuclear proliferation and disaster
      At a minimum, we need to:
·      Avoid a further breakdown in the relationships between Russia and the U.S.  This means that we must work together to resolve what are the open wounds now in Ukraine and Syria and others parts of the Middle East which are killing hundreds of thousands of refugees.  Both require political settlements which require Russia and the U.S. (and others) to be at the table, as well as the defeat of ISIS.
·      Come together to identify what are the common interests which Russia and the U.S. and others must work to achieve.  Interests so important and so requiring Russia and the U.S. to work together that we must form a common goal and plan.  Those for me are two-fold:
o   Avoiding the risk of nuclear proliferation and disaster.
o   Combatting terrorism, starting with but not exclusively combatting ISIS

We are going to need to accept the fact that some values as they relate to the mode of democracy and cultural issues such as same-sex marriage will be different in Russia than the U.S., just as they are different with many other countries and, indeed, in parts of our own country and have differed over time.  We must avoid seeming to or actually working to impose our values on Russia.  We must acknowledge Russia as a major global power, with a history and status that deserve and demand respect.  We should dial down the rhetoric which vilifies the other party when what they are doing is essentially expressing their own national interest and pride as we do.  Such rhetoric runs the grave risk of creating “self-fulfilling” negative outcomes—“mythical enemies”—distracting us from the real enemies in front of us.  

Of course, we should make it clear that we will not stand by and allow Russia or any country to infringe upon the integrity of another national state like Ukraine. 

We should be under no illusion that Putin’s mindset and deeply entrenched attitudes will change quickly.  They are the product of decades of experience.  To the degree they change, they will change based on actions and behaviors on both our parts as we work together on objectives of common interest.  Most importantly, at this moment, combatting ISIS and reaching political settlement that brings greater stability and peace to Ukraine and Syria and other countries of the Middle East.

I hope and believe President Putin understands that it will only be through a coalition of forces, prominently including the United States, that terrorism can be beaten, nuclear proliferation avoided and economic progress optimized.

I am convinced that if leaders will come together with cool heads and firm will to identify the principles and goals and focus the discourse forward on our common imperatives, including combatting terrorism and taking steps to control the threat of nuclear annihilation, we can progress. 

I identify with the way Henry Kissinger expressed it:  On a foundation of recognizing the realities of Russian power and interests and on treating Russia as the global power it is, we should identify how “their concerns can be reconciled with our necessities” and try to “integrate Russia into the international order in a way that takes Russia’s interests into account.”

It has always been human nature that we come together best when we face a common enemy.  Unlike the past, we do not have ideological differences with Russia as we do with ISIS that should lead to war or to competing commitments to global expansion.  We should work together to resolve the greatest threats to our two nations and the entire world.


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