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Moscow Times
March 9, 2006
Critical Report Ignored in Russia
By Anatoly Medetsky
Staff Writer

A major report by leading U.S. policy experts created an uneasy atmosphere for Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his talks in Washington this week by urging a tougher line toward Russia, the Foreign Ministry said.

Here at home, however, the report provoked little reaction, despite proposing harsh measures such as reviving the Group of Seven within the Group of Eight and shutting down the NATO-Russia Council unless certain conditions are met.

The report -- produced by a high-profile bipartisan task force for the Council on Foreign Relations and released Sunday -- said relations between the two former superpowers no longer qualified as a strategic partnership and the United States should adopt a selective approach to Russia.

The day after the report was released, Lavrov arrived in Washington for two days of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a meeting with President George W. Bush. It was his first trip as foreign minister.

"The visit is taking place in the context of some complicated information in the United States about Russian-American relations," Mikhail Kamynin, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman, said in a statement Monday.

The 76-page report was the result of months of work by the task force's 25 members, including former members of Democratic and Republican administrations, academics, and financial, cultural and environmental consultants. Its release, much anticipated by Russia-watchers in the United States, was all but ignored in Russia.

Mikhail Margelov and Konstantin Kosachyov, heads of Foreign Affairs Committees in the Federation Council and the State Duma, respectively, were unavailable for comment on Monday and Tuesday.

Sergei Markov, a leading Kremlin-connected political consultant, said Tuesday that he had not read the report. Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA and Canada Institute, said that he was unaware of the report on Tuesday.

When told about the report's highlights, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, said its authors had demonstrated that "the development of Russia is now crossing beyond some lines that the West is ready to tolerate." While the report reflects previous criticism by individual experts of U.S. policy toward Russia, it carries much more weight, he said. "It's a fundamental and nonpartisan report that cannot be ignored," he said. "It's an indicator of sentiments in the American establishment."

The report will be taken into account by the Bush administration, and Moscow should treat it seriously, he said. "Many have the illusion that our having oil and gas resources allows us to count on a high degree of understanding from the West. But there are obviously limits to using these recourses," Lukyanov said. "It's a quite serious signal."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday that the report would have to be studied thoroughly, Interfax reported.

Michael McFaul, one of the report's authors, said that for some in the Bush administration the report would be "a welcome recourse of ideas and others will be defensive about it."

"There's a real consensus about the trend toward authoritarianism in Russia," he said by telephone from Washington. "The divide still remains as to what the U.S. can or should do about it.

"Some people believe this should be a major concern and others believe that this doesn't really affect our relationship. ... We still have our national security issues to deal with," McFaul said.

"I'm where the report is -- in between those lines," he said.

The report urged the Bush administration to do more to stand up for American interests, even where it is likely to irritate Russia, by promoting democracy in Russia and its neighbors.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns spoke in line with the report when he said in a Tuesday interview on public television's "The Charlie Rose Show" that, "We don't have to be shrinking violets. We can assert our national interest when it is opposed to the Russian point of view," Reuters reported.

The task force was co-chaired by Jack Kemp, who served in the House of Representatives and was a Republican vice presidential candidate in 1996, and John Edwards, who served in the Senate and was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004. The report's other 23 authors include John Gordon, Bush's homeland security adviser from 2003 to 2004; Strobe Talbott, a deputy secretary of state from 1994 to 2001; and Stephen Sestanovich, a special adviser to the secretary of state for the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001.

The report said the two countries were diverging in a growing number of areas, as Russia was becoming less democratic at a time when Bush has made democracy a goal of his foreign policy. In addition, Russia -- once seen as a pillar of increased global energy security -- was using its energy exports as a policy weapon, it said.

Frictions between Moscow and Washington also arise in the former Soviet republics, an area where Russia wants to retain unchallenged clout, the report said.

"A relationship that has to deal with a list of problems like this one is more likely to get worse than it is to get better," the report said.

In order to advance democracy in Russia, the United States should "consistently and forcefully" talk about the authoritarian trend in the country, the report said. As an example of the effectiveness of such talk, the report referred to the changes Russia made to legislation restricting nongovernmental organizations after it received widespread international criticism.

The report also insisted that the United States should go beyond mere expressions of concern about the rollback of Russian democracy and should increase funding of "organizations committed to free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008."

Russia's current elections practices -- such as denying registration to opposition candidates over technicalities or restricting their access to broadcast media -- pose "a very real risk that Russia's leadership after 2008 will be seen, externally and internally, as illegitimate," the report said.

Western governments must win public commitments and concrete actions by Russian officials to conduct the coming elections "on an open, constitutional and pluralist basis and to reverse the practices described above," the report said.

"Early and explicit discussion is far preferable to harsh but meaningless critiques on election day and the morning after," the report said.

Organizations like the Levada Center and Golos need increased funds and technical assistance now to be able to provide professional exit polls, the report said. The United States should also put its weight behind strengthening the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other groups that do elections monitoring, it said.

In other measures proposed by the report, the United States should ease Russian pressure on its neighboring states by promoting their quicker integration into the West.

Also, the democratic members of the G8, including the United States, should protect the credibility of the organization by playing a stronger coordinating role and effectively reviving the G7 within the G8. "Even with Russia's inclusion in the G8, the G7 has continued to meet to discuss certain financial issues; selected political questions now require a similar format," the report said.

"The United States and Europe should convince Russia's leaders that ground that has been won can also be lost," it said.

But Russia's total expulsion from the G8 would make the institution much less useful for its other members in terms of energy security, it said.

Increased friction in the post-Soviet space will have implications for cooperation between Russia and NATO, the report said. The alliance should scrap the NATO-Russia Council in 2007, the fifth full year since its creation, if NATO finds that Russia lacks a commitment to democratic principles or to collective responses to common challenges, the report said.

Despite these proposed policy changes, the United States should pursue cooperation with Russia where it serves common interests, the report said. American policy toward Russia must become more selective and vary from issue to issue, it said.

"Although President Putin is presiding over the rollback of Russian democracy, the U.S. should obviously work with him to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," the report said.

In order to build a stronger base for nonproliferation cooperation, the two countries should develop a legal basis for working together in civil nuclear energy projects, the report said. If Russia and the United States sign an agreement required by Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act they could cooperate in fuel supply and storage, reactor sales and advanced research.