#6 - JRL 7130
April 3, 2003
At a Critical Juncture
By Yuri Ushakov
The writer is the Russian Federation's ambassador to the United States.
Although Moscow and Washington clearly differ on Iraq, this disagreement would be much worse if it was allowed to become an obstacle in our overall partnership. Russia and the United States must continue to work together in part because the war in Iraq, whatever its outcome, will not end the war on international terrorism. Nor will the war end global efforts to control weapons of mass destruction, for which our two countries bear unique responsibility as the two largest nuclear powers. History will not forgive us if we allow our disagreement and mutual irritation to undermine our ability to address the profound security challenges of the 21st century.
Even the closest of partners have distinct interests and perspectives. In democracies, governments must respect citizens' differing views of world events. Perhaps Russia and the United States could have cooperated more effectively with respect to Iraq if our partnership had been more mature. Whatever the case, we must work with the relationship we have. And if we are to work together effectively, we must draw the appropriate conclusions from current events.
By the time our partnership matures, some disagreements will be unavoidable. Nevertheless, we should be prepared to look to the future -- to our long-term collaboration on important issues -- to ensure that our relationship is not disrupted. I can assure Americans that in expressing the Russian position on Iraq, our government and its officials have acted without calling into question continuing cooperation with the United States.
While we have made enormous progress in establishing a positive atmosphere between Moscow and Washington over the past two years, we have not yet succeeded in building a solid foundation to guarantee the improvement of our bilateral relationship even through periods of crisis. Understanding at the very top has never been as close or as advanced as in recent years, but this has not been translated quickly enough into the language of practical efforts, whether in bilateral trade, investments, visas or other matters.
Yet the past two years have not been for nothing. At a minimum, the strength of our relationship at the highest level has ensured that tension over Iraq will not send Russian-American relations into a slide. I believe that our governments have succeeded in creating an important positive tone that has not existed previously in our relationship.
We will not be able to further develop Russian-American relations without learning to trust each other. This is the only way to give practical context to our joint declarations. President Bush has said he trusts President Vladimir Putin, and I know that my president trusts his American counterpart. But we constantly hear claims and accusations, sometimes prosecutorial in tone, about the activities of some Russian companies. Regrettably, these claims and accusations are in most cases not accompanied by concrete information. If the Russian government is asked to trust these statements and to investigate them, they should consist of substantial information, not empty allegations lacking in real detail. This is contentious ground, and we have been stuck in it since the early '90s. It relates to the broader issue of nonproliferation and how to deal with it. We believe that cooperation in this sensitive area should move us beyond problems and not create new ones, and that special closed channels established for this purpose should be used more actively.
Moving forward, I believe that we should sit down together and conduct an inventory of the relationship. We need to see where there have been successes and where there have been failures in our cooperation. The most important aim of this exercise should be to determine what we can do together to achieve our common goals.
In my view, this process should take place simultaneously on two tracks, involving our governments as well as nongovernmental specialists and experts in each country. On the government track, it should be possible to have a confidential and candid discussion, with regular reports to each leadership. We need to prepare a list of questions and develop a concrete plan of action to move the Russian-American relationship forward. This plan to enhance our relationship could then be approved by our presidents. Such an effort could help create necessary perspective on our relationship and would confirm our cooperation "on the ground" and not only at the highest levels.
The Iraq situation demonstrates that there are still some in both our countries who are skeptical of, or even opposed to, strong Russian-American relations. For instance, the very existence of the Jackson-Vanik amendment is a reflection of anti-Russian sentiment in America. But Jackson-Vanik is not a practical problem for us; on the contrary, it is the United States' problem, and it is up to the United States to remove it -- provided that the United States is genuinely interested in developing our cooperation.
I find it encouraging that while public opinion polls show that most Russians are concerned about American foreign policy, three-quarters of Russians have positive views about Americans. Still, Americans should understand and accept that many Russians and other Europeans are opposed to the war in Iraq. This view is especially strong among the many millions of Muslims living in Russia. Americans want us to adhere to democratic standards, but at the same time they often pressure the Russian government to ignore public opinion when it is not convenient for the United States.
No one has yet labeled us "old Russia." But judging by events, that time may be close. We are not "old Russia" or "new Russia"; we are old and new, and we cannot simply be remade. It is necessary to move away from this kind of discussion, as Russians must move away from talking about America as better or worse than it is. The United States is large and powerful and cannot be brushed aside or ignored. Nor is there any need for this. Russia is deeply interested in moving forward in the relationship with its American partner. I hope that Americans have similar sentiments, because we truly need each other to counter many real challenges and threats.