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Russian-American Relations Symposium: Session Three: The Future Of Russian-American Relations

Panelists: Stephen E. Biegun, Vice President, International Governmental Affairs, Ford Motor Company, and Richard R. Burt, Managing Director, McLarty Associates
Presider: Carla Anne Robbins, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, The New York Times
Panelist: Igor Yurgens, Chairman Of The Management Board, Institute of Contemporary Development
January 22, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations

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CARLA A. ROBBINS: Good morning -- almost afternoon.

Thank you. I'm Carla Robbins. I'm the deputy editorial page editor at The New York Times. And this is our third session on the future of Russian-American relations. And Steve promised not to make eye contact with me and he's already breaking that promise -- (chuckles) -- because he coached me yesterday on this.

And we -- you have, of course, the full bios in your -- and of course none of these people need to be introduced to you, but we have with us today Steve Biegun, who is the vice president of international governmental affairs at the Ford Motor Company. And one of the great things about his job is he gets to drive a new car every six months. And he tortures me by telling me -- what are you driving right now, Steve?

STEPHEN E. BIEGUN: Driving a Ford Flex.

ROBBINS: Okay. Oh, really?

BIEGUN: Yes.

ROBBINS: Downgraded from the Jaguar, right? (Laughter.)

BIEGUN: The old Jaguar. (Laughter.)

RICHARD R. BURT: (Inaudible.)

ROBBINS: Ambassador Richard Burt, managing director of McLarty Associates, and Dr. Igor Yurgens, who is chairman of the Management Board Institute of Contemporary Development. Thank you all for coming.

Thinking about this panel and particularly in the new age of Aquarius that we're having in Washington and everyone's feeling very optimistic these days -- certainly we're feeling extremely optimistic in The New York Times editorial board after the long dark eight years -- (laughter) -- and I was trying to figure out whether I was feeling optimistic about the future of Russian-American relations, and I just sort of couldn't get there, as much as I wanted to. But I was sort of trying to play it out in my mind that if the Obama administration sort of did the things that we had been urging the Bush administration to do -- say they really began to engage with Iran the way that President Obama had committed himself to do and the way the Russians had been urging him to do, would Moscow really be willing to get behind tougher sanctions on Iran and really follow it up and decide that it wasn't in their economic interest anymore, and would it really make a difference?

And say President Obama dropped the idea of missile defense in Europe and stopped doing the things that Vice President Cheney was doing -- whispering in Saakashvili's ear to misbehave on the Russian border -- you know, would the Russians actually stop meddling in the near abroad? Would it be a better relationship, or have things just gotten so bad that it's just impossible for a better relationship? Has the fundamental relationship changed in such a deep way that the best thing we can hope is a new form of containment from the American point of view and a new form of containment from the Russian point of view? I think that's sort of the fundamental question that I'd like to see moving forward. And is the best thing that we can hope for is getting back to the end of the Cold War and dealing with reducing our nuclear arsenals and perhaps moving forward with some sort of an economic relationship, knowing that the Russians and the Americans just seen the world in a really, really fundamentally different way?

So those are some of the questions that I'd like to pose today, but I wanted to start with Dr. Yurgens and ask him, how are people in the Kremlin and among the Russian elite and also the Russian people -- how do they see President Obama? Are the excited about him? Do they think that he's going to be a very different man? And will your president look in our president's eyes and see somebody -- (laughter) -- see somebody that they really like?

IGOR YURGENS: There are three elements to this. Personal one -- I won a box of very, very fine French wine making this bet with one of the Russian colleagues and one of the very top Latvian politicians that Obama wins. So they owe me two cases of really good wine. I am the winner anyhow. (Laughter.) Sixty percent of Russian population -- I would say they're completely indifferent because 20 of them didn't know that Medvedev was elected. (Laughter.)

ROBBINS: Was he elected?

YURGENS: We were talking about OSCE techniques -- were you present at the first -- (inaudible)? (Laughter.)

Third point is that of course among those who matter, in terms of being involved, engaged and such -- I would say it's 30 percent of Russian population. So 80 percent of those 30 percent -- very enthusiastic. Some of them realize that this is a landslide in the minds of not only the American people but those people who want to change -- another matter whether we will be able to adapt to the change because Jesus Christ also brought about change which we'll never be able to adapt fully. And the speech of Obama the day before yesterday reminded me of some of those -- excellent, eloquent, fantastically put-together words which really inspire, but the reality could be very harsh.

Having said that, I do not believe in the Cold War between our two nations. We had a spell of bad weather in Georgia and now probably a little bit of Ukraine, but each day is the day of bifurcation, and at the moment to the best of my knowledge -- now, you asked about Kremlin -- people are preparing for the first visit of Mrs. Clinton, probably very soon, and then for the personal contact between the two presidents, probably as soon as April, and then another two opportunities in July and September. And I can tell you that at least three chapters are being prepared on disarmament and weaponry and security, number one; on economy, number two; and on humanitarian contacts, number three. And people are very serious about that.

So there is a school of thought saying that since there will be other priorities than us Russians -- economy, broader Middle East, et cetera, et cetera -- we can take a lead actually, and those are among the most enlightened in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, intelligence, security people -- all of those academics who deal with those issues.

So there is a group of people who are ready to recommend to the President Medvedev to take a lead in the initiatives, which are only present. You mentioned only one, for example -- it's a good bargaining chip. We say that we will be more involved with Iran and you rethink about Czech and Polish bases. And that's a feasible deal actually because, number one, nobody knows exactly how the 10 interceptors will work, whether it's feasible or not at all. And then, as you know, probably we have all kind of suggestions to you from Gabala in Azerbaijan down to Armazir (sp) on the Soviet -- on the ex-Soviet days, which really (watches around ?). And I think that the audience is enlightened enough to understand that -- and here I slightly disagree with Fedor Lukyanov, my friend who spoke before me -- Iranians know that if there is a nuclear capacity, we will be very serious about that. I mean, nuclear armaments capacity, not nuclear sites for the peaceful purposes. And they know about that because they can reach us easily, and 25 million Azeris are living on that territory is a big problem for us.

So Iran is one thing. There are other bargaining chips, and if we start dealing with them with a fist unclenched, then I think we stand a very good chance of new agenda, and probably a very positive one. But that's one version.

Another one -- I'm sort of being sort of -- but I can just stop talking after that and listening to my friends. But another option is that nevertheless, people who do not like Russia -- and there are a lot of people in the United States -- politologists and elites, business, who probably have no sympathy -- they can put together some of the scenarios without major confrontation, will cut us down to size the way Casey did back with Mr. Gorbachev came to power.

I will stop here, but I'm ready to elaborate further down.

ROBBINS: So Ambassador Burt, you get called into the Oval Office next week and they say -- what year do we go back to here? I mean, what are our possibilities? Have the Russians fundamentally changed in the last six years, or can we go back to a good, healthy relationship? Is it President Bush's fault, or has Putin so changed Russia that there's no chance of going back to the idea of a good, healthy, strategic relationship with -- with Russia?

BURT: Well, I think the way I would begin an answer to that question is to say that Russia certainly has changed from the early 1990s and the end of the Soviet Union. And I think part of the current problem in the U.S.-Russian relationship is that that experience of the '90s is viewed very differently by Americans and Russians. I think that we had very high expectations -- unreal and naive expectations -- about political change within Russia. And the Russians also had very real and high expectations about the degree to which they were going to be embraced by the United States and the West. And I think the fact that I think Russians now view that '90s period as a period of weakness, a period of vulnerability, and it is very important to understand. And they view -- even with their current problems, the economic problems, they view the last seven or eight years as a great period of success. In fact about a year ago, before the economic decline -- the economic slowdown, I was comparing Vladimir Putin to Ronald Reagan -- it's morning in Russia. And there's still I think a lot of that feeling that the Russians have -- he has brought them stability, he has brought them confidence, and what the Russians are asking now I think, which is critical in putting it in the context of the Bush administration's policy, is they want to be taken seriously. They want to be a factor in American decision making. They want to be a factor in global decision making.

And so I think to some extent -- to some extent I think the opportunity for the U.S. is to find ways to make them believe that they are being taken seriously. If you go back and read Vladimir Putin's important speech of I guess now about three years ago in Munich at the International Security Conference, some people saw that speech -- and Steve Biegun was I think there as well -- as a declaration of a new Cold War. And Bob Gates was present and said, "We don't need a new Cold War."

I saw it as really a statement of, the time has come for the United States to factor us in, to take our interests into account. And that's where Igor talks about, for example, a possible tradeoff between an issue like Iran and the missile defense activities in the Czech Republic and Poland. There is a relationship there, for example. I could see a possible relationship that could grow -- it's clear to me that if you look at one of the key things that the United States and Russia will have to get back to this year, is a serious effort at further strategic arms reduction, not only to show that they can work together but, with an NPT conference around the corner, demonstrating that the two countries with 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons can seriously reduce and actually talk in terms, as both Putin and Obama have, about a long term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons -- that part -- one of the obstacles is going to be the ballistic missile program. And if we're serious about nonproliferation and Iran is the sort of choke point there, I could see a position that said Iran is 10 years away from developing and deploying an ICBM; we don't have to take this decision. I wouldn't unilaterally back off of it, but to reach a consensus on either cooperative approaches, as the Russians have talked about, or at least postponing it as a way of creating a better atmosphere, both for arms control and to bring the Russians to a more constructive position on Iran is one example of some of the tradeoffs that are available to us.

I'll just conclude by saying I think there -- we have some choices in terms of the American side -- have some choices of what we want to focus on in this relationship. There seem to be three buckets of issues. One, as we talked about this morning, are some of the internal, political, civil society, human rights issues -- and past administrations, both Clinton and to some extent the Bush administration have focused on those. We can talk about the so-called "near abroad" issues -- the regional security issues -- they're not going to go away -- and make those the focal point of our interest. Or we can talk about the kind of global issues that we share with the Russians, like strategic arms control, like the related issue of nonproliferation, like global economic and energy cooperation, counterterrorism and instability in central Asia. If you -- it's interesting, if you look at that last bucket, we share many, many common interests with the Russians, and that's I guess the bucket that I think an Obama administration should focus on -- and at the same time, recognizing that second bucket of issues are going to have to be managed together with the Europeans. It's going to be scratchy, it's going to be difficult, but we are going to have to work out new rules of the road, so to speak, dealing with Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics, the near abroad. We're going to have our differences, but I wouldn't make it the linchpin of the relationship.

And then finally, that first bucket -- I'm just not comfortable making internal change in Russia a principal part of the U.S.-Russia dialogue. I don't think we can influence it to any real degree, and I thin they have gotten annoyed -- increasingly annoyed by the many, many lectures they received from Americans about how they should run their internal political and economic system.

ROBBINS: First of all, Steve, I apologize. I didn't ask you how you wanted to be addressed, and because you're my friend, I've been calling you Steve rather than giving you an honorific. I hope that's okay.

BIEGUN: Mr. Biegun will do, Carla. (Laughter.)

ROBBINS: Okay. Tough, you're Steve. (Laughter.)

I suspect that you don't agree with the notion of Vladimir Putin as Ronald Reagan, so if when called into the Oval Office by President Obama, you might not agree with Ambassador Burt on that one. Do you want to respond to that? And can we afford to and should we ignore the notion of domestic Russian politics in this relationship?

BIEGUN: Actually, I do agree with much of what Rick said. Let me -- caveat. Since this is on the record, I speak for myself and not for my employer.

I think we need to deconstruct how we got to where we are a little bit. One of the things that I find somewhat odd inside Washington circles is that there's at one and the same time a criticism of President Bush for having acquiesced too much too Russia, or not being critical enough, so to say -- and also a strongly held view, particularly in Russia, that the president has -- this president's tenure has been nearly intolerable for Russia. And I think it's interesting that you can have those two arguments existing side by side. But if you catalog how we got to this point, I think it becomes a little bit more understandable.

From the U.S. perspective, there are external affairs differences. There's foreign affairs differences like Russia's conduct in relation to its neighbors; energy politics has drawn a fair amount of concern. There's Russia's seeming indifference at times to the nuclear developments in Iran, despite our sense that Russia knows better or Russia could -- cares more than perhaps it says. And generally I think that what pervaded the previous -- the Bush administration's thinking was a sense that at every turn Russia was either passive or even on the other side where the United States felt it had important issues at stake, I think that was just pervasive in the Bush administration.

On the internal affairs side -- here I will differ a little bit with Rick. On the internal affairs side, the view that pervaded -- the perception of the Bush administration was that Russia's -- that the Russian government had taken steps to -- serious steps to marginalize and even oppress at times the organized opposition in Russia, that the Russian government was systematically dismantling the institutions of a pluralistic society.

ROBBINS: Including the free press. Yeah.

BIEGUN: Including the free media, nongovernmental organizations, the -- even the private sector, which is increasingly mingling with the state sector -- and that in general there was a deep alarm that Russia's democracy was diminishing, not increasing.

Now, I would disagree with Rick on the point of whether or not this is something that's worthy of comment or important to us. It is because I believe that's the context in which Russian policies are generated. And to the extent that those policies are anti-American, we should have a deep concern that there's not a full societal debate happening, if there's not a robust representation of views for and against these policies.

Now, not all is bad, or -- and I certainly don't write off Russia by a long stretch. You still have historically the high water mark in terms of individual freedoms in Russia -- the Internet, freedom to travel, freedom of individual political expression; maybe not organized political expression, but I think few people fear conversations will be overheard and conveyed like they did just 20 years ago. You have a period up until now of societal contentment, which isn't bad for a society that -- (inaudible) -- and embarked upon a more constructive direction.

You had a growing middle class, property owners, which were in time going to only increase their demands for rule of law and for protections of their property, for representative government. So not all is in the negative column, although the current economic crisis does cause me a lot of concern as to the -- what the more positive directions in Russia will happen.

So what I would tell President Obama is that certainly these issues are important, but I don't think Russia should be lectured to. And I think we have to have more courage in our relationship than perhaps was shown by either side in the previous few years. You would have President Putin go to Munich to excoriate the United States, and you'd have Vice President Cheney go to Kiev to excoriate Russia. I just think that's just a fundamental lack of courage on both sides. We need to talk about these issues directly and these differences directly.

From President Obama's perspective, I'd recommend that the government, from the bottom up, engage with Russia, not just with the very top. But I think it would be very important at the top for him to have a good relationship with President Medvedev. I think the jury is still out as to President Medvedev's independence, in part because of our views of the election.

President Obama clearly enjoys far more ability to shed whatever burden the previous administration might have left on the table in the U.S.-Russian relationship. But President Medvedev has that chance generationally and also by his temperament. So I would encourage President Obama to form that personal relationship as well, after we build up all the way to the level at the top of the government.

ROBBINS: We're going to throw this open to the audience. I, of course, have totally failed in my responsibilities of saying this is on the record and what the program was, but I wanted to give Dr. Yurgens a chance if he wanted to respond to any of this before we threw it open to the audience.

YURGENS: Those are ultimate truths. Russians have to work hard on their domestic affairs. Russians have to improve their attitude towards democracy, market and everything else. Russians have to be more forthcoming on good ideas coming from the West, and so on and so forth.

The only problem is that if Obama is put in Kremlin tomorrow, he will end up probably by Putin in eight years' time. This is the problem -- by being Putin in eight years' time. I wouldn't put it past him.

ROBBINS: What do you mean by that?

YURGENS: I mean that the population of Russian Federation is such a difficult entity, and it's spread on such a huge territory with such a bad climate and that has such a difficult history, that if Obama tries to rule it in a very democratic way, engaging civic society, making all those good civilizational moves --

ROBBINS: So this is like a swaddling theory here, is what you're saying.

YURGENS: Yeah. Well, all I'm saying is that it would be nice if Russia is compatible with the values of the West and if we shared those values. But we're not. So from this point of view, in the bilateral relations between the United States of America and Russia, we have to figure out what we can do and what we cannot do.

And that boils down to the long and short cable of Mr. [George] Kennan back in '45, '46, when essentially Kennan said, "Let them figure out what they can do themselves; they will not be changed under our pressure. But let's contain them when they're too arrogant and aggressive, and let's engage them when we can," something along those lines.

So from this point of view, I have no criticisms whatsoever. I for one would definitely do my best in four or five years to come, hopefully longer, to create an opposition to the existing ruling party. That's all I can promise to you.

ROBBINS: You know, I -- Rick wants to talk. I just find this sort of geography as destiny sort of a rather depressing response. And I do -- and I commend to all of you -- I'm sure you've all read it -- Steve's piece in Foreign Affairs. He made me read it, actually, yesterday. (Laughter.) But it actually is really good.

One point that he makes that I found particularly compelling is the notion that there are a whole number of elites that have grown up recently that have huge economic and political interest in painting the United States now as an enemy, or at least as an antagonist, and building up strong military and political reasons for seeing the U.S. as an antagonist now. And the challenge, of course, for your robust and new thinking president is going to be to contain that. But what you're talking about is a completely different thing here. You're talking about a population that is somehow genetically or climatologically incapable --

YURGENS: Geopolitically --

ROBBINS: -- incapable of --

YURGENS: -- capable of formulating its own ideas and agendas, but which would not be fully compatible with those in the West, and taking into consideration what can be changed and what never can be changed on the territory of Russian Federation. That's a big part in itself. And we can figure it out.

ROBBINS: So what you're saying is that Russia is not capable of sharing Enlightenment ideals? Is that what you're saying?

YURGENS: No, no, no. It can. But there is a lag of, like 50 years; always was since Peter the Great. And you can calculate those lags. And now we are living through the period which is very interesting from this point of view, because for the first time ever, we have a non-military, non-KGB, non-Communist Party leader who stands a fair chance of probably winning the showdown. I don't know; I cannot predict the percentage-wise.

It's worth to be engaged with him. It's worth to protect him and to help him. If we can do this, fantastic. If we cannot do this, business back to normal. But again, we spend a little -- we have a hope that the man who created him and put him in the place could have put another man in the place, and he had an option. And we had our own funny primaries. And in those funny primaries, the liberal and democrat won; again, a lot of help. But do you need in the United States to -- (inaudible) -- this guy, to help him? No. Of course it's our own business. But it needs a lot of delicacy and tact and everything just to figure out whom you really can help.

And in my history of bilateral relations with the United States, sometimes all those good people who are trying to help progressives in the Soviet Union first, and then in Russia, sort of failed, and then pragmatic people saying, "Why do we need this giant on creating all kind of problems? Let's deal with them otherwise." They sometimes won, like in '91.

ROBBINS: Can I just follow that up with one sort of question -- you've completely intrigued me here -- which is --

YURGENS: That's what I wanted to do. (Laughter.)

ROBBINS: Well, you're succeeding. You're succeeding. Did the KGB guy put the non-KGB guy in there because he thought he could control him or because he actually sort of wanted to do that --

YURGENS: No, I think that there were skeletons in the cardboard. And to excavate them and to leave life, which would be not a (Pinochet ?) life, sometime during his lifetime, the easy shortcut to this would be to start dismantling some of the bad things and excavating those skeletons and everything else, number one.

Number two, during the year, when those two people were given -- during those primaries, were given the chance, it was absolutely evident that one can efficiently handle a national project and another one cannot, to the extent that he promised Mr. Putin to have his dog GPSed, and he didn't. (Scattered laughter.)

ROBBINS: And finally, did you personally commit to creating an opposition party in the next few years?

YURGENS: That's too much to say, but now myself, Mr. Chubais, some other people, decided to join the so-called Supreme Soviet -- (inaudible) -- or whatever it's called of the new party, which is called Pravoe Delo -- right deal, right cause. That will be our last attempt during my lifetime to come and to put all those democrats together. I cannot understand why they couldn't do that before, but they couldn't. So we will try to do that. We have a deal that we will not be immediately beaten up, both in the press and everywhere. And that shows me that out of precautionary instincts, the power, the structure understand that such void on the right side of the spectrum is simply dangerous.

ROBBINS: Rick, did you want -- or should we go to the audience?

BURT: Whatever you'd like.

ROBBINS: Okay. Well, you guys -- they can ask questions and you cannot answer them if you want to give your -- (laughs) --

BURT: What I was going to say very briefly was if you go back before this immediate economic downturn and look at some of Medvedev's speeches early this year, early last year, and his sort of vision that he began to kind of flesh out for what Russia would look like in the next 15 or 20 years, he was describing the Federal Republic of Germany. And what I think he was talking about was a western-style -- call it a welfare state with a strong social safety net, infrastructure, schools, health care, that was, by and large, dominated by a middle class. And I think that was the goal at least of Medvedev and his entourage.

I think that -- if that goal could be achieved -- and who knows, current circumstances, whether it is achievable; maybe it would have been achievable with $140-a-barrel oil; it may not be with $40 -- you could create, I think, the kind of more open liberal society that the West would like to see. But I think the key point is that is -- it's just it was unrealistic to ever believe or to think that that was going to happen in five years, 10 years or 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And I think, you know, if you just look at other countries, whether it's South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, whatever, I think you've got to have the level of economic development and the creation of a viable middle class that wants transparency and accountability. I think it just -- as much as I would like to see the Enlightenment values spring forth in the near term in Russia, I think it's just completely unrealistic. There are so many other areas where we can work with the Russians, particularly in the kind of laundry list that I spelled out. To not take creative advantage of those opportunities now would be, I think, a huge strategic mistake.

ROBBINS: They're never going to invite me back, because I used the word "audience," which is like the total -- like the worst thing you can say; members and guests. Okay, now I totally -- can we -- 20 seconds?

BIEGUN: Yeah. I would be reluctant to enter into a discussion along the lines that Dr. Yurgens started, because that really is an area that Russians themselves have to sort out, that direction, and also the timing. (Laughter.) Timing part.

ROBBINS: And that's open hand, no fists.

BIEGUN: What I would say is that we do ourselves nor Russia nor anyone else in the world any favor by simply being quiet when we see abuses that come to our attention, whether it's the murder of a journalist or it's a form of international behavior. We shouldn't expect hectoring to change Russia's behavior. There are reasons of principle and our own deeply held values that we speak out.

There has to be much more creative, productive, constructive steps to engage Russia in a way that pulls it in the direction we want it to. That won't be by hectoring. But at the same time, I would be loathe to see my country lose its voice on issues of international values, human rights and --

(Cross talk.)

ROBBINS: Okay. At this time I would like to invite members and guests to join our conversation with their questions. Please wait for the microphone. Speak directly into it. Make sure your BlackBerrys and cell phones are turned off so we don't get that icky screechy noise. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question and keep it concise to allow as many members as possible to speak.

We're going to try and finish this up at 12:35. And thank you all very much. This has been great.

QUESTIONER: Bill Drosdiak.

I'd like to ask the panelists, do you think it would be wise for the new administration to think large in terms of Russia? And by that, I mean an initiative to short-circuit any of the disputes about Georgia, Ukraine and NATO enlargement by opening the door to future membership in NATO of Russia and transforming NATO into a pan-European security organization.

ROBBINS: Would the Russians want it?

YURGENS: Actually, back in 2002, Mr. Putin, half-jokingly but half very seriously, offered Mr. Solana to join NATO -- oh, excuse me, that was George Robertson. Lord Robertson said, "Mr. Putin, you have to wait in the line and meet the criteria." Oh, no, wait in line for Russia -- impossible. But that was a serious talk. I talked to both and I have a confirmation.

So from this point of view, I, for one, would say that under certain prerequisites, if we join NATO, that would be a good thing, as well as we can aspire to join European Union, which will take different shape in this case, like in 10 years' time, if we work hard. And I do agree that if we take broad view -- actually, it happened when Bush and Putin started to be friendly, especially after 9/11. But then things went sour, and it will take another 30 minutes just to enumerate what Putin felt when Bush let him down and the other way around.

ROBBINS: The other question -- and it's an intriguing question -- the other side of it is, of course, that NATO has been so totally deluded and almost on the verge of total paralysis. I mean, letting the Russians in, wouldn't that just guarantee that NATO would never do anything?

BURT: Well, I think, first of all -- I was going to say three quick things. First of all, NATO is at this point an organization either in search of a mission or an organization with too many missions. I was in Bucharest when -- during the NATO summit meeting. President Bush kicked it off by calling NATO an expeditionary alliance. I thought that the Polish foreign minister, who's likely possibly to be the next secretary general of NATO, almost had a heart attack.

ROBBINS: He was just joking with the press.

BURT: So, you know, I think NATO needs to kind of fundamentally go through a pretty deep review of what its core mission is. And so I don't think you talk about bringing Russia, because clearly that would fundamentally change the alliance. So I don't see it as a near-term option, and I do think a really major review of NATO's future is in order.

Second point: One thing where I think it would be a helpful step by the new administration is, I think, pushing to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO is highly counterproductive. The criteria is, is it good for the new member, is it good for the alliance, and is it good for regional security? I can't see how either Georgia or Ukraine can fit those criteria.

But I would support in the near term closer ties with the EU. I think those can be constructive. I think we can find ways to work closely with Ukraine and Georgia as well. But I think this kind of mad momentum of NATO expansion needs to be itself reviewed. And I think maybe someday Russia could be a member of NATO, but it would be a very, very different NATO. So I wouldn't close the door on the concept, but I don't see it as a very good idea and as a near-term Obama administration initiative.

BIEGUN: I think it would be a mistake. And I understand why it's tempting, because it seems like a game-changing move. But I think it's a mistake for a couple of reasons. One, NATO -- my guess is NATO would continue to function with little caucuses around Russia, that the alliance -- that the mindset isn't there in a pan-European sense, particularly between all the members of NATO and the United States and Russia to a point where they wouldn't hold back a little bit. It would fundamentally change the nature of NATO.

And the second consequence of that would be something that I think that we have, in retrospect, mistakenly done for almost two decades now, which is that we have thrust too much into NATO for resolving not just our very specific defensive military needs, but the broader political-military considerations of Europe. And I think across two administrations, Bush and Clinton, that has been a real mistake, because at one and the same time, Russia is at the table and kept in a subordinate role, constantly reminded that this institution of the Cold War still sees Russia as a bit of an outsider and treats it in a subordinate manner.

I think the better course for us is diminish the degree to which we inject all of this debate and discussion into the alliance, into NATO, into Brussels. The horse is already out of the barn. Russia is already there in some form. And I wouldn't exacerbate NATO-Russia relations by inviting Russia to leave, but I would begin to draw the conversation on issues of importance to Russia and us to many other institutions outside of NATO.

I think OSCE should get much more attention and should have gotten much more attention, in retrospect, than it did in the 1990s. I think that using the United Nations, to some extent, the IAEA, the European Union, ought to become a venue that Russia discusses its relations. The United States has to coordinate closely with the European Union to be a party to that since we're not a member, but a party to that discussion. But I think that the mistake here is actually putting too much into NATO, and we've already put too much into NATO. I think we should do less.

ROBBINS: I'm looking for gender balance; always a challenge at the Council.

QUESTIONER: Irena Tkachenko (sp). I have worked for Russian and American radio and television networks for a while in Moscow and New York, hence probably the nature of my question.

I get a feeling, and I don't think I'm alone, that a lot more divides the two countries than unites them at this point in time, especially if you look back at the early '90s and the very rocky course that the relationship has taken. In popular perceptions, the Russian -- and I'm not talking about the elites -- the Russian public in general has been largely -- correct me if I'm wrong -- has been largely antagonized by not only the Russian government, but the Russian mass media, to the concept of western values, American values, American policy.

This has pretty much driven Mr. Putin's popularity, especially in the first term, when he reinstated and reasserted Russia on the international arena. This drove much of the success inside the country. Russians do love to think about themselves as a very strong people, even if affairs at home are not particularly bright.

Has this changed recently? Is there a movement do you see, especially with regard to how the mass media looks at the other side today? Or is this very much still the antagonism, the animosity, the total lack of luck that I do feel, as a Russian going back, still very much in the air towards all things America, a derisiveness and a dismissiveness that has taken hold? Now I'm not talking about the American mass media, where Russia seems to have fallen off the radar scope in the last 10 years.

And the second question, briefly, if I could. The fight of terrorism, which has been very much part of the American --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER: -- in the last eight years --

ROBBINS: (Inaudible) -- one.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry -- has not been there in the Russian mindset, if I am following the views?

YURGENS: There were ups and downs, probably created by the press, but probably created by the course of events. The ups in public opinion vis-a-vis United States after September 11, I think it sociologically can be proved. The downs started with Iraq. And, of course, Russian mass media did something and is guided by some smart people, but it is not entirely the doings of mass media.

So it really depends on the American position. And it can be pretty easily corrected, especially now with Obama, who is popular. So from this point of view, we are not doomed. There are things to be done and can be done. In six months' time, you will see the improvement of how Russians treat Americans.

On the war on terror, I can tell you that we are the only country who want war of terror, because everybody in Russia feels that we won war on terror in Chechnya. At the moment it's a sad saga with Mr. Kadyrov, who is, again, through the period of Chechenization, is on top of the things, we at least not have a terror on the territory of Russian Federation. But I don't think that the situation is totally kosher there.

But it's very much in the mindset of Russian people that we can war on terror, thanks to Mr. Putin, thanks to his resolution, thanks to many other things, if we want to. And from this point of view, when and if, God forbid, there is a showdown with a large Islam, NATO will not deal with that without Russia, as simple as that. European allies would not send people, enough people and armaments and everything. Russia would.

And we will participate in Afghan resolution one way or another. We gave the corridors to the American forces. We will sign with the Spaniards to bring -- we signed already with Germans -- they are through our territory with military equipment. And if we negotiate well, I think we can even imagine the air support of NATO operations from Russian Federation by Russian air force.

ROBBINS: Steve, do you want to --

BIEGUN: One of the dysfunctions that I think has affected the U.S.-Russia relationship -- and I know there's both Russians and Americans in this room who've also spoken and written about this, and we agree -- is that it seems, particularly in the last decade, that Russia has consistently played a secondary role in virtually any policy consideration in the United States, to a point of being unhealthy.

And the United States has played a primary role in virtually every consideration of Russia to an extent that's unhealthy. And in the process, the anti-Americanism has become a consistent theme across many Russian policies. And that only feeds the dysfunction on the United States side, because that only leads policymakers to discount Russia's positive contribution and make them even tertiary instead of secondary. It's a terrible cycle that we've been in, and it's bred a lot of hostility even over relatively small issues.

Now, there are some big issues out there, and they're going to have to be dealt with. And I would strongly recommend that the new United States president not engage in tradeoffs, tawdry tradeoffs, that, you know, "Ukraine doesn't get into NATO if you help us with Iran," or "We'll cancel missile defense, and you do this."

I think we have to be more sophisticated on both sides in order to find durable agreements to our positions. But I think we have to also -- whether we like it or not, there is a perception in Moscow that it has not been a primary consideration in our policies. And we have to find clear and positive ways to signal that that does not have to be the case. And I think that will help ameliorate much of the tension that has grown over the years.

(Cross talk.)

BURT: And I'd just say -- well, yeah, I wanted to say something. A tawdry tradeoff -- I thought the whole rationale for ballistic missile defense deployments in Poland and in Czech Republic was the Iranian threat. Now, if we're better able to deal with the Iranian threat by getting Russian help to come to a solution there, it doesn't seem to me that there is the strategic necessity for that tradeoff. I don't see that tawdry --

BIEGUN: Where I would see the kind of strategically logical --

(Cross talk.)

ROBBINS: -- tawdry should be less overt. I mean, maybe what you mean is that it should be less overt in the sense of "We're not going to trade help on Iran for looking the other way on when you murder journalists" is what you're saying.

BIEGUN: Precisely. And in the case of the linkage --

BURT: Well, that sounds -- you know, that also sounds like a great tradeoff, because, again, I'm going to make the case that we can't influence how the Russians -- whether or not they're going to murder journalists. We've got to get out of our mindset that we have the influence and the ability to micromanage Russian internal policy. And on the other hand, if we can get them to make important agreements with us in terms of their external behavior, that is something we need to do.

I just think this idea that it continues to be an important mission of American foreign policy to reform Russia and make them more like us is going to be a very destructive policy, and it's going to antagonize the Russians and it's not going to produce real change. In fact, it's, in my view, one of the reasons for the anti-Americanism.

If we constantly lecture the Russians about their villainy and our great stature while at the same time, you know, we recognize an independent Kosovo without letting them have a word on that, and at the same time we say, "But you can't do that in the case of South Ossetia," we tell them that they are corrupt and they have oligarchs, and then Putin quotes back Enron and Bernie Madoff to us. I mean, the fact of the matter is it's not a good way to conduct foreign policy.

YURGENS: But they can solve Iranian issue without all of this. (Laughter.)

BIEGUN: And I think --

YURGENS: If you just link us to our central command in the world of new communication, if we are not physically present but just digitally present in your Czech and Polish base, we're happy. It's just a solution for those two colleagues.

BIEGUN: And I think the construct on the Iranian missile threat, or the Iranian nuclear threat, that I think both governments see is the right window to begin the conversation that ultimately gets to the urgency and the need for the missile defense. I think we are doomed to failure if we try a quick tradeoff.

ROBBINS: This may be more of a language issue about making it look as an overt tradeoff issue; this is more a cooperation question.

Toby, you had your hand up.

QUESTIONER: Here's the mike.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, John.

Well, I appreciate the inclusiveness, Carla, of President Obama calling in Rick Burt and Steve Biegun. I kind of hope he would call in members of his Obama and Clinton team, Russia team as well, and find out that their views are not as perhaps different from each other as they were -- as it was presented during the campaign.

But I think we also ought to look at the real people who are going to be in real places, are in real places in the NSC and State and Defense. And I think we can fairly say that most of them will not avoid internal and (near abroad ?) issues. Most of them will not avoid some of the domestic problems you mentioned. And the question is how to balance those with the arms control agenda. And the parts that you've all left out, which kind of scream about being left out, are the economic component and the energy component and the fact that the internal life of a country is obviously connected to its foreign policy.

I guess no one will be in a better position to explain how a free press and access to the Internet and lots of money can make a scripted campaign for the front-runner go awry than Hillary Clinton when she goes to Moscow. So perhaps that will be an interesting conversation about the benefits and the threats to transitions from a free society.

But I think, from the point of view of what we have to avoid or do, I think two things. One is, the U.S. has to avoid lecturing, which is very true. But that doesn't mean avoid principles. And I think it's absolutely impossible for us to have a foreign policy that doesn't talk about what we think is right and wrong in our own country and in Russia, and the point is to do both.

And the other thing we have to do is understand that Russia today is not the Russia that the Democrats left in 1999 and 2000, but also it's not the Russia that the Republicans left in 1992. And I think we just have to get over our --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER: Okay. My question is -- (laughter) -- my question is, how do the Russians avoid seeing Obama as weak? And how do we make them understand that Russia's failures are not because of what America has done?

BURT: Well, one thing I would say here -- and Steve brought this up, and this isn't a direct answer to your question totally -- but we have, in a sense, hollowed out the former U.S.-Russian dialogue. I mean, it's quite striking how few real Russia specialists are in the U.S. government any longer. It's interesting how few the institutions and dialogues that really take place at working levels and middle levels between the U.S. and Russian government.

When the Bush administration decided that it was going to put the whole arms control issue on the back burner, that meant, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50 people who were kind of engaged full-time on that set of issues and thinking about Russia kind of disappeared into, you know, probably worrying about finding al Qaeda and so on.

And what that meant was is when President Bush finally realized, "Hey, I haven't been paying enough attention to this relationship; I want to send some people to Moscow to talk to the Russians," he ended up having to send his secretary of State and his secretary of Defense, because probably they were the only two people who could really talk to the Russians in a meaningful way about those issues, because there weren't the kinds of people with the expertise that existed 15, 20 years ago.

ROBBINS: But Toby (sp) asked a question that -- that I think that Igor needs to address, which is, if President Obama does suspend work on this missile defense, if he backs off on Georgia and Ukraine for NATO, is the first message going to be in Moscow from, let's face it, a lot of hard cases in the Kremlin, if not the president, "Oh, my God, the wimpy Democrats are back in power; let's take advantage of them"? I mean, what do you -- how do we avoid them taking that as the immediate lesson?

YURGENS: I think that first gestures of President Obama today in the office was Guantanamo and Iraq. They should be total morons to disregard that. That's mighty serious gestures. And I can tell you that our leadership, which is relatively young and not Brezhnev's kind of octogenarians, they will take notice of that. And believe me, the fist will be unclenched. Nobody treats Mr. Obama and his administration as weak administration, with Mrs. Clinton, with General Jones, with all those guys who we know very well. I wish Bush had same kind of strong administration.

No, no, no, it will not be treated lightly. And the only thing is just to make an interesting program of bilateral steps, starting from SALT, anti-ballistic missile, Afghanistan, which is very important, and tactical nuclear arms in Europe, which are doable deals. And if we accomplish some of them by the end of this year, we again have, for the first time since 1991, a treaty. For Russians, it's a great deal.

ROBBINS: You mean extending START I?

YURGENS: No, since 1991, we didn't have any treaty negotiated, signed and executed. So if we can do SALT --

BURT: START.

ROBBINS: START.

YURGENS: START -- excuse me -- START -- if we can do anti-ballistic and if we can move on Afghanistan, that will be a fantastic start.

BURT: The simple answer, you get something for those. You don't -- (inaudible) -- the ballistic missile defense thing, as I was suggesting, there may be a tawdry tradeoff. But on NATO expansion, I've got to tell you, that's -- if we want to keep pushing that in the case of Georgia and the Ukraine, that's going to be a self-inflicted wound, because we're going to be fighting the Germans and the French and the rest of the NATO alliance.

YURGENS: If you want Yushchenko and Saakashvili as members of your chief command in NATO, I would applaud. (Laughter.) Goodbye.

ROBBINS: Final question here.

QUESTIONER: Real short question, but I just want to mention that Igor Yurgens --

ROBBINS: Name, affiliation.

QUESTIONER: Don Carter, Third Millennium Russia Fund -- publicly, in front of large crowds in Moscow, has called for an open and free press as being necessary to attack corruption. And I think he's really a hero.

My question is about three words that have not been mentioned today, and that is the World Trade Organization. I've sat with the Russian Business Leaders' Forum, and the oligarchs all have their own reasons why they don't want to be in the WTO. They've got their own little deals. And the Americans -- my question is, is it a failure of American policy that we haven't taken a simple win by going and embracing the Russians and telling them they've got to be in the World Trade Organization tomorrow? And why hasn't this happened? Why has nobody mentioned WTO today?

ROBBINS: Steve.

BIEGUN: I would have actually added it into Igor's list of initiatives of practical and achievable goals for the near term. I think this is probably -- and my advice to President Obama, the first item was to treat President Medvedev as a very serious figure and engage with him, but build it from the bottom up. And second would be -- would probably be this, is get them into the WTO, because this is a deliverable. This is something we can do.

And I just believe we have to encourage both sides to redouble their efforts. I think it has benefit, just like arms control negotiations and everything else too, of broadening the relationship and the routine contact between the two governments, between political institutions of the White House and the Kremlin, in a way that will yield benefits elsewhere.

BURT: One footnote here, something that President Obama could do in one week, and that was announce that he was going to go to the Congress to drop Jackson-Vanik.

ROBBINS: Jackson-Vanik. Yes.

BURT: There's -- you know, that's not a complicated thing. There's simply no rationale for it.

BIEGUN: And it can precede the WTO.

ROBBINS: (Inaudible) -- for eight years.

BURT: George W. Bush promised this to Vladimir Putin, I think, on three different occasions. Nothing ever happened. That would send a very powerful signal that things are different.

BIEGUN: I agree.

ROBBINS: This has been for me a great panel, for all its tawdriness. (Laughter.) And thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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