Russia Update: Is the Reset Working?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DAVID ANDELMAN: I'd like to welcome you all to today's meeting, "Russia Update: Is the Reset Working?"

I'm David Andelman. I'm the editor of World Policy Journal. But enough about me.

First, I must ask you now to completely turn off, not just put on vibrate, your cell phones, BlackBerrys, all wireless electronic devices or anything else you might carry that would make a noise, to avoid interference with the sound system that I hope by now is actually working.

And finally, I'd like to remind the members that this meeting is on the record. We'll also be joined by national members who are listening in on this session from around the world and will be invited at the end to e-mail questions which I will relay from this laptop, which I think I can manage. Another high-tech first for the council. So that's very exciting.

Anyway, let me begin by saying how delighted I am to be sitting here surrounded by such a distinguished group of, dare I still pronounce the word, Kremlinologists, all of whom I suspect are slathering at the prospects of being able to take on Stephen Cohen on the end -- (laughter) -- perhaps the most maverick amongst them all, but the author of a book that should instead be required reading in each of their classes and the conference rooms of every academic and every strategy session held by today's policymakers.

"Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War" is really, as I put it in my review of it, a cautionary tale of good intentions gone so terribly awry.

The big question for us here today, though, I think, is less the intentions and the consequences and how we can cope with this strange, often bizarre nation and its leaders. Indeed, I've always been most compelled by the effects of historical moments, and we're certainly at a crossroads today in so many ways.

I have to tell you, I first ran across Stephen more than 30 years ago when I was preparing to go to Belgrade for The New York Times. I picked up his remarkable copy of a biography of Bukharin. Yes, I actually have a copy of it. He was astonished, it's 35-years old, and it is remarkable mainly because Bukharin and his legacy is as fresh today as it was back then at the height or the depths of the Cold War. Indeed, I'm not fully persuaded we've moved that far from those days, but I guess that's what we're here to discuss today, at least in part.

And to discuss that, we're joined by two imminent figures of Russia, present and past, Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, publisher of the National Interest with whom we at World Policy Journal have exchanged ads in the past, and we're delighted in the past, and particularly author of "After the Collapse: Russia Seeks Its Place as a Great Power," which suggests another central issue we should take up today.

And to my immediate right, the lovely Celeste Wallander and brilliant Celeste Wallander, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, not the Central Asian stans I was told today. But she is the former professor in the School of International Service at American University. And indeed, security is her special forte.

So to get the ball rolling without further adieu, Stephen, why don't you begin, not so much by summarizing your book -- hopefully everyone here will be itching to buy it at the end, and he'll be here signing copies -- but rather, thinking back, as you do, to the opportunity you think we lost in 1991, some sort of permanent peace in Russia, that this opportunity may be happening again. Yet it seems in your judgment that, okay, we've declared a reset, but that, too, is failing for many of the same reasons. Somehow we're continuing the same fundamental policies in the past with some different rhetoric, and basically we've still really failed to end the Cold War.

That's a pretty awful prescription for where we are or where we're headed.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: I'm grateful to the council for the invitation. I'm grateful to Dimitri and Celeste for coming from Washington.

I'm grateful for all of you coming out in this bad weather.

But I'm especially grateful to David for the introduction. When you're young and you behave badly, you're called silly. When you get older, you're called a maverick. (Laughter.) Therefore, I join the club, led by Senator McCain, whose presidential campaign was, yes, I'm old, but I'm a maverick. And that's my excuse, too.

It is true that this book David held up is a kind of maverick work in this sense, that most of my colleagues have looked at what happened in Russia under the Soviet and regime and after, looked at the tragedies, at the turning points, at the historic crossroads, and thought that the outcomes were pretty much predetermined, maybe even inevitable, made inevitable or predetermined by ideology, by Russia's tradition, by the nature of communism. And unfortunately, many blame the Russian people, the nature of the Russian people.

This book argues that at each fateful turning point in the '20s and the '30s, under Puschov in the '50s, when the Soviet Union ended, there was in fact a road not taken, a lost alternative, an opportunity lost. And at the end of the book, I get to the subject that relates to our topic today, is the reset working?

In the last two chapters, I argue -- and a lot of this is how you formulate it -- that an historic opportunity to end the very long Cold War between the United States and Russia, the Soviet Union, an opportunity to end that once and for all has been lost sometime in the last 20 years.

And the way I illustrate the question or what happened is I ask this question, and I ask it of you today, how did we get a 20 years, from 1988-1999 -- and some of us the room, most of us, are old enough to remember when President Reagan, President Gorbachev and the first President Bush said publicly and repeatedly, the Cold War is over -- how did we get from there, 20 years later to what was in effect a proxy American-Russian hot war in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia? What happened? What went wrong?

Now, if you pose a question that way, people are going to bring different answers to the table. I explain it in the book in a historical way which I won't summarize or repeat today. But from what I came to think and learn studying those 20 years, I came to the conclusion that President Obama's reset, which I interpret to mean, to improve that relationship that was so bad in August 2008 as a result of the Georgian war, to improve it significantly.

And I think it's failing for three reasons. And I've jotted them down so I won't take more time than I should.

First, and this grows out of this 20-year history I'm talking about, Washington and Moscow have profoundly conflicting understandings of when and why the relationship went bad.

Washington thinks it went bad about nine years ago when Putin took power in Russia. And that it went bad because of Putin, because of his domestic policies and his neoimperialism, as it's called.

Moscow has a completely different, conflicting view of when and what went wrong. They believe that the relationship went wrong right after the Soviet Union ended 20 years ago. And that since that time, American policy has repeatedly, and here I'm quoting both Medvedev and Putin, their exact words, "Washington has repeatedly deceived and betrayed Russia." Those are very profound thoughts coming from the mouths of the two main leaders of Russia, that they've been deceived and betrayed. So in short, they blame us and say it began 20 years ago.

Well, as you can imagine, these conflicting perspectives, these different narratives on how we got where we are today has led to conflicting mind-sets in Washington and Moscow about the reset.

Washington thinks -- and you have seen this formulation in the media and from spokesmen of the Obama administration, (I don't think ?) from Celeste -- that for the reset to work, I quote, "Moscow has to change its behavior."

Meanwhile, the Russian policy elite -- and there is a policy elite, as Dimitri knows better than any of us, apart from the leaders themselves -- has become so mistrusting of Washington over the last 20 years that no Russian leader today, and maybe Dimitri will disagree with me, neither Putin nor Medvedev can be seen by his policy elite to be making unilateral concessions to the United States and possibly -- about this I'm not sure -- any major concession, because they believe that every concession they've made to the United States has been banked, and Russia has got nothing in return.

And finally -- finally -- it seems to be the view in Moscow -- my wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and I were there two weeks ago. You can see this in the Russian press. And I know Dimitri is there very often, he may hear something different. But the prevailing view among people who think about this in Moscow is that the Obama administration wants a reset without resetting American policy.

And that instead, what the Obama administration has done has been to continue those very American policies that, according to Moscow, so offended Russia during the last 20 years.

For example, by seeming to interfere in Russia's internal affairs, as both our President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are perceived to have done repeatedly since July, by referring to post-Soviet Russia as not a great power, but a dying power without legitimate national security interests on its own borders, as Vice President Biden has now done three times, most recently in Romania last week.

And above all, and this is the key issue, of course, as you all know, by continuing to push America's military alliance, NATO, to Russia's borders, now to Georgia, now the Ukraine, and even if Biden's speech in Romania last week is to be taken seriously, America is prepared to promote new anti-Russia revolutions, as they're called, on Russia's borders and within the former Soviet territories.

So that is why I think the reset is failing. That, I think, is an objective view.

My subjective is, in a word, on balance, Moscow's grievances are legitimate. Of course, it takes two to tango. But their grievances are legitimate. And that if we want a reset, the Obama administration will have to radically, fundamentally change its policies. That's assuming it actually has a policy.

ANDELMAN: Well, really, if there's one person in this room that can really speak to this whole question of Russia's perspective, and especially the Putin-Medvedev mentality, it's Dimitri.

And I'm especially interested, because not only as someone born in Moscow and educated in history at MSU, but also you've really been adept at discussing these problems with an incredible range of top policymakers, both Russian and American. And your piece in the new issue of The National Interest -- which is available out front, and I urge all of you, if you haven't picked it up yet, to pick it up and read it -- because you really chronicle the whole structure and foibles of the Putin-Medvedev regime.

And I'm still, I guess, trying to come to grips with what the mentality is. What are they expecting from this reset? Or do they see a reset coming at all, as Stephen seems to think is failing? Are we not matching their expectations?

DIMITRI K. SIMES: I think Stephen was absolutely right. We are not matching their expectations. And there are differences between Putin's and Medvedev's people. Medvedev's people seem to be more optimistic. And in my view, some of this optimism is genuine. Some of this optimism is probably self-serving, because they want to demonstrate that they are different from Putin's people and that they could handle the United States better.

But exactly as Steve said, they would like to demonstrate that they can handle the United States better, without paying (any ?) price. And credibility of these people in Moscow is contingent on the United States having a real reset.

And I did not hear from anyone in Moscow, where I was 10 days ago, that they're impressed with what they have seen from the Obama administration so far.

Now, let me be fair and square. When I was in Moscow, Secretary Clinton was there. Almost everybody has praised her performance. Almost everybody on both sides have said that it was a successful meeting, that the tone was much better, that the personal chemistry between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov was far superior to what took place during the relationship between Lavrov and Secretary Rice.

However, on substantive issues, there was little progress. And most important, exactly as Steve said, there were not just different narratives, but two different agendas.

The administration came to Moscow to discuss Iran, to discuss strategic arms control, to discuss possible economic cooperation.

What Moscow wanted to hear was, first and foremost, was (Soviet space ?) and that the United States under Obama would have a fundamentally different policy toward Russian neighbors than before. They did not get those assurances. Those assurances were not given as far as State Department officials told me. Their assurances were not received as the Russian officials have told me.

And for the Russians, this is by far the most important issue, not around, not even START, the Russians are interested in extending START, but this is not a paramount issue. Paramount issue is, of course, Soviet space.

On Russian domestic situation, the Russians felt that they have received conflicting messages. And the -- (inaudible) -- which you have just mentioned, David, and thank you for that -- (inaudible) -- and myself provide an analysis of Russian domestic situation, which, as senior aides to Putin have described to me, are devastating

I don't know whether it is devastating, but it is very, very critical. So the question in my mind is not whether the U.S. government can legitimately criticize Russian domestic arrangements. The question for me is, toward what purpose and at what price?

And maybe we should be prepared to pay the price, but at least we should not kid ourselves that we're doing certain things vis-a-vis Russian very domestic situation, and the Russians just look at them and say, oh, fine, we will disregard them and pursue all other matters, matters important to the United States.

There was confusion about where Secretary Clinton, where president's assistant of Russian affairs McFaul -- (inaudible) -- and as a matter of fact, there was considerable controversy even what they said and what they meant by what they were saying.

Let me make one final point. Last week, we were having a situation with the Russians when we really were pressuring them quite hard to press Iran, intent on their nuclear program. We had delegations in Vienna on Wednesday, having a very serious and difficult meeting with the Iranians. There were not only the public meetings, but what would the Russians tell the Iranians outside the meeting, in the privacy of their separate encounters? It was quite important.

And therefore, what I understand to U.S. delegation have done just fine in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Celeste's colleague, Secretary -- (inaudible) -- was in -- (inaudible) -- and he was quoted as talking about deepening -- deepening -- Georgian cooperation with NATO.

And Vice President Biden was in Warsaw, talking about deploying a new generation of missile defenses and about bringing Patriot Missiles to Poland. And the way I understood it from administration officials, what Biden was talking about was for a visit. What Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said, however, that he got assurances from Biden that the United States would sell Patriot Missiles to Poland.

And I don't need to tell you that these missiles would not be targeted on Iran, they would be targeted on Russia, Russian missiles and Russian strategic aircraft.

So meanwhile, while all this was sorted out in Moscow, President Obama was preparing for his phone call to President Medvedev, which took place on Saturday. And I understand, again, they had a very good conversation. And next morning, after this conversation, Sergei Ryabkov, Russian deputy foreign minister, who was the chief Russian negotiator in Vienna, Sergei Ryabkov gave an interview to Russian paper, which was arranged literally at the last moment after Medvedev's conversation with Obama, where he said, we need to have more patience. We do not need to pressure the Iranians. And we need to offer them additional incentives.

I cannot demonstrate that there was any direct connection between what Secretary -- (inaudible) -- was saying, between what Vice President Biden was saying and what was the Russian response. I cannot demonstrate it.

What I can demonstrate, however, is that U.S. approaches to Russia during the Obama administration were treated with considerable skepticism initially and that the skepticism is still very much there. And the skepticism does interfere with U.S. ability to get Russian cooperation on matters that mean most to the United States, particularly in Iran.

ANDELMAN: Well, now, it doesn't sound to me, from listening to both Dimitri and Stephen, that there has been much of a reset, I guess. But I know you're going to have hopefully a pointed contrary opinion, since this is supposed to be a debate of some sorts or less.

And I'm certainly aware of the constraints you face as a member of the Obama administration. I want to say that up front. But I also want to point out something that you said. There was a footnote in Stephen's book, that the Russian political system -- he said this years ago, mind you -- as a whole, lacks any legitimacy.

And we were talking before, you pointed out your caveats that you deal with the defense side and so on, but it is a seamless (hole ?) to a certain degree. And I'd like to hear your thoughts about reset. Are we moving toward some sort of a reset? It doesn't sound it from what Dimitri, for instance, has said, and Stephen certainly seems to to suggest in his book.

CELESTE A. WALLANDER: Great, well, thank you. And thanks to the council for putting together this event.

This is a great opportunity to have a discussion with such knowledgeable and well-informed leaders in our field and with all of you, who I know are very interested in U.S.-Russian relations and rightly so, because U.S.-Russian relations are not only important in and of themselves, but they affect American national and security interests across the globe in a wide variety of issues, which are a high priority.

Whether that's Iran, Afghanistan, nonproliferation, global economic stability, Russia is a potential partner and a country that the United States cannot and should not ignore.

And that's what I want to put at the center of your thinking about what we're talking about, is how important the U.S.-Russia relationship is. And that's what the reset is about.

And let's be clear about what the reset is and what it is not. The reset is not, you know -- it's described as a strategy, as a policy, as something, you know, how is it going? The reset was a moment. The reset was a determination to end the atmosphere of invective and acrimony that had bedeviled U.S.-Russian relations for quite some time and which reached its low point last summer and last fall.

We had gotten to the point where we couldn't even talk about things that we fundamentally agree about, let alone talk about things where we might have differences of views. And that was not good for American national security interests, and it wasn't good for global security and global security.

And so President Obama came to office with a determination to change that atmosphere, to reset the atmosphere in U.S.-Russia relations, to then see if we could get back on the track of seeking cooperation where we agree and where we can jointly solve problems, either on a bilateral basis or multilaterally, or at least discuss those issues where we do have different perspective and different points of view.

And the moment of the reset was sort of at the beginning of the administration, a determination to change that atmosphere and to engage if the Russian government was ready to do so. And contrary to what you've heard, it's been extraordinarily productive in the last eight months or so.

President Medvedev and President Obama had a very productive meeting in London. I'll give you some examples of the productive outcome of the summit in July. And we're engaged in a broad range, actually, of negotiations and discussions. And we are moving toward solving some of these problems. And where we haven't quite addressed really concrete cooperation, laying the groundwork for at least understanding one another's positions and seeking areas of cooperation.

In July, for example, the United States and Russia signed an agreement on lethal transit, allowing U.S. aircraft to overfly Russian territory, carrying lethal material to Afghanistan. Before, Russia had supported U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing non-lethal transit, which was enormously helpful, but which was nonetheless constraining because of the limitations on the kind of cargo that could be transported.

In London, President Medvedev had offered a lethal transit agreement and had basically conveyed to our side, to the U.S. side, that it was going to get done by July. And I was involved in negotiations and the working out of that agreement. And those were very tough negotiations, very serious negotiations with a lot of issues to be resolved, but they were resolved because of the determination on both sides and because of the seriousness of the interaction between both sides.

At the summit, we also signed a new framework on military-to-military cooperation, which included not just a framework of principles for cooperation, but a concrete work plan of 20 events. Our military-to-military contacts between the United States and Russia had been at a complete standstill because of the events leading up to but also the events of August 2008. And we've been now working on those military-to-military contacts.

We have Russian-US. joint staff talk organized for December. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has visited Moscow and has had interactions with his counterpart, General Makarov, which have been constructive.

And as often is the case when you have high-level contacts, that just is supported by a large set of interactions at lower levels throughout the Department of Defense on our side and the Russian Ministry of Defense on their side, which has created the opportunity for interactions and discussions on a broad range of issues in arms control, but also in issues of Eurasian security, and these discussions are going on quite frequently. It doesn't always make the headlines, but it actually has changed the atmosphere, as the reset was meant to do, and is creating the opportunity for interaction and concrete agreements, but also these kinds of discussions.

Right now, we're engaged in admittedly something of a deadline of December 5th, the expiration of the existing START treaty, but intensive negotiations in which there is still differences between the U.S. negotiating positions and the Russian negotiating positions. But those positions have narrowed since the summer. You never know how negotiations are going to turn out. I'm not going to predict that there will be a successful agreement on START by December.

But we are actually talking about arms control, we're talking about what we think each side believes it needs in terms of strategic nuclear weapons and, more broadly, not just strategic nuclear weapons but, more broadly, global strategic capabilities, which is a considerable change from just a year ago when the United States and Russia were only talking at one another through the media, through public fora instead of negotiators being able to talk with one another in Geneva and other forums.

We are intensively involved through the P5+1, which obviously involves Russia, in discussions about managing the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons program. We've made actually quite a bit of progress. The United States perspective is that we have a dual track on managing the problem of Iran's nuclear aspirations.

One involves sanctions, and that has to be on the table, but that's not the one we're working on right now, because President Obama was determined to launch a serious effort on diplomacy, on engagement, and that is the one we're quite successfully working with the Russians. And it is the Russian side which very, very productively and constructively came up with the idea of working with the problem of Iran's low-enriched uranium, which Iran claims is for research purposes, but which is a proliferation risk.

And Russia authored the plan, it created the plan for 1,200 kilograms of that low-enriched uranium to be transported to Russia, reprocessed into a form that can be used for research, for medical research and in proper research facilities, but then cannot be enriched into highly enriched uranium. And that's the subject of negotiations going on this week.

These are significant areas of negotiations and significant areas where U.S.-Russian cooperation can contribute not only to our bilateral relationship and improving the bilateral relationship, but actually contributing to something which has implications for global security, which is the fundamental coherence and future of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Now, we're not naive about every single issue and every single negotiation leading to success, because, as is normal in international relations, the United States and Russia do not have perfectly identical interests or positions on every issue.

You know, if countries have perfectly identical interests on every issue, you wouldn't need negotiations. Negotiations are about finding compromise and cooperation where your positions differ but in which there are overlapping areas of cooperation.

We see our basic approach to Russia is that we see lots of areas where our interests overlap and where it's possible to find cooperation and coordination. We don't accept a zero-sum frame, but this is a frame that everyone keeps trying to force on the United States, that American perspectives on Eurasia, on Europe, on arms control must be zero sum. We don't think they're zero sum.

And part of the effect of the reset is our ability to engage the Russian leadership and Russian elites to make it clear that we're seeking those areas where we can agree.

Now, the hard issues, as Dimitri points out, I agree with you, the hard issues relate to Eurasia and Eurasian security. And the question about whether Russia will come to accept to world the way it really is, which is the Soviet period is past, and the Cold War is over. And Russia is a viable country that has both the right and the responsibilities to expect the international community to respect its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

And the same set of rules and norms by which Russia exists in the international community and commands our respect, as it does, apply to Russia's neighbors. And that's really the basic principle, that the United States expects Russia to abide by the same rules of the game that Russia expects the rest of the international community to approach Russia with.

And if we can agree on that basis, we actually can sort out improving the OSCE, as President Medvedev has called for, working on conventional arms control, talking about resolving the conflict in post-Soviet space and a cooperative, peaceful, political way that contributes to the social and economic development of those countries.

So, you know, I think it's more dramatic to talk in zero-sum terms, and so that's fine.

ANDELMAN: We can actually debate this probably among ourselves also --

WALLANDER: Right. But I think that it's really fundamental to understand that the reset was a moment in which we wanted to create an atmosphere in which we could change that frame and make clear that we don't accept that frame.

ANDELMAN: I think we could probably debate this among ourselves on the stage here probably the rest of the hour. But I think we have so many experts also in the audience who I'd love to give voice to as well. So I think it's perhaps time to invite members to join our conversation, and we can then also respond as well while we're doing that to Celeste.

The national members, if you haven't yet -- and I see you haven't -- e-mail your questions. I'll insert them as time allows. Is there anybody out there, courtesy of this laptop?

For those in this room, please wait for the microphone. Speak directly into it. This is what I've been told to tell you. Please state your name and affiliation. And finally, one question, and keep it concise. We'll allow as many members as possible time to -- yes, right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Kimberly Marten. I'm a professor at Barnard College at Columbia University.

And my question is for Stephen Cohen. I've just returned from Georgia. I did a research trip there where I had the opportunity to talk to lots of people in the elite. And the sense that I get from a lot of Georgians is that they're very frightened that Russia is trying to take over their country from within, that it's not just a military conflict they're afraid of but that Russian economic influence in their country, Russian political influence among the opposition, Russian ability to destabilize things from within, is still a real concern for them.

So my question for you is, given this set of fears and given the reality of the war that happened, what is your ideal outcome? What do you expect to have happen between Russia and Georgia that you think would be better than the current situation that you think is realistic?

ANDELMAN: The question is addressed to you, Steve.

COHEN: If I understood Dimitri correctly, I agree that for Russia, this is the issue. This is more important than Iran. It's more important than missile defense, though missile defense is linked to this.

At the end, Celeste said, "If only the Russians would play by our rules of the game" -- or she calls them the rules of the international community -- and accept these as civilized, we could then get on with solving all these other problems.

The problem is that we don't play by the rules of our game. Ask yourself what the reaction of Celeste and President Obama would be if, tomorrow morning, they wake up and there's a Russian military base in Canada, a Russian military base in Mexico, a Russian military base in Cuba, a Russian military base in Venezuela, and a set of missiles that might be able to shoot down American retaliatory missiles as they rose from the ground. Well, there would be hysteria in this country. And the president would either react forcefully or be impeached.

Now look at the world through the eyes of the Kremlin. For the last 20 years, we've moved American military power -- and that's what NATO is -- to Russia's borders. And we expect the Russians to say, "Well, that's the way civilized nations live," except that it's not.

I think an equal right of a nation is not to have hostile military forces on its borders. And NATO is a hostile military force historically. And all this talk about NATO-Russian cooperation is atmospheric, if you will. It's not real.

Now, of course the Georgians told you that. The group of Georgians you met with tell --

QUESTIONER: It's very wide. I have 24 interviews.

COHEN: -- tell everybody --

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

COHEN: -- tell everybody that. But there's also a Georgian opposition --

QUESTIONER: I met with some of them.

COHEN: Well, are you going to let me finish? You met with the Georgian opposition. There are, at least in the press, Georgian oppositionists who feel that Georgia has made a mistake in alienating Russia so much, that they're in a no-win situation, and that depending on the United States to protect it from Russia is going to lead to what was potentially a Cuban-missile-crisis moment in August 2008, when American-backed forces were fighting Russian forces on Russia's borders. Think about that. That had never happened before.

One of the problems with NATO expansion is it's given no incentive to the small nations whom God put in the shadow of the giant Russia to work out their separate peaces with Russia. They take the view that we could punch Russia in the nose and we'll hide behind the United States. Well, in August 2008, they learned that doesn't work.

The solution, of course, is to end the expansion of NATO, to make it very clear that there are going to be no more American -- there are already several -- no more American military bases on Russia's borders, whether they're American bases, as they are in Georgia, or NATO bases.

By the way, Ukraine is a much more dangerous situation, and we're headed there too. And instead -- and here's where Celeste, I think, and her colleagues could make a difference -- find a way for Moscow and Washington to guarantee the political sovereignty of Georgia and Ukraine. It used to be called Finlandization, and it's often mocked. But the Finnish people have prospered as a result of that. The Georgian people, more than half of which are in poverty, same true of the Ukrainian people, and gain nothing from this reckless behavior on all sides.

ANDELMAN: Well, it is interesting. In our next issue of World Policy Journal, we have a piece from the editor of the Ukrainian equivalent of New York Review of Books, suggesting that, in fact, Ukrainian opinion is shifting dramatically towards building a nuclear alternative of their own again, which is really quite extraordinary and a bit scary.

WALLANDER: I need to address a couple of issues. One is that it's dramatic to talk about military bases in Canada and Mexico and so on. There, in fact, are no American or NATO military bases in any of the countries that Steve has referred to. There's no American military bases and no intention to build any in Georgia, Ukraine or even the Baltic states, who are members of NATO.

So, you know, I understand that this is a common Russian refrain. But, in fact, if you look at the facts, NATO hasn't expanded its military presence. And if you look at the numbers, of course, NATO has fewer military forces in Europe, not just because of the, you know, campaigns in Afghanistan and the devotion of resources to the campaign in Afghanistan, but simply because of the end of the Cold War. The draw-down in NATO forces has been going on for some time, and U.S. forces in Europe.

So, you know, we have to be careful about the facts. There aren't actually -- Russia is not ringed by bases. But, be that as it may, you know, I do understand the Russian argument about being surrounded by NATO. And that's why the engagement with Russia is a major focus of, you know, sort of NATO activity with Russia. And this is something that is actually welcomed on the Russian side.

The Russians have been proposing -- the Russians seek cooperation in the NATO-Russia Council. They have put an array of issues on the table that they seek to work on -- counterpiracy, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, a whole range of issues, including missile defense, that are now concretely being talked about as areas for cooperation.

Now, again, you know, this is a little wonky, but you can't have an area of cooperation if your interests are zero sum. You can only cooperate when there's overlap and potential outcomes that are in both parties' interests. The fact that the Russian government is interested in talking to NATO about the security concerns in Eurasia and these security problems indicates that actually, despite concerns about NATO, which we hear quite often and which we must take seriously and work to address, in fact, the Russian approach to NATO is not quite as stark as maybe some spokespersons like to present it.

And it's on that we're able to talk to the Russian leadership outside of, you know, sort of necessarily the public realm, in the private realm as well, in which we've made a lot of progress and continue to make really strong progress on areas of cooperation that the Russians themselves have put on the agenda.

ANDELMAN: Dimitri, briefly, because we want to get to other questions also, do you buy that?

SIMES: I do buy that the administration is quite sincere in having a reset. I completely buy that the change of tone is real, dramatic and constructive. And I buy even more that the Department of Defense, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and Celeste are doing very important and very useful things to change the relationship.

Where my admiration for administration efforts stop, it is not at the level of sincerity. It is the level of appreciation that life is unfair, that it requires difficult choices, and that if you are not prepared to make these difficult choices -- and some of them would be quite controversial domestically, like dealing with Central and Eastern Europe, like dealing with Georgia -- what is likely to happen is that we would have a change of tone with the Russians for a while, there would be screams in the United States that we are betraying the Central Europeans and the Georgians, but we would not do enough to have a real change with the Russians. There would be disillusionment on both sides. And we have seen it already before at the beginning of the Bush administration.

But I do want to be absolutely clear that when I look at Celeste's record as an academic and when I look at what she's doing at the Department of Defense, I admire what you're doing greatly. You are consistent. There is a clear intellectual progression from your previous work to what you are doing now.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Admiral Mullen was Nixon Center honoree last year. And Secretary Gates is, in my view, probably the most constructive member of this administration. This has to be off the record, because I don't want to damage him. (Laughter.)


WALLANDER: Too late. Damage done. (Laughs.)

ANDELMAN: We happen to have a very interesting question from a national member. William Franklin from Franklin International in Seattle, Washington wants to know, what are the implications of Netanyahu's visit to Russia? I throw that to any one of you.

WALLANDER: You were there.

SIMES: I do know that Netanyahu came at his own request. I do know that it was his preference to make this visit secret. I do know that he met separately with both Prime Minister Putin and Medvedev. I do know that Putin thought that it was an interesting and important meeting and was appreciative that, unlike Secretary Clinton, Netanyahu has scheduled his visit in a way that would ensure that Putin would be in town and that they would be able to have a conversation.

And I do know that -- (laughter) -- and I do know -- and nobody have shared with me any details of negotiations, but I do know that Iran was a major focus. And I do know that at least Prime Minister Putin was reported to say after these meetings that Iran is important to Russia, but Israel is at least equally important, and that Netanyahu and his foreign minister, Mr. Lieberman, were straight with Russia in terms of not creating any problems for Russia in the United States. And this is a relationship important to Russia, and Moscow will take into account in making difficult decisions on Iran. That's all I know.

ANDELMAN: Let's go back to the floor here. Yes, right here.

QUESTIONER: With regard to the resolution of --

ANDELMAN: Identify yourself, please, and where you're from.

QUESTIONER: Oh, yes. I'm Professor Desai from Columbia University.

With regard to the resolution of the START treaty with the December 5 deadline, the Russian side, from what I hear, would want the missile-defense issues to be included as part of the negotiations. Doesn't that complicate the resolution of the outcome of the treaty from the American side?

ANDELMAN: Celeste, since you're involved in those, I guess you feel comfortable talking about that.

WALLANDER: It's well-known that the Russian negotiating position wants to see a link between defensive systems and offensive systems. And the U.S. position is that there wouldn't be a link in the treaty, that this is a strategic offensive arms reduction treaty.

The preamble and the current outline can acknowledge the existence of a relationship in principle. But the treaty itself, we believe, should focus on strategic offensive nuclear arms. And, you know, there's a process that has to work itself out. There are multiple issues that are being negotiated. But, you know, this is correctly understood out there that there are two different positions, and it's one of the issues being discussed.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

WALLANDER: As I suggested, I think there's a lot of progress in areas where you might not have seen it, and progress tends -- in negotiations tends to pile up at the end. So I think it's hard to predict from, you know, where you are at a moment in the negotiations.

But I think that, you know, there's significant political will on the part of both presidents to conclude this treaty, again, not just because it's a bilateral treaty, but as President Obama has made clear and President Medvedev has also acknowledged in his statements, there's a broader responsibility of the United States and Russia to the nonproliferation regime to show that the two, you know, sort of largest nuclear powers can cooperate, can negotiate and can make commitments about reducing their nuclear weapons. And with that kind of presidential push, we've already seen that negotiators tend to pay attention and tend to focus their efforts.

So I guess I am -- I never thought of myself as optimistic, but I guess I am pretty optimistic about the negotiations.

ANDELMAN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Andranik Migranyan, Institute for Democracy in New York.

SIMES: You are a member of the Public Chamber in Moscow, right?

QUESTIONER: Member of Public Chamber, former member of Presidential Council, and many, many other things, unfortunately. I used to work with Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Medvedev and many others. But this is not the question.

I would like to ask -- I don't know to whom to address this question -- but in Moscow, Russian political elite and political analysts are puzzled a little bit, who and where American foreign-policy decisions are being made, because where are the main challenges for the United States? Is Russia a real threat or not?

And as far as I understood, from Moscow perspective, unfortunately, Tbilisi, Kiev, Warsaw and some other places, together with Vice President Biden, are making the decisions, not Washington, Obama and Hillary, based on American real vital interests, as Nixon Center's report presented, but some other places are making the decisions and trying to picture Russia as a threat.

As I realized and in Moscow they realized that Afghanistan, Iran, nonproliferation are the major challenges. Is it a true perception or it is not really what's going to happen?

For Russian perspective, reset means when Americans are formulating their vital interests, not Tbilisi, Kiev, Warsaw and some Eastern European countries are trying to formulate the American interests.

WALLANDER: Well, I'll just remind you that I've already explained to you what the reset is, and everyone has their right to interpret it. But I've explained for the Obama administration what the reset was about.

Foreign policy is made by President Obama, in consultation with his senior advisers. (We ?) have been now outed by Dimitri as being acceptable to the Nixon Center, so that's -- we like that; that's fine. You know, it's very -- you know, these are President Obama's priorities. As you all know, it's no mystery -- the summit in July, his phone calls to President Medvedev. This is U.S. foreign policy. And looking for, you know, sort of mysteries is, again, interesting, but it's not the story.

The fact that leaders in countries who are neighbors of Russia have expressed concern about Russia's intentions is, you know, a fact that's out there. That's part of what the foreign policy elites of Russia and other countries in Europe and certainly in the United States have to deal with. But American foreign policy is driven by American interests.

Part of those interests, as I made clear, is that the United States is committed to the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of all the countries of Eurasia. So President Obama also said clearly in Moscow, and has said repeatedly, and Vice President Biden repeated it as well, that the reset does not come at the expense of other countries.

We don't accept that zero-sum frame. We think that we can cooperate with Russia and engage with Russia and also affirm that countries in Europe and Eurasia can have successful, prosperous, secure futures as well. That makes it more complicated, no question. It makes it more interesting for people like me. But we just don't accept the frame that we have to choose between a better relationship with Russia and affirming those principles, which we believe help support the international system and American national-security interests.

ANDELMAN: Do you go along with that? Sorry. Do you go along with that?

COHEN: Well, I think Dimitri formulated it in a nice, folksy way. I don't know if it's folksy Russian-style or American-style. Life's unfair. All of us were raised by our parents on the principle that you have to make choices in life. And this administration, if what Celeste is saying is true, is unable to make choices or doesn't understand the choices.

The real debate we should be having -- because this goes to the question Kimberly raised, goes to the position Celeste defends -- is what is actually in America's strategic interest. My view is the world's more dangerous now than it was during what we used to call the Cold War. Proliferation is now not a theoretical possibility. It's an almost certainty. No military plan, no movement of NATO anywhere, can stop proliferation. Only diplomacy and political agreements have. And for that, we need Russia.

It's not only that. It's not only Iran. It's Afghanistan. There's hardly any strategic security interest that's vital to the United States that we can deal with without Russia. So you have to ask yourself, we all have to ask ourselves, because life is unfair, do we want to feel good in thinking that we're defending the democracy and sovereignty of every little nation in the world? Yes, it would be nice for me to say we are the good guys; we are virtuous. But it's not what national security and real diplomacy is about. You have to make choices.

The impression that I have is that this administration hasn't made those choices. It's reinforced my impression by what Celeste said. But let me give you one example. President Obama in July went to Moscow and said -- he made some misstatements, but one thing he did say was, "Russia's a great power. We need you as a partner. We respect you as a partner." He said that to Putin and he said it to Medvedev.

Two days later, an American warship sailed into a port of Georgia; a missile -- not bearing; with the potential of carrying missiles. I assume Celeste didn't send it there, but somebody did. A few days later, Vice President Biden gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal where he said, "Russia is a piece of crap. It's decaying. We don't have to give them anything. They're dying. And we don't have to negotiate with them. What was theirs is now ours." Then he went to Tbilisi and said the same thing.

These are two different policies. They are not reconcilable. Atmospherics -- it's a question of what is in the national-security interest of the United States. I would say Obama's trip to Moscow was in the interest. I would say Biden is undermining the national security of the United States. Are they on the same team? It appears a struggle is underway in Washington over Russia policy, and certainly there's one underway in Moscow over American policy. And who wins? Well, it's going to be a fateful victory for one side or the other.

ANDELMAN: I think we have time for one more quick question. Jeff. I should say quick question and quick answer.

QUESTIONER: Jeff Laurenti with Century Foundation.

We've been talking about the so-called Russian possible threat to neighbors in military-security terms. I wonder if we could talk for a moment about something you haven't addressed, which is the talk of the oil pipelines trying to avoid the former Soviet zone states, which western analysts, at least in the U.S., are interpreting as another form of Russian effort to be able to squeeze them while delivering their precious supplies to Germany, Italy, Western Europe, by bypassing them.

Is that, in your judgment, in fact, the real motivation, the real driver for these pipelines? Is there a form of Russian economic domination that's subtly being projected? Or is this all part of that larger Washington perhaps fantasy about Russian threat that should also be consigned to the dust bin of fantasies?

SIMES: I think that this is a very important issue, and actually a very complex issue with a lot of nuances. I think that it is quite clear that Moscow is interested in (a south stream ?), (a north stream ?), precisely in order to avoid relying on Ukraine, to some extent Belarus. These considerations are political.

I have to say that both the Germans and the Italians very much welcome these pipelines, because they also do not want to depend upon Russian relations with Ukraine and Belarus and their possible price wars. It's difficult with a straight face to say that Russia should be a reliable supplier to Europe, but tell the Russians that they have no right to have pipelines where they really would be able to deliver.

The other side of the coin is that the United States, in my view, has an important and legitimate interest in not having Europe overly dependent upon Russia. And I think it is important for us to encourage construction of other pipelines, particularly from Central Asia, which would bypass Russia. And we should make very clear to Russia that this is a normal economic interest, and if they don't like it, well, too bad.

Let me say that this is, of course, more difficult to do than to say, because there is not enough oil and gas for all these pipelines. (Laughter.) So there is a tension between these two projects. And I think it really requires nuanced decision-making and making a number of difficult judgments which would be a close call. But this is a very important and difficult issue.

ANDELMAN: Okay. Well, when I joined CBS a quarter of a century ago, I was told the one thing I was never to end a story with was "Only time will tell." (Laughter.) But I suspect that that's how we're going to have to conclude this, because we will never agree on this until eventually we shall be able to see. And the Council does pride itself on ending its meetings promptly.

I'd like to thank everyone for a most stimulating discussion. By all means, now stay. Buy Stephen's amazing book. He'll even sign it out in front. Don't forget my magazine, World Policy Journal, next issue on water wars around the world.

So there we are. Thank you. (Applause.)







Top Stories on CFR


Israel has made eliminating the threat from the Gaza-based militant group a central war aim, but it’s not entirely clear at what point that condition will be met.  


Outright seizure of the Russian Central Bank’s hundreds of billions in frozen assets is currently off the table, but it is still possible to obtain large sums for Ukraine from the interest income on these assets.