Fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, "U.S.-Russia relations are clearly headed in the wrong direction," finds an Independent Task Force on U.S. policy toward Russia sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. "Contention is crowding out consensus. The very idea of a 'strategic partnership' no longer seems realistic," it concludes.
The bipartisan Task Force was chaired by former Senator John Edwards and former Congressman and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp and directed by Council Senior Fellow Stephen Sestanovich.
The Task Force notes significant recent economic progress in Russia. "Between 2000 and 2004 the number of Russians living below the government's poverty line dropped from forty-two million to twenty-six million. The national unemployment rate—over 10 percent in 2000—is now about 7 percent ... [and] a middle class appears to be emerging."
At the same time, when President Bush has made democracy a goal of American foreign policy, Russia's political system is becoming steadily more authoritarian, the Task Force charges. "The political balance sheet of the past five years is extremely negative. The practices and institutions that have developed over this period have become far less open, pluralistic, subject to the rule of law, and vulnerable to the criticism and counterbalancing of a vigorous opposition or independent media."
As Russia prepares to host the G8 summit this summer, the report, Russia's Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should Do, affirms that Russia's cooperation is central to achieving American interests. "On a whole host of issues—Iran, energy, HIV/AIDS, and preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction—it's vital to have Russia on our side," said Kemp. "The G8 summit may be a watershed on many of these issues—Iran and energy in particular. It's a real opportunity to lock in more helpful Russian policies. But if we don't see progress, people are going to ask what Russia is doing in the G8 in the first place."
"U.S.-Russia cooperation can help the United States handle some of the most difficult issues we face," said Edwards. "Yet regrettably, cooperation is becoming the exception, not the norm. This report is a wake-up call that we need to get U.S.-Russia relations back on track to meet the challenges that face both of our countries."
Consistent with this, the report argues, "Although President Putin is presiding over the rollback of Russian democracy, the United States should work with him to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to keep terrorists from attacking either his country or ours."
The Task Force is comprised of many of the nation's preeminent Russia scholars and policy practitioners. It applauds recent Russian support for containing Iran's nuclear program and cooperative initiatives to secure nuclear materials, but cautions that "U.S.-Russia relations are now marked by a growing number of disagreements. The partnership is not living up to its potential."
The areas of most concern include:
- De-democratization: The report finds that Russian political institutions are becoming "corrupt and brittle." As a result, "Russia's capacity to address security concerns of fundamental importance to the United States and its allies is reduced. And many kinds of cooperation—from securing nuclear materials to intelligence sharing—are undermined."
- Energy supplies: "Russia has used energy exports as a foreign policy weapon: intervening in Ukraine's politics, putting pressure on its foreign policy choices, and curtailing supplies to the rest of Europe. The reassertion of government control over the Russian energy sector increases the risk this weapon will be used again."
- The war on terror: The Task Force finds "a seeming Russian effort to curtail U.S. and NATO military access to Central Asian bases," a sign that Russia is retreating from the idea that "success in Afghanistan serves a common interest."
- Russia hosting the G8: "A country that has in the space of a single year supported massive fraud in the elections of its largest European neighbor and then punished it for voting wrong by turning off its gas supply has to be at least on informal probation at a meeting of the world's industrial democracies."
The report recommends:
- Democratization: "To go beyond mere expressions about the rollback of Russian democracy, the United States should increase—not cut—Freedom Support Act funds, focusing in particular on organizations committed to free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007–2008."
- G8: "To protect the credibility of the G8 at a time when many are questioning Russia's chairmanship, the United States should make clear that this role does not exempt Russian policies and actions from critical scrutiny. Keeping the G8 a viable international forum will require a de facto revival of the Group of Seven (G7). Without creating a completely new forum, the United States and its democratic allies have to assume a stronger coordinating role within the old one."
- Energy policy: "The United States cannot expect Russian energy policy to substitute for its own. If America and its allies lack a comprehensive strategy to increase supplies of energy, diversify the number of suppliers and transport routes, and promote energy efficiency, they will only increase Russia's ability to exploit its market position for political purposes." The report adds, "To limit the use of oil and gas exports as an instrument of coercion—and as a prop for authoritarianism—the United States needs to agree with other governments, especially our European allies, on measures to assure that state-controlled Russian energy companies act like true commercial entities."
- Trade and the WTO: "We strongly favor accession, but on this condition: It must not be a political present," says the Task Force. "Accession will promote further liberalization of the Russian economy and should signify full Russian acceptance of a rules-based international trading system.... American negotiators should not, however, attempt to resolve important remaining issues under the pressure of an artificial deadline, least of all the deadline of this year's G8 summit.... It would be far better for the G8 meeting to come and go without Russia in the WTO, than to bring Russia into the organization on preferential terms."
- Iran: "A Russian policy that limits nuclear cooperation with Iran to nonsensitive technologies would justify dropping our historic objections to the Bushehr reactor." For its part, Russia needs to accept that "the international community may soon face an Iran so determined to produce fissile material that all nuclear cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, including the Bushehr reactor, should cease."
- Russia's neighbors: "The United States should cede no veto or undue deference to Russia over American relations with the states of the Russian periphery.... There is nothing legitimate about limiting the opportunity of its neighbors to deepen their integration into the international economy, to choose security allies and partners, or to pursue democratic political transformation." The report further recommends, "Post-Soviet states that share America's approach to major international problems and can contribute to resolving them should be able to count on greater support."
- The 2008 election: The goal of Western governments must be to win public commitments—and specific, concrete actions—by Russian officials to conduct the coming electoral cycle on an open, constitutional, and pluralist basis. "Early and explicit discussion ... is far preferable to harsh but meaningless critiques on election day and the morning after."
"Since the end of the Cold War, successive American administrations have sought to create a relationship with Russia that they called a 'partnership.' This is the right long-term goal, but it is unfortunately not a realistic prospect for U.S.-Russia relations over the next several years," says the report.
In the short run, the United States needs to see Russia for what it is now. "The real question that the United States faces in this period is not how to make a partnership with Russia work, it is how to make selective cooperation—and in some cases selective opposition—serve important international goals," concludes the report.
To learn more about Independent Task Forces at the Council on Foreign Relations, click here.