Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More on the U.S.-Russia relationship

I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister who is visiting Washington. A fascinating discussion, but unfortunately off the record.

I have been asked for my perspective on the U.S. - Russia relationship. Here is what I have sent off to the "experts' panel" of Russia Profile:

The "feeding frenzy" in Washington, and a similar rise in anti-American feeling in Russia, reflects the reality that the Russian-American relationship has shallow roots. While senior members of the executive branches of both countries are very aware of the importance of a good working relationship between Russia and the United States to ensuring the security of both states, the prevailing view in the bureaucracies and legislatures of both states has tended to minimize or discount altogether this reality. In turn, for most ordinary Americans and Russians, their sense of personal security and economic prosperity is almost completely divorced from their evaluation of the importance of the Russo-American relationship.

One only has to compare the German-Russian relationship. Angela Merkel certainly does not have the same personal rapport with Vladimir Putin that her predecessor did, but an extensive web of ties between the two countries--notably between the business communities--gives the German-Russian relationship ballast that the U.S.-Russia relationship lacks. The Germans have been quite critical of a number of Russian policy moves--including over the NGO law--but without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

We are also paying the price for some of the overheated, euphoric rhetoric in the past about "strategic partnership." Americans and Russians still have very divergent narratives, not only about the end of the Cold War (something I discussed in an essay for the International Herald Tribune several weeks ago) but about Russia's "proper role" in the post-Soviet space, the relationship between democracy and stability, and the very nature of the global order. Russia's relative weakness in the 1990s covered up these disagreements. But Russia's growing economic and energy clout (along with some slippage in America's relative power) gives it greater confidence today to stake out an independent course of action. And to the extent that Russia has taken decisions in an opaque fashion and to the extent that the decision-making process remains untransparent allows some Americans to assume the worst about the motives of the Russian government.

We must also recognize that there is no such thing as a la carte partnership; that the United States and Russia could on the one hand be engaged in intense geopolitical competition in Eurasia, for example, and on the other develop the close working relationship (between the two militaries, intelligence communities, and so on) essential for combating terrorism and stemming proliferation. This does not mean that either side has to abandon the pursuit of its political and economic interests, but it does mean working to ensure that issues on which both sides do not agree do not become issues where we disagree on fundamentals.

But I think it will require the presidents to put up real substantial political capital to make the case to skeptical publics in both countries about the value of the U.S.-Russia relationship, and with both Putin and Bush increasingly focused on issues of succession in 2008, I don't see that effort likely to happen.

Well, if we want to establish firm ground for a good US-Russia relationship, each government has to ask what it wants and what it is willing to give. And considering that the US government isn't willing to give up even the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, I'd say the chances of actually getting a decent US-Russia relationship are pretty poor.
Just heard you on NPR and with Steve Sestanovich and Tom Lantos as well. I don't understand how you can bash Russia and then expect full-hearted cooperation.
I just listened to the recording of the NPR program with great interest. I was struck by your observation that Russia is in an economic recovery and has a growing middle class. How would you describe the basis of this recovery and from what does this middle class derive its livelihood? Did you see any change to suggest that demographic projections of population decline may not come true?
I always use the contrast of the two middle classes in New York (as noted by Siegel in his Prince of the City). The free-market based middle-class in Manhattan and the other boroughs tended to go for Guiliani, but as he noted, there was also a middle class in the Bronx that derived its livelihood from the expansion of city services and saw its future in maintaining a strong activist city (also some of the middle class in Manhattan as well). So you had different sets of "middle-class" voters moving in different political directions.

The recovery is based largely but not exclusively on high energy and mineral prices but also the growth of a service sector and telecommunications--and its growth is attributed by many to the type of stability that Putin is perceived to have brought. Increasingly you have a group of managers also linked with the state companies. I found it quite telling that when Khodorkovsky was decapitated from YUKOS, the middle managers, professionals, etc. stayed right at their positions, even when their companies were taken over by the state. Salaries remain high. And a whole host of welfare professionals--teachers, doctors, etc. are benefitting from swelling tax rolls.

I see this middle class at about 30 percent. The number isn't increasingly radically--a point made by Harley Balzer--but this middle class is deepening--acquiring assets, etc.--and beginning to feel it can pass on this status to the next generation.

The demographic projections are still bad but compensated by the continuing in flow of not only ethnic Russians but other former Soviet nationalities to Russia--I've seen estimates about 1 million Georgians, 1 million Azeris, up to 5 million Ukrainians--moving to work in Russia.
we are getting tired of westerners telling us how we should conduct our affairs and of your media highlighting peripheral voices as if they speak for majority of us. how would you react if major russian paper took david duke and/or ralph nader as true voice of americans. we did it your way and look where it got us. we will make our mistakes but they will be ours.
Looked over the CFR report. Have to endorse the dissent of Slocombe, Blackwill and Zakheim (interesting that the two most senior former Bush Administration officials didn't sign on completely to the report), including their "cold blooded" recommendations in dealing with the relationship and the things that matter.
"The recovery is based largely but not exclusively on high energy and mineral prices but also the growth of a service sector and telecommunications--and its growth is attributed by many to the type of stability that Putin is perceived to have brought."

Actually, the cash from the high energy and mineral prices goes mostly into the Stabilization Fund, debt repayment, or the Central Bank reserves. Very little of it actually gets spent in the Russian economy. So Russian economic growth comes mostly from internal demand and internal production of things Russians want.
Chilling commentary ivanov. Bravo!!! It may be cold comfort, but many American abhor the grotesque perversion and subversion of American principles, standards, codes, laws, morals, and honor we must all hazard and endure under the Bush government.

This leadership (the fascist warmongers, profiteers, incompentent chickenhawks, and rapturist religious fanatics in the Bush government) do not represent America!!!!
Oh, I noticed that the House of Representatives has voted to permanently exempt Ukraine from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. One must wonder what action Ukraine took to gain this, that Russia has not. in the past 15 years.
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