REVIEW: Article

Russia-United States Relations: Horizons for a New Partnership

Russia is a strong and reliable partner in the international community, responsible for global security. We consider long-term, predictable and mutually beneficial Russia-United States (US) relations as a major element of a lasting strategic stability.

The meeting of Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush at Camp David vividly demonstrated that bilateral cooperation between the two countries is no longer a choice of tactics to settle certain day-to-day issues. It is a result of a strengthened relationship with a remarkable personal understanding between the two Presidents which allows to jointly address new dangerous threats and challenges to peace and security, like international terrorism, nonproliferation, crises management, and to advance diversity in contacts between Russian and American people.

This understanding helped our countries to overcome disagreements on Iraq and show just recently an outstanding degree of unity in the international community on this issue at the United Nations (UN). The Presidents proceed that in those and many other key areas, despite existing differences of views, basic Russian and American interests are quite similar. And that permits the two Presidents to discuss the most difficult topics not merely frankly, but constructively, as leaders of countries who bear special responsibility for the world’s order.

It is a challenging task now to destroy misperceptions of the Cold War period, to learn the art of mutual trust and confidence if we are to maintain and strengthen momentum of our bilateral relations in the aftermath of Camp David. I regret that remnants of the past have not yet disappeared in both our societies which create obstacles toward a full-fledged partnership.

I hope that the following excerpts of President Putin’s recent interview with The New York Times will help interested readers of The Ambassadors Review, especially those who deal with international issues, to comprehend better the Russian approaches to pressing global and regional problems as well as motives that guide the Russian Federation in its policy with regard to the United States.

I believe, our countries and our people should seize together the opportunity which is there now to forge a strong and viable Russia-US relationship worthy of our two great nations.

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Following are excerpts from an interview on Saturday [October 4, 2003] with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as transcribed and translated by The New York Times.

Q.: You and President Bush have developed [a] good working relationship, but sometimes it seems…as though when it comes to specific policies, the United States treats Russia very much as the junior partner, that the Americans don’t always listen to Russia’s advice or take Russia’s interests into account. I wonder if you feel that way.

Mr. Putin: I think that the talk here is not about a junior or senior partner. The talk is to establish the relations of partnership which imply the account of each other’s interests. We are fully aware of what Russia is, what place it occupies in the world, what are our capabilities. But Russia, with all the problems it has, with all its traditions, with all its national interests is a country which will never serve anybody’s political interests.

But Russia wants and can be a reliable partner, including for the United States. And my firm conviction is based on the fact that I see that the national interests of Russia and the United States coincide to large extent. For us, it is not a choice of tactics in order to solve some interests of expediency.

It is a strategic choice for us based on several components. First of all, on the fact that we are fully aware that the international stability is impossible without good interaction between the United States and Russia and that the United States for us is an important element of international stability. In some regions and in some directions, the United States’ significance for us is such that it cannot be replaced.

I have already mentioned the strategic stability the United States and Russia remain the strongest nuclear powers. Our interests in the sphere of [the] fight against radicalism and terrorism coincide, and we are very much concerned with radicalization of both certain countries and certain regions. And our common interest in counteracting one of the main, I think, threats of the 21st century—nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction flows out from both of these two aforementioned components.

There are other directions, minor at first glance, but very sensitive to people: the fight against drugs, organized crime. I think that both Russia and the United States are interested in [the] development of economic relations and one of the issues lies on the surface. It is energy. Russia is interested in the realization of its potential at the foreign markets and the United States is interested in keeping stable prices at an admissible level, in the diversification of the sources of energy.

As for the style of the joint work, methods of decision-making, I think it still has to be improved and I am sure everything will occupy its proper place in time. But today, we can state that the force of inertia of the old times, of the Cold War, is still quite strong. Both here and in the United States, there are still many people who are guided by [an] outdated mentality. That is: what is bad for America is good for us. And in America many people think that everything that is bad for Russia is good for America. And this is a great misbelief, which completely ignores the current state of the world and the perspectives of its development. In this respect, our personal relations with President Bush play a very important role. I think that President Bush personally understands today’s state of the world and can forecast its development and values Russian-American relations. And often his personal involvement into this or that issue allows us to maintain the level of our relations without letting them drop to a lower level.

Q.: Are there specific areas where you see Cold War inertia interfering [with] relations between the US and Russia?

Mr. Putin: I will give just one example. Some time ago the Ministry of Defense informed us that there were plans to start reconnaissance flights over the Black Sea. And as the reason, the motivation of those flights, the route of which was to take place over the areas abutting Russia, over Georgia, the necessity of fight against terrorism was presented. Our Foreign Ministry, which had been informed about that and the information, contained a hidden question on what is our attitude toward it, answered negatively. We answered that we did not see any necessity in that and that those flights did not have anything to do with fight against terrorism. One should not be a military expert to understand that fight against terrorism with the help of the reconnaissance planes, which fly at altitudes of eight thousand to ten thousand meters, is impossible. It is complete nonsense. It is not even clear why that was written at all. Complete nonsense. In principle, the United States is not obliged to inform us about it. And if they want to fly and eavesdrop on what is going on on our territory from the south to the Near-Volga region well, we do not like it very much, but we cannot ban it. Why write an obvious nonsense as an explanation of those flights? And if we are partners, it should have no ground at all. Incidentally, after the UN Security Council had been informed about that and as I understand that information had been presented to the US President, the flights stopped, though they had begun. And I would like to draw your attention to the fact that they started during the peak of discussions of the problems dealing with Iraq right before the beginning of the war. When there is mutual understanding and partnership, one should not try such actions.....

Q.: ….[With respect to Iraq,]…how specifically do we proceed…to neutralize [the terrorist] threat?

Mr. Putin: These specific threats or in general how to proceed in Iraq?

Q.: These specific threats or what we need to do in Iraq as a whole. And is Russia ready to help? And is Russia ready to send its troops if the UN sanctions it?

Mr. Putin: We think that Iraq’s problems can be efficiently solved only with involvement of the Iraqi people themselves. This task has to be solved with their participation and by their hands. But so that it would be efficient they have to believe in our serious intentions, in our desire to restore the sovereignty. This is why we think that the UN’s role has to be increased—not because we would like to diminish the significance of the United States, but in order to change the situation in Iraq itself. Make it clear for the Iraqi people that the situation is changing qualitatively. As of today, according to international law, the forces of the coalition are called the occupying ones. This corresponds to the fundamental documents of international law. Of course, how would the local population treat forces whose official name is the occupying forces? We need to change the status of these forces. We have to win the sympathies of the Iraqis. We have to get on our side the Muslim and Arab countries, whose mood toward a solution of the problem is very important.

Q.: How quickly can the status of the occupying force be changed, three months or what?

Mr. Putin: Formally, it can be changed very quickly if a corresponding UN resolution is adopted that defines the mandate of the international forces. They will turn into international forces. But along with this, in our view, in the Russian view, we have to stay on the realistic ground. We have to admit that the United States took up a huge responsibility in terms of both material and human losses. No matter how much we talk about the complexity of the situation, the coalition forces today are in fact the only military component.

Based on the situation in Chechnya since the mid-1990s, we know that once you allow for some vacuum of power, an uncontrollable development of events begins with very negative consequences. We think that it should necessarily be taken into consideration and of course we will keep working at the acceptable resolution of the UN Security Council. We assume that in practice one has to be very accurate, bearing in mind the point I mentioned earlier. And this means that there should be some transition period. And transfer of power to the local authorities, including military structures, has to take place only when they become strong enough for this. We think that our position is very pragmatic and flexible.

You know my position. I think that these international forces could quite be headed by the United States, though far from all agree with this opinion of mine. But it is important for us that if this resolution is adopted, it should explicitly define this mandate of the international forces, the period of stay and all other formal matters, formal judicial matters that are envisaged if a resolution like this is adopted....

Q.: Do you anticipate that the American forces will have to be the predominant force there for considerable time?

Mr. Putin: It is difficult to answer this question now. Everything will depend on how the situation will develop. But I do not rule this out.

Q.: Are there any specific ways that you can imagine Russia lending assistance to the solution of the problem in Iraq?

Mr. Putin: I have just formulated my position.

Q.: I don’t mean just by sending troops. Are there other ways?

Mr. Putin: Yes, of course. We have large experience of cooperation with Iraq for decades. Many enterprises were built thanks to the Soviet and Russian economic assistance. To large extent, it is our outdated equipment. There is some more modern equipment. At least we have good experience dealing with the people of Iraq. There is a high degree of trust between our experts and their colleagues with whom they worked in nonpolitical spheres: economy, transport, oil production. Of course, we could take part in restoration of Iraq ourselves and get the Iraqi experts involved in it, activate their work in bringing order, the rebirth of the country and the creation of a normal situation there. We could take part in the experts’ training. I mean, we do not have acute contradictions with the United States and we could play a positive role in the preparation and working out of international solutions, including within a UN framework.

Moreover, the main partners of the United States, including those in Europe, do not want to broaden the split that formed between the United States and its traditional allies as the result of the Iraqi conflict. They would like to bridge this split and move ahead….

Q.: Perhaps I can turn to Iran for a second. Do you believe Iran when it claims that it has no program aimed at nuclear weapons capability?

Mr. Putin: I believe that international relations, and especially with regard to problems of such magnitude, should hardly be guided by such notions whether you believe [it] or not. We have no grounds to challenge what has been said to us by the Iranian leadership. But we are guided by the fact that if, as the Iranian leadership states, they have no plans to produce weapons of mass destruction, nuclear arms, then we see no grounds not to allow the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA to [access] all of Iran’s programs in the nuclear sphere.

We have our interests in Iran. Iran is our neighbor. We have a many century tradition of good-neighborly relations with this country. But regarding the problem of nonproliferation, we have full understanding with the United States, and I would even assert that on this question as on the question of the battle against terrorism, we are, in our view, can be not just partners, but allies in the full sense of this word. What we seek to achieve is that uniform and universal rules of the game be worked out for one and all.

We have been constantly hearing about certain sanctions applied by the United States to certain Russian enterprises who are suspected of some unsavory economic ties with Iran. But we have information that in some no less sensitive and probably even more sensitive areas, there are some European and American companies who are dealing with Iran. For some reason I have never heard of some sanctions being applied versus those companies. Why? We stand ready and we want to combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But we are for the strict compliance with all the nonproliferation regimes, for the fostering of those regimes, for working out unified standards and unified rules of behavior in this area.

Q.: When you say you have full understanding with the US in this area, does that mean that you have an understanding regarding Russia’s decision to complete the civilian reactor at Bushehr?

Mr. Putin: We need to be clear as to what areas of cooperation in the nuclear sphere are dangerous and what in this cooperation can lead to the creation of nuclear weapons. We are not only hearing what our US partners are telling us, we are listening to what they have to say, and we are finding that some of their assertions are justified. For example, their professional observation that spent fuel can subsequently be enriched and used as a component of nuclear arms. Our specialists also think so, and confirm this. That is why we have placed the question before our Iranian colleagues that spent Russian nuclear fuel must be returned to Russia, and now we are seeking to introduce such stipulations in our agreements. We also believe, as our American colleagues and partners believe, that Iran has no justification not to allow the overview of the IAEA over their nuclear programs, and therefore in this area again our positions fully coincide with that of the Americans. But this does not imply that without agreeing upon the principles of our cooperation in this sphere we’re going to suspend all of our programs.

Q.: Do I understand that in the context of the fuel being returned and the IAEA inspections that the US accepts the completion of the project in Bushehr?

Mr. Putin: We do not think that we are obligated to ask permission if we think that we have the right to act without violating our obligations on nonproliferation. We have taken upon ourselves certain obligations in the process of negotiations in the area of nonproliferation and we have been following through on them. But we are against using these matters of nonproliferation as a boogeyman in competition.

Q.: I know that it is entirely between you and Iran whether you build Bushehr, but I was curious whether the Bush administration has withdrawn its objections or its concerns. Have you succeeded in reassuring, do you think, the Bush administration?

Mr. Putin: I think you should ask the President of the United States himself about the position of the President of the United States. But he is concerned about the situation. We understand what his concern is and we propose to work out unified rules of conduct in this area, which I have mentioned before. We have nothing against working closer together. I have mentioned this before and probably I will now make a second round of my argument here. We are told that our companies are working and violating something and sanctions are used against them. At the same time, we know for certain that American and Western European companies are working in even more sensitive spheres, also nuclear ones, and they are allowed everything. Why? We cannot agree with all the claims against us, because we do not see this as being an objective approach....

Q.: You were invited to Camp David in the United States, but Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder were not invited. Do you feel that in many ways Russia is now closer to the United States, at least to the Bush administration, than France and Germany? And the second question, a little belated, is that several former parts of the former Soviet Empire in Europe are joining the European Union next year. Could you imagine the border of the EU would come to the border of Russia? Could you ever imagine Russia joining the EU?

Mr. Putin: First of all, with regards to our closeness to the US administration, I confirm that we have good, close relations. During our conversation today I said many critical things, but the distinguishing feature that characterizes the maturity of our relations is that we speak to each other directly, without being shy and not puffing up our lips when offended. And I have to say that it was in such context, in such spirit that we had our negotiations in Camp David. Though frankly we have not agreed on everything there. But we were pleased with how it was done by our American partners and with the very spirit of our relations. I am saying this absolutely frankly. We discussed the most topical and sensitive matters absolutely openly, and this underscores the character of our relations. And I think there is some novelty in it, of a positive character.

As for the relations between the United States and the European partners, we are carefully monitoring, of course, what is going on, but it’s not our business. And we think that it’s kind of a quarrel in a holy family, and sooner or later it will heal. The less emotion expressed here the better. Here I see only one benefit for us. Everyone has seen, both in the United States and Europe, we are not interested, we do not want, we do not intend and are not doing anything which could bring additional discord to the relations between the United States and their traditional partners. Moreover, we think that the global threats are such that we should strive for uniting of our efforts, and we will try our best to prove it in our practical policy.

With regards to the attitude of our European partners to our contacts with the administration, to the quality of those contacts, I do not think it causes any concern, and first of all because we do not make any secret out of it. We behave ourselves consistently on all issues. Our relations are absolutely open. We do not hide anything. It is clear to everyone what we are doing. Moreover, our European partners understand that we have our national interests in development of our relations with the United States...

Indeed there are certain problems currently concerning the situation in Iraq, but in general terms our European partners have begun to underscore that they support the development of our relationship with the United States and they regard this as a step in the right direction.

The main thing is that we do not recourse to intrigue. Our policies are clear-cut, understandable, based on specific principles. It is possible to agree with them or disagree, to argue with them or support them, but in any case our position is understandable and predictable.

As regards our relations with the European Union, this is the major trade partner of Russia and its turnover, also bearing in mind the enlargement to the Russian Federation, accounts for over 50 percent of turnover. Geographically, we are located in Europe, but the main resources, the human resources, technological and infrastructure, are all concentrated in Europe. Most importantly, by its mentality and culture, the people of Russia are Europeans. We have many common interests with Europe. There are problems concerning enlargement. These problems are largely in the area of trade and economy and visa policies. We believe there should be no new divisive lines set out in Europe.

But we also understand many responsibilities we bear in regards to our relations with the EU. In order to become an equal partner, we need to do a lot in our own country. We do not seek full-scale, full-fledged joining to the EU. But we believe that EU expansion, and even bearing in mind all current tactical difficulties of the day, will set out additional good conditions for the development of good relations between Russia and the EU.

We think that the standards of human rights will now also spread and cover the new member states which [are] very important to us and will provide for the equal rights for the Russian-speaking population in the countries of the Baltic states. Many East European countries are long-term economic partners of Russia, so we count on many patterns of economic intercourse that have been established over decades will be now retained and also will be embraced by the entire European Union.

At the end of the day, we count on attaining a special level of relationship with the EU, on setting up a unified economic and humanitarian space in Europe, without, I will repeat myself, the full-fledged, formal entry of Russian into the EU. But beyond that historic horizon, it is up to a new generation of decision makers in Russia to see to it how the relationship between Russia and the EU will be developed.

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Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States of America