Russia's Future and U.S. Policy

By

The following are excerpts from a lecture given by Leon Fuerth, National Security Advisor to Vice President Al Gore, at a Woodrow Wilson Center Director's Forum on 25 July 2000.

Both the United States and Russia are at a pivotal moment as we both undergo a period of transition in our national leadership. After successfully conducting the first democratic transfer of executive power in its history, Russia and its new government are in the early stages of charting a new course... It is therefore a particularly important moment to survey the past, the present, and the future...

...With the fall of Soviet Communism, Russia was forced to undergo a wrenching transformation encompassing three revolutions at once: a political revolution, from Communism to democracy; an economic revolution, from a command economy to a market-based system; and a geopolitical revolution, from an imperial state to a federation surrounded by newly-independent nations.

...We decided that in these circumstances, we had three primary objectives: To protect ourselves and the world against a breakdown of Russian control over the inherited Soviet nuclear arsenal; to help those who had come to power in Russia make sure that there was no return to the Communist past.... We realized that we would need to find some unprecedented way to convert our general intentions into specifics and facts on the ground. The Bi-National Commission... became the joint American and Russian response to the sense that an entirely new technique of cooperation was needed.

From the outset, this strategy... was controversial. Some of that controversy was based on legitimate differences in points of view. But much of it...reflected an attitude about Russia on the part of some that bordered on a kind of historical fatalism, on the view that at some level Russia was immutably antithetical to democracy....

...Overall, as we look back on the result of our Russia policy, what we see is an extensive record of accomplishment: Americans are measurably safer today than they were eight years ago.... Democracy is now the accustomed norm in Russia.... Tens of thousands of state-owned enterprises have been privatized and more than 900,000 small businesses have been established, contributing to Russia's recent economic rebound.... All mainstream parties now espouse democracy and free market reform.... Russia is increasingly enmeshed in the international community....

...Turning to the future, the path President Putin is leading his country still in many ways yet to be clarified.... President Putin strives for a strong Russia, but he has a contradictory... concept of what constitutes strength. He has demonstrated an instinct to restrict the free media; and his policies in Chechnya... have antagonized the Chechen people and have created obstacles to Russia's integration with the international community. We have been blunt with Putin on all points, making clear that we are prepared to work with Moscow where our interests coincide, and to hold firm where they diverge.

But at the same time, it is important to note that President Putin's own program... is a program of vigorous economic reform along lines that we ourselves would have advocated and in fact did advocate at the beginning of our close association with the Russian government. His program, if carried out, offers the single greatest hope for the rebirth of the Russian economy on conditions that are compatible with political freedom.

Let me end where I began. As we assess U.S.-Russia relations during this critical period of transition, let us not lose sight of what we have achieved and the means by which we successfully achieved them. Because we chose to engage Russia... we have succeeded in locking in important, practically irreversible progress that serves U.S. national interests. Engagement has brought us this far and is the only means of bringing us farther.

We recognize that Russia's historic transformation is incomplete--all the more reason we must continue to engage Russia. We recognize that Russian democracy is challenged by corruption that deeply penetrates her society--all the more reason to engage Russia on behalf of reform. We recognize that Russia has her own self-interest and concerns that can and do run contrary to ours--all the more reason to search for constructive forms of cooperation. We deeply disagree with what Russia is doing in Chechnya and remain concerned about signs of Russian efforts to intimidate the press--all the more reason to step up our discussions with them on those issues.

This evening... the major components of the Russian and American contributions of the international space station will dock. If this complicated maneuver succeeds, the international space station will have become a reality. It is in many ways a perfect metaphor for the risks and gains of Russia policy during the Clinton-Gore administration....

...The space station, like our entire relationship with Russia, was born in travail, and like that partnership, it has proceeded under continuous criticism.... But we have managed to maneuver over fifty tons of equipment into the same orbital plane, and if all of our planning pays off, we will succeed in inching these massive objects together until they click into place. And when that happens, all eyes must turn to the future to ask that if we can come this far, and accomplish this much, what else is possible?

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