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Russian scholar calls for putting relations with US on economic basis

April 04, 2013, 10:00 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

Conferences between former Russian ambassadors to the U.S. and U.S. ambassadors to Russia are being held in Moscow from March 28 through April 4. Their organizers have timed them for the 80th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the USSR following America’s recognition of Soviet government.

The initiator of the meetings, Dr Sergei Rogov who stands at the head of the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences told Itar-Tass that taking part in them on the Russian side Alexander Bessmertnykh, Viktor Komplektov, Yuri Dubinin, and Vladimir Lukin. Representing the U.S. are James Collins, Jack Matlock, Thomas Pickering, Alexander Vershbow, and John Beyrle.

Vershbow who currently occupies the position of NATO’s Secretary General is taking part in the conferences as a private individual.

The former ambassadors have had a meeting with their incumbent colleagues, Sergei Kislyak of Russia and Michael McFaul. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov organized a dinner in honor of the doyens of global diplomacy.

Also, the ambassadors are expected to meet with Russia’s veteran politician Yevgeny Primakov, and the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev.

Dr Rogov believes conferences of this kind are important and useful for imparting a new impetus to the Russian-U.S. relationship. He said that the former ambassadors know one another well enough “and they also know the problems existing between the two countries.” Once in the past, all of them have done a lot for resolving litigious issues and their reciprocal efforts contributed to the completion of the Cold War.

Although these meetings should not be interpreted as official talks, the ambassadors passed a joint statement, which specifies their visioning of the key issues of cooperation and contains their proposals in this connection.

They urged the governmental and business quarters in both countries “to do joint work on a range of ambitious projects and well-specified tasks so as to build up bilateral trade and investment threefold over the next five years.”

As regards the status of Russian-U.S. relations on the whole, Dr. Rogov said: “A vicious circle has taken shape in them. It consists of a confrontation, a thaw, a d·tente, a cooling off, and then a new confrontation. And we’re moving along this circle all the time.”

Last time relations between Russia and the U.S. deteriorated in 2008 when an armed conflict in and around South Ossetia was raging.

“However, President Barack Obama didn’t push the situation into a confrontation and declared a policy of resetting the relations instead,” Dr. Rogov said. “Hence we managed to attain some important successes like signing a new START treaty and a crucial agreement on cooperation in the nuclear power sphere - the so-called 1-2-4 agreement on peaceful atom.

Also, the U.S. lifted the Jackson-Vanik amendment but still the agenda of resetting ran dry somehow and progress in Russian-American relationship came to a halt.

A cooling-off began and signs emerged of a phenomenon that can be called re-militarization and re-ideologizing, Dr. Rogov said.

He believes it would be wrong to apportion all blame for the fact to the Americans only. “Still, it was the Americans who kicked off a new arms race during George W. Bush’s presidency. His decision to pull out of the Antiballistic Missiles Treaty dealt a telling blow to strategic stability and the problem of antimissile missiles quickly moved downstage as a token of U.S. attempts to attain absolute superiority over Russia.”

Re-ideologizing is linked to many factors and unfortunately one could see perfectly well last year, the year of presidential elections, the bad impact that elections wield on bilateral relations, Dr. Rogov said.

The surge of anti-American passions in Russia has proved to be big enough, too. “It was fuelled by the mass media in both countries, and the Magnitsky Rule of Law Act in many ways erased the encouraging effects of abolition of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

“Unfortunately, the Magnitsky law was endorsed in the worst possible version,” Dr. Rogov said.

Russia responded very emotionally, he said adding that the response consisted of “The Dima Yakovlev Law plus the law declaring non-profit organizations to be foreign agents,” he said.

However, Dr. Rogov believes that the U.S. and Russia will not go over to the phase of confrontation. “Obama promised last year he would display flexibility and he said two weeks ago his Administration was restructuring its program for the antiballistic missiles system,” he said.

He indicated that, according to his forecast, which is shared by many of his fellow-experts, “in the next ten or so years the Americans won’t get an ABM program that would potentially pose a threat to Russia’s strategic forces.” They will get a limited antiballistic missile system “that won’t be a threat for us, however.”

“This will make it possible for us to start the talks, which would enable us to reach a compromise,” Dr. Rogov said.

Compromise was the objective that the ambassadors called for, too.

Obama’s Administration would not like to antagonize Moscow, even though the GOP has taken an unambiguously anti-Russian stance and, in the light of it, and that is why a new ABM treaty is a highly improbable thing.

“The strategic antiballistic missile system with an orbital, air-based and sea-based echelon won’t come into existence for another ten years /the current START treaty will have legal effect over this period - Itar-Tass/,” Dr. Rogov said. “This lays the groundwork for achieving compromise agreements with Russia and the U.S.”

Nuclear armaments are not the only factor to it, as dramatic changes have taken place in the world. “In the first place, the world is acquiring multi-polarity and that’s why strategic stability doesn’t confine to Moscow and Washington only,” he said.

Number two is revolution in information technologies that made it possible to create conventional high-precision weapons. “The U.S. is leading in that area while we, unfortunately, are lagging far behind.”

A whole range of weaponry systems that do not have nuclear warheads are capable of hitting strategic targets nowadays. New systems of the type are being developed, too.

There exists a risk of deployment of weaponry system in outer space. Also, we are faced with a new threat like cyber attacks, which are not ranked among the weapons of mass destruction but are able to paralyze the economy, to knock out the political leadership and the Armed Forces, and to plunge the economy into chaos.

At this moment, there is no clarity about how the problem could be resolved, Dr. Rogov said, adding: “The Americans are ready to make arrangements with us in the sphere of nuclear armaments where parity exists but they are highly reluctant to make any agreements in the areas where they have superiority, like in the antimissile missiles and other non-nuclear armaments.”

The feeble economic component of the Russian-U.S. relationship constitutes its weakest aspect. Trade between the two nations stands at only 10% than Russian-EU trade and is smaller by a factor of 2.5 than Russian-Chinese trade, Dr. Rogov indicated.

The fact is aggravated by the so-called shale gas revolution that may rid the U.S. of dependence in the energy sector. A growth of trade registered in the past few years owing to the supplies of Russian crude to the U.S. may come to a standstill.

Worse than that, America may turn into Russia’s competitor in the sphere of hydrocarbons.

Relations between Russia and the U.S. will always be fragile and vulnerable to various political sub-currents in the absence of a solid economic foundation, Dr. Rogov believes.

In the wake of it, the former ambassadors urged the governmental and business quarters in Russia and the U.S. “to do joint work on a range of ambitious projects and well-specified tasks so as to build up bilateral trade and investment threefold over the next five years.”

The setting-up of a solid foundation for durable and steady relations between Russia and the U.S. stands in needs of large-scale projects, the ambassadors said in their statement.