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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

22 June 2005

Senate Committee Holds Hearing on U.S. Policy Toward Russia

United States must continue to work with Russia, Senator Lugar says

By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- If the United States responded to recent worrisome trends on democratization and human rights by attempting to isolate Russia, it would be self-defeating and harmful to American interests, witnesses and senators agreed at a June 21 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Russia.

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Senator Richard Lugar said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's "increasingly authoritarian style," control of the media, and retribution against political opponents have "complicated the U.S.-Russian relationship and called into doubt some of the basic tenets of engagement pursued by both the Clinton and Bush administrations."

"The dilemma for American policymakers is how to strengthen Russia's respect for democracy while simultaneously advancing cooperation with Russia on issues that are vital to American security and prosperity," said Lugar, a Republican from Indiana.

Lugar said the United States must continue to work with Russia on securing and destroying its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as on many other security fronts, including nonproliferation efforts outside of Russia, the fight against terrorism, and law enforcement measures against international organized crime.

The United States also has an interest in cooperating with Russia on energy issues, on trade and investment, and on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, he said.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, the top-ranking minority member on the committee, said he hopes for a prosperous Russia that can become a real partner for the United States in promoting global peace and security, but he is worried that these goals are "unrealistic without the protection of political liberties, the strong rule of law, and judicial and economic independence."

Celeste Wallander, the director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, portrayed the state created under the leadership of Putin as strong in the wrong way.

"Although the United States should be concerned about the excessive strength of the Russian state relative to Russian society, media, and independent political forces, the United States needs to be every much as concerned that it is ineffective," she said.

Wallender cited Russia's HIV/AIDS crisis as an example of the government’s ineffectiveness, saying that it “has been reluctant to discuss, let alone confront, the facts of its HIV epidemic."

She characterized Russian foreign policy as "active but not expansionist, sensitive to asserting prerogatives but cautious in exerting Russia's still quite limited power."

Wallender said Russian leaders misunderstand U.S. policy in Eurasia:

"Instead of viewing U.S. perspectives on the non-traditional nature of 'emerging threats' of transnational terrorism in Eurasia and the problem of proliferation as a genuine 21st century perspective, the Putin leadership views it through a geopolitical and traditional 19th century great power perspective and imputes that perspective to what, in the Russian view, must be the true basis for U.S. policies and actions. ... [T]hey see the net of U.S. relationships in Eurasia as a form of neo-containment meant to restrict Russian power and influence."

Turning to the implications of her analysis for U.S. policy, Wallender said the challenge for the United States "is to recognize the limitations on Russia's capacity as an effective state, maintain its principled and practical stand on the importance of democracy and human rights as a way to strengthen the effectiveness of Russia as a country, and to solve practical problems in the short term with a Russian leadership that views such a stand as a pretext for weakening Russia."

She urged U.S. policy-makers to think in terms of a long-term commitment and a policy that balances the importance of democracy with "practical engagement in global economic growth and security cooperation."

Also testifying at the hearing was Patricia Cloherty, chair and chief executive officer of the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund -- better known in Russia as TUSRIF -- a fund financially supported by the U.S. government but under private management.

Cloherty offered a positive assessment of the Russian economy. "Progress is being made in Russia," she said, citing such developments as positive changes in Russia's regulatory and tax frameworks, a "reverse diaspora" of young Russians returning from education or work abroad, and improving liquidity for investors.

The full text of Wallender's and Cloherty's prepared statements is available on the Senate committee’s Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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