April 5th, 2007 07:10 EST
Rice Says, U.S.-Russian Relations Strong
Washington – Relations between the United States and Russia are strong and complex, but also are marked by U.S. concerns about some aspects of Russia's political and economic transition, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Russia has “a great culture, it’s a critically important power in international politics, but it is a country that is still in the midst of a really major transition,” Rice told American newspaper editors April 2.
Russia and the United States, which are marking the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2007, have built a robust partnership based on countering a host of transnational security threats, including terrorism and nuclear proliferation, according to Rice.
As participants in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear programs, Russia and the United States have driven progress toward a more secure Korean Peninsula and are looking to replicate the success of the multilateral formula to convince Iran to resolve concerns about its nuclear program.
But at the same time, the United States has concerns about the state of Russia’s relations with some of its neighbors, its lack of democracy and the growing state control of the Russian economy, she said.
RELATIONS WITH GEORGIA, UKRAINE
One point of tension stems from diplomatic efforts by the United States to expand relations in the region and encourage democratic governance in neighboring states with long histories of Russian influence, Rice said.
In the wake of Georgia’s 2003 “Rose Revolution” and Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution,” Russia has watched both neighbors warily. Russia's energy cutoffs to both countries and deportations of Georgians working in Russia in 2006 also have had a detrimental effect on relations.
“I understand that after so many decades, indeed so many centuries of a different kind of relationship with those countries, that seeing those countries emerge as free and independent states with their own set of international relations is sometimes difficult for Russia,” Rice said.
Rice said that Russia should view the rise of independent, stable, and prosperous democracies on their borders as an opportunity, not a challenge.
“It's important for Russia to recognize that those states are going to be treated as equals by the United States and not as client states of Russia,” she said.
FOREIGN INVESTMENT CLIMATE
Although Russia has achieved impressive economic growth through its massive energy wealth, Rice expressed concern about the Kremlin’s increased control over Russian oil and gas as well as its use of legal mechanisms to exert pressure on foreign investors and companies doing business in Russia.
“I think it's something that bears watching because it is somewhat troubling,” Rice said.
Rice said a more predictable investment climate is in Russia’s interest because it works to diversify its economy. She added that it also would serve as an extremely important demonstration of the rule of law in Russia.
RESPECT FOR FREEDOMS OF PRESS AND ASSEMBLY
Rice said Russia’s future success ultimately will be determined by the Kremlin’s ability to create a governing system that is strong enough to govern, but not so strong that it suppresses free political activity.
Recent years have seen consolidation in both Russian media and politics, with greater state control of television and radio outlets than in the 1990s as well as new restrictions on nongovernmental organizations and political parties.
“The ability of people to organize themselves, to petition the government on their behalf, to have political activity that is not constrained by the state, to have institutions that are diverse and broad, to have the Kremlin not be the only source of power, but to have a strong and functioning Duma, to have an independent judiciary, to have a free and active media,” Rice said. “On that, I think there's no doubt that there’s been some movement back.”
But, as Russia’s transition continues, Rice expressed optimism that a growing middle class will have a greater stake in political pluralism. “All of those people who are going for 30-year mortgages now in Russia, which is one of the hottest things you can have in Russia, those people will have their own political interest,” she said.
On March 27, the Russian Foreign ministry released a foreign policy review that characterized its current relations with the United States as “ambivalent.” But, as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow William Burns said in a March 20 interview, “Despite the fact that there are element of competition and differences between us, the truth is that we need each other. It would be a huge mistake for us to overlook this fact.”
Transcripts of Rice's remarks and Burns’ interview are available on the State Department Web site.
For more information on U.S. policies, see Russia.