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Published:June 22nd, 2007 05:09 EST
United States Should Have Concerns About Russia

United States Should Have Concerns About Russia

By SOP newswire

Washington -- Although the United States and Russia share many similar foreign policy goals, the two countries need to find better ways to discuss differences on security issues and democratic progress, a top U.S. diplomat told senators June 21.

“We have to speak out where we see problems.  And we do," Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  “We have to find the right way to speak out" and continue to do so, he added.

The two nations have an extensive record of cooperation on energy, nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism issues and work together to confront a host of global challenges, from the Middle East peace process to addressing Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.  But sharpened Russian rhetoric in recent weeks over proposed missile defenses in Europe and the future status of Kosovo have cast a shadow over relations, as have lingering U.S. concerns about growing authoritarianism in Russian society.

“Our strategic approach to Russia means that we defend and advance our interests while building on areas of common concern," Fried said.  “It means we must find the right balance between realism about Russia and the higher realism of commitment to defend and advance our values."

While many in the West saw the 1990s as a period of growing freedom for Eastern Europe and held high expectations for Russia’s rapid transformation, Fried said, many Russians view the post-Soviet years as a time of decline and chaos, when a new order featuring an expanded role for NATO in the former Eastern Bloc and the pro-Western orientation of former Soviet Republics began being imposed on them.

As a result, he said, “many Russians associate these internal problems with democracy and reform, and also link them with the trauma of perceived external retreat."

This perspective, Fried said, underlies Moscow’s charge that the proposed installation of missile defense interceptors in Poland and guidance radar in the Czech Republic is not aimed at defending Europe, but rather is a means to undermine Russia’s strategic defenses.

Fried welcomed a recent proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin for shared use of a Russian-operated radar installation in Azerbaijan as a sign that Russia is coming to recognize the potential future ballistic missile threat.  The system will be the subject of discussions between U.S. and Russian technical experts, as well as Putin’s July 1-2 meeting with President Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine.  (See related article.)

Russia’s offer paves the way “for a much larger discussion of missile defense and the possibility of U.S.-Russia cooperation on missile defense," Fried said.

Fried predicted ongoing “intense discussions" with Russia on Kosovo’s future after Moscow rejected a proposed settlement plan developed by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.  Russian officials have argued that such a plan could become a precedent for settling “frozen conflicts" in neighboring Moldova and Georgia, thereby causing further regional instability.

But Kosovo presents a unique circumstance and should not be viewed as a precedent, he said.  “It's unique because of the way Yugoslavia fell apart, unique because of the Security Council resolution that has put Kosovo under U.N. administration for the past eight years.  It has no bearing on the other separatist conflicts."  (See related article.)

Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s pressure on nongovernmental organizations and the media, the unsolved murders of several prominent Russian journalists and deteriorating relations with its neighbors are worrying signs, and supporting efforts to counter these trends should not be viewed negatively by Russia, he said.

“We welcome a strong Russia, but one that is strong in 21st-century -- not 19th-century terms," Fried said.  “A modern nation needs strong, independent institutions and civil society groups.  A truly strong and confident nation has respectful relations with sovereign neighbors."

HOUSE MEMBERS HOST DUMA COUNTERPARTS

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House Foreign Affairs Committee welcomed its counterparts from the Russian Duma’s Committee on International Affairs.  While Russian and U.S. lawmakers met previously in Washington in November 2005 and held an earlier meeting in Moscow in June 2004, this was the first public joint meeting of the two legislative bodies in 200 years of diplomatic relations.

Chairman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, hailed the public session as an opportunity for “rational, reasoned, realistic and collegial discussions about all the issues our relationship encompasses."

“We do not sweep our differences under the rug," Lantos said.

Lantos and other members expressed concern about human rights and the state of the Russian media, particularly the Kremlin’s control over television stations and news outlets, which he called “a tremendously significant retrograde move" for Russian democracy.

On Kosovo, House members advocated independence as the best solution, and said the U.N. plan provides necessary protections to the region’s ethnic Serb minority, a key concern for Moscow.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Russia.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer