January is always a good month to assess the accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to progress in the new year. This month marks not only the end of my second year as the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation but also the end of my fifth year in the Obama administration, giving me a perspective about U.S. policy toward Russia that goes back to January 2009.
In that context, there is no question that 2013 was a challenging year for U.S.-Russian relations, when compared to earlier years of the Obama administration, even though it ended on a more positive note. While many important areas of cooperation, especially regarding security and economic matters, continued uninterrupted, the fact that we decided to postpone the summit between our two presidents underscores the difficulties we encountered in trying to advance our common interests last year. At the same time, America and Russia’s close cooperation on Iran and Syria in the fall of 2013 helped produce breakthroughs in our common quest to deter the use and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We aim to build on the positive momentum of the end of last year to achieve new progress on both Iran and Syria, as well as a range of other issues in 2014.
The mixed record of achievement in 2013 compels us to search for new, creative ways to approach U.S.- Russia relations in all dimensions in the new year. That includes cooperation on security matters around the globe, renewed efforts to increase trade and investment between our two countries, and maintaining our commitment to advance universal values. Our general approach, however, will not change. Since 2009, our strategy toward Russia has achieved important outcomes that serve our security and economic interests. I discussed these achievements in details in this talk. In 2014, we will continue to engage the Russian government on a wide range of issues in pursuit of outcomes that are good for Americans and good for Russians.
We also will continue to engage with the Russian government on issues over which we disagree because we want to make sure that our disagreements are based on an accurate understanding of each country’s interests. Diplomacy’s greatest sin is to allow conflicts to emerge that are based on bad information or misperceptions. We will continue to work closely with the Russian government to make sure that disagreements in one area do not damage cooperation in another. And in parallel, as we have done for the last five years, we will continue to engage with Russian society – including business and non-governmental organizations – and look for new ways to enhance contacts between our societies. Our reasoning for pursuing this dual-track engagement with both the government and civil society is simple: the more connections there are between our two societies, the lesser the chance that our governments will take actions that are not in the interests of our societies.
The 2013 Scorecard
The first half of 2013 produced few positive achievements in our bilateral relationship with Russia. Strategic stability talks continued but disagreements about missile defense cooperation and further cuts in our nuclear arsenals remained. Regarding economic cooperation, our farmers and ranchers endured a terrible blow in February 2013 when the Russian government restricted exports of American beef, pork, and turkey as a result of its decision to enforce a zero-tolerance standard for residues of the feed additive ractopamine despite U.S. government approval of this additive, establishment of a Codex standard, and scientific evidence indicating that ractopamine can be used safely. The Russian government’s decision meant a loss of roughly $600 million in U.S. exports to Russia last year, based on 2012 trade numbers.
Another negative development was the termination last January of our agreement for law enforcement assistance. Our government also was dismayed by new efforts to constrain Russian civil society and a spike in anti-American propaganda on state-controlled media outlets in Russia. Over the summer of last year, the Russian government’s handling of Edward Snowden added a new irritant to our bilateral relations. The sum of these negative developments compelled President Obama to postpone his trip to Moscow, planned for the first week in September of last year. And in December, the United States – while encouraging Ukraine to develop normal relations with its neighbors – made clear our belief that European integration provides the surest path toward Ukraine’s democratic future and economic prosperity. We believe that Ukraine’s future is not a zero-sum calculation.
In parallel to these negative developments, however, was continued cooperation on a number of important security and economic issues. The implementation of the New Start Treaty continued quietly without major complications. U.S.-Russian cooperation on Afghanistan continued without major fanfare. And while we will lose a critical asset to our supply network for our soldiers in Afghanistan (the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan) this year, we expect to maintain access to critical components of the Northern Distribution Network provided by Russia. That will become especially valuable to the United States as we remove military equipment from Afghanistan in 2014.
In order to stem the nuclear proliferation threat from North Korea and Iran, the United States and Russia have worked closely over the last five years to approve and enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions that sanction these countries. This cooperation continued throughout 2013, and with respect to Iran produced an historic result: the signing of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 countries. While just a first step, the agreement achieved a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, Iran agreed to halt the progress of its nuclear program and roll back certain of its crucial aspects. Negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement over the next six months won’t be easy, and significant challenges lie ahead. On this issue, which is a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, U.S.-Russian cooperation has proven real and pivotal. Continued cooperation between the United States and Russia also will be necessary to achieve results in North Korea.
Even in certain areas on which we disagreed, the United States and Russia found a way to cooperate on our shared objectives. An excellent example is Syria. While the United States and Russia continue to have very different ideas on how to reach a political solution to the crisis, our leaders found a way to cooperate to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. Since our historic September 14th agreement, we have made significant progress toward our goal of the complete removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014. This is remarkable considering that just five months ago, Syria would not even admit to having chemical weapons. Much of the success of this endeavor is thanks to the close, continuing cooperation between the United States and Russia.
September 14, 2013 - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,
and their senior advisers meet on the pool deck of the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva, Switzerland,
during their final negotiating session over an agreement to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons.
[State Department photo/ Public Domain]
However disappointed we were on the issue of U.S. meat exports to Russia, we witnessed continued expansion of trade and investment between our countries in 2013.
For example, the U.S. firm Engine Alliance sold $700 million worth of energy-efficient jet engines to Transaero for its Airbus 380 aircraft.
Source: Engine Alliance Facebook Page
Michigan-based Guardian Industries opened a new architectural glass plant in the Rostov region, a $240 million investment in the area that created 300 new jobs for Russian residents.
U.S. firm 3M laid the cornerstone of a new factory in Yelabuga in the Republic of Tatarstan that will start production at the end of this year.
Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov and 3M Russia General Director
Timothy Allen Koenig along with other officials lay the cornerstone of 3M Volga factory
in Yelabuga. Source: alabuga.ru
Our joint cooperation in fostering innovation continues to strike a responsive chord. The Spaso Innovation Series at my Moscow residence has continued strong throughout 2013 with U.S. innovators like Cassio Conceicao of Silicon Graphics and venture capitalists Keith Teare and Evan Burfield sharing their experiences with enthusiastic young Russian entrepreneurs. (You can read more details on my blog.)
Venture capitalist Evan Burfield engaging with young Russian enterpreneurs at Spaso House.
Our Innovation Working Group under the Bilateral Presidential Commission held two successful meetings, bringing together governments, private industry and NGOs to foster innovative business collaboration between U.S. and Russian firms. I have continued to speak regularly on innovation, most recently at the Silicon Valley Open Doors conference December 3-4, 2013, where I had the pleasure of presenting the top startup award to the Russian company ECWID.
We also witnessed an uptick in cooperation regarding counterterrorism in 2013. In response to the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon in April 2013, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) provided significant assistance to the FBI’s investigation of this tragic event. This exchange of information highlighted the value of cooperation against the worldwide scourge of terrorism. Both the FSB and the FBI continue to exchange information regarding terrorist threats in both of our countries and around the world.
Even without a formal law enforcement assistance agreement, cooperation between American and Russian law enforcement occurs on a regular basis. In 2013, we have successfully worked together to prosecute murderers, protect children from predators, and locate stolen assets.
At a ceremony honoring the return of recovered Russian historical documents with the Head of
Russia's Federal Archive Agency Andrey Artizov and DHS/ICE Attaché James Plitt. More photos
Although we have disagreements on some issues, we listen to each other respectfully. On those areas where we can cooperate, we do so professionally and effectively. There has been excellent engagement on sharing and learning among our defense bar counterparts. And we have had many joint efforts to build mutual understanding in civil law matters through seminars, roundtables, and conferences throughout Russia to improve legal education and combat corruption.
Our counter-narcotics cooperation continues apace with active cooperation through the Bilateral Presidential Commission Counter-narcotics Working Group to improve our results in combatting drug traffickers and treating drug addicts. We expect this cooperation to expand and deepen in the coming year.
I was honored to be at the International Drug Enforcement Conference IDEC
with Director of Russia’s Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics Viktor Ivanov
and DEA Administrator, Michele M. Leonhart
And in 2013, as in previous years, we either continued or started thousands of cooperative projects. (To get a sense of the breadth of our bilateral cooperation, I recommend reading the Joint Bilateral Presidential Commission Report. For instance, in May 2013 the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research selected a second round of U.S.-Russian HIV/AIDS research projects for joint funding. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Russian Ministry of Environment also continued to share expertise on cleanup of hazardous waste sites and have begun working with American firms to develop pilot projects applying U.S. technology to clean up some of the most polluted Russian locations.
As always, in 2013 our people-to-people programs were an important part of our diplomatic outreach. We celebrated three important birthdays in 2013: the 40th anniversary of our flagship Fulbright academic exchange program in Russia; the 20th anniversary of our Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) high school program; and the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the American Center in Moscow -- the first of what is now a network of more than 800 American Spaces around the world.
The Embassy and the Russian Academy of Sciences also marked the 80th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the then-Soviet Union with a jointly organized academic conference in November. And 2013 also saw the birth of the U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, which promotes partnerships and the exchange of best practices between U.S. and Russian NGOs and universities.
Cultural exchanges have been a highlight of bilateral cooperation. The visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg of the Carnegie Hall National Youth Symphony, under the direction of one of the world’s greatest conductors, Russian maestro Valery Gergiev, and featuring renowned American violinist Joshua Bell was a high point. And as always, one of my greatest pleasures was the opportunity to host some fantastic concerts at Spaso House, including Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (featured on Kultura Channel’s “Big Jazz Show”), the Quebe Sisters, Los Texmaniacs, the Johnny Rogers Band, and Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist Bill Evans and his Soulgrass band.
Click to watch the video of Bill Evans and his Soulgrass band performing at Spaso House.
We brought 2013 to a close in grand style at Spaso with renowned Russian conductor and violinist Vladimir Spivakov and his Moscow Virtuosi chamber ensemble.
We saw 2013 end with pardons for several incarcerated Russians about whom we had expressed concern, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot; and others. It was also heartening to see charges dropped against Greenpeace activists from the Arctic Sunrise ship and several of those implicated in the “Bolotnaya” protests of 2012. These releases as well as the broader amnesty were positive developments, but we continue to be troubled by instances of selective justice in Russia, such as the indefinite incarceration of Mikhail Kosenko, and the overall constrained climate for the development of civil society. Looking forward, we hope that 2014 will bring more progress in the development of democratic practices and institutions in Russia, as we believe that a strong, democratic, and prosperous Russia will be a reliable and important partner for the United States in tackling our common challenges and realizing our shared interests.
Room to Grow in 2014
As we start the new year, prospects look bright on several fronts, with the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month and promising developments in U.S.-Russian cooperation on a number of important issues.
Without question, Syria and Iran will dominate the agenda of U.S.-Russian relations in 2014. On Syria, 2014 began momentously with the January 7 removal of the first batch of chemical weapons materials from Syria on a Danish ship with maritime security provided by Russia, China, Denmark, and Norway. The international community set ambitious milestones for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. We will continue to work closely with Russia and our other partners to meet those milestones, including the June 30 target date for the total destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Another pivotal moment for U.S.-Russian cooperation will be the opening of the Geneva II international conference on Syria. We believe Geneva II will present the best diplomatic opportunity to begin a process that can end Syria’s civil war and provide a roadmap for a political transition. These talks – as well as preparations for the talks – won’t be easy, and getting an agreement will be a challenge. But we know that the alternative to a diplomatic solution is more suffering and more regional instability.
The important work between Iran and the P5+1 will continue in 2014, with the aim of implementing the Joint Plan of Action and launching the six-month negotiation period for a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. We approach these negotiations with a basic understanding that Iran, like any nation, should be able to access peaceful nuclear energy. But because of its record of violating its obligations, Iran must accept strict limitations on its nuclear program that make it impossible to develop a nuclear weapon.
The elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, the start of peace and transition talks in Syria, and a possible final, comprehensive agreement with Iran on the future of its nuclear program would constitute a very successful year for U.S.-Russian relations in 2014. However, we aim higher. In particular, we believe that the greatest potential for future growth in our relationship is in expanding our economic ties. Bilateral trade in 2013 was approximately $35 billion. U.S. foreign direct investment in Russia totals almost $10 billion and Russian direct investment in the United States was nearly $7 billion in 2013. These are good numbers, but not good enough.
We should remember that behind these trade and investment statistics are hundreds of cases of Russian and American businesses already working in partnership. We invest in each other’s economies, we employ each other, we build profitable businesses together, and we make each other more productive and competitive. Benjamin Franklin once said “No nation was ever ruined by trade,” and we will prove this axiom as we strengthen and deepen our commercial ties, helping each other to prosper in the year ahead. Our governments are currently engaged in a series of conversations aimed at increasing trade and investment. My hope is that this area of common interest will be a focal point of our interactions in 2014.
With the cooperation of the Russian authorities, we will break ground on a new consular building in Moscow this year. The new facility will help facilitate even more travel to the United States by providing every Russian citizen applying for a visa with a higher level of service. I believe this is an important facet of improving and increasing our trade relationship as well. It’s also a key component in increasing people-to-people exchanges, which Presidents Obama and Putin agreed to support and expand in their June 2013 bilateral meeting on the margins of the G8 in Northern Ireland. As their joint statement explained, they believe that expanding direct contacts between Americans and Russians “will serve to strengthen mutual understanding and trust and make it possible to raise U.S.-Russian relations to a qualitatively new level.” I strongly agree.
Aside from continuing the hundreds of people-to-people exchanges we offer in sports, music, business, media, and other fields, I hope to explore increased exchanges and internships for legal education, entrepreneurs, and young businesspeople, which also would create closer economic ties between our peoples. In particular, there is a lot of potential for cooperation on innovation. Through our Innovation Series and some speaking events I’ve done over the last two years, I’ve meet many young, talented and quite impressive Russian entrepreneurs. This year we launched a guide to help them enter the U.S. market for the first time, and I hope it will lead to many more partnerships in this area.
I also am very excited about the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month! Thousands of U.S. citizens will travel to Sochi to participate in and watch the games in person – including me – and tens of millions of Americans will be watching on television. It will be a unique opportunity for Americans to learn more about Russia, and thereby contribute to one of my personal goals as the U.S. ambassador – undermining stereotypes and increasing understanding between our two countries.
Looking ahead to the many events and opportunities that 2014 will bring, I am optimistic about prospects for greater cooperation between our two great nations – cooperation that can produce results that are good for Americans as well as good for Russians.
To learn more about our policy toward Russia and our activities at the embassy, follow me on Twitter @McFaul, visit U.S. Embassy Moscow website and U.S. Embassy Facebook Page.