EU Diplomats Applaud “Tempered Optimism” About U.S.-Russian Relations     Print Email
Tuesday, 12 May 2009

“Russia matters” — to the future success of U.S. international relations. That keynote phrase in a policy speech by William J. Burns is music to the ears of most ambassadors of the European Union member-states in Washington. To them, it put flesh on the bones of the Obama administration’s promise to seek improved relations with Moscow.

“Now they’re really talking the talk, and maybe they can walk the walk,’’ said a European diplomat praising the speech. The EU often appears divided about what stance to adopt toward Moscow, with new member states in eastern Europe taking a tougher line that “old Europe” member states such as Germany and France.

Burns spoke at the Russia World Forum in Washington on April 27. A long-serving U.S. ambassador to Russia and the Middle East, he has been kept in his key post as Under Secretary for Political Affairs under Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Voicing “tempered optimism” about the prospects for successful bilateral relations, Burns noted that President Obama and President Medvedev had brought a welcome change in tone to the relationship, as confirmed at the G20 summit meeting in London.

Burns went on to outline some of the substance in new thinking in Washington. “Russia remains the largest country on the face of the earth, sitting astride Europe, Asia and the broader Middle East – three regions whose future will shape American interests for many years to come,” he said. Despite some continuing concerns about restrictions on political opposition and some aspects of civil society, Burns emphasized that “today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union.” Rapid economic development over the past two decades has irreversibly changed the face of Russia and powerfully connected many Russian interests to the U.S., he said.

So, he concluded, “U.S.-Russia relations will continue to be characterized by a complex mix of cooperation and competition.”

Offering an agenda for U.S. engagement with Russia, he stressed the two countries’ joint interest in some key global issues: limiting strategic offensive arms, preventing nuclear proliferation, cooperating on conflict resolution, responding to the international financial crisis, and combating global threats to the environment.

Burns mentioned the importance of the OSCE by saying, “We need to address the drift in relations between Russia and the NATO alliance, as well as the weakening of European security structures triggered by Russia’s suspension of its Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty obligations. We look forward to discussions on how to strengthen European security and are interested in learning more about President Medvedev’s ideas for a European Security Treaty. The OSCE could serve as an important forum for this discussion, as the sole multilateral organization in Europe that brings us all together on equal terms. While the Administration’s policy review of missile defense is still underway, we remain interested in cooperation with Moscow — both on missile defense itself, and on reducing the threat posed by Iran, which would factor into U.S. plans for strategic defensive systems.”