Russia’s Sergei Ryabkov Talks about the Reality of U.S.-Russian Relations
By Katherine Zylinski
When Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, spoke about moving away the U.S-Russia partnership from “rockets and warheads” to a more innovative agenda he was realistic and acknowledged that this could be, “Easier said than done.” Nevertheless, he suggested that a closer relationship between the two could lead Russia to be more cooperative on a variety of issues. Ryabkov discussed key issues in U.S.-Russia relations at the Nixon Center on January 27. The Deputy Foreign Minister discussed what a closer U.S.-Russia relationship could mean for sanctions against Iran, Afghanistan, European missile defense, and World Trade Organization (WTO) accession and was optimistic regarding relations between Washington and Moscow. Dimitri K. Simes, President of the Nixon Center, moderated the discussion.
While welcoming the Obama administration’s effort to support Russia’s accession into the WTO, Ryabkov argued that more needed to be done toward helping Moscow in this task. When asked about the timeline of Russia’s accession into the WTO, Ryabkov stated, “We are close, but not close enough.” The reason for the delay for accession he said was that a number of questions still had to be dealt with on a political level. He made sure to point out that the establishment of the customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan had not presented an obstacle for progress with the WTO and that they had been creative enough to resolve all issues that could have been in conflict with the trade organization.
Ryabkov asserted that Afghanistan is a success story for U.S.-Russian cooperation and it remains an area where there are tangible results. He identified supply routes, procurement, and the expansion of trade and infrastructure as examples of this success. However, he cited rampant drug trafficking in the country as an area where greater cooperation is needed. The Deputy Foreign Minister asserted that the drug threats coming from Afghanistan have not been properly addressed and argued that current eradication and interdiction efforts are inadequate, stating,” What we are doing jointly and collectively is not enough, we want NATO to do more.” He called the drug situation “disturbing and endangering international peace and security.”
When asked whether he believed that NATO forces would be leaving Afghanistan in 2014 Ryabkov was cautious, stating, “This is what I hope and this is what I believe will be the outcome.” He added that a gradual transition was needed, where the country would stabilize and would be able to sustain itself, taking more responsibility for its security and development.
In discussing European security and the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) Ryabkov said that Russia does not want to fundamentally change the security architecture and believes that there is room for future cooperation with the alliance. Ryabkov acknowledged that the NATO-Russia Council had been created to overcome prejudices and when it was established it was “an essential component of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture.” He also admitted that the partnership proved to be less than robust, which events like the 2008 Georgian War demonstrated. However, Ryabkov acknowledged that the 2010 Lisbon Summit was a step forward for the NATO-Russia Council and stated that he had high expectations for the partnership. Most importantly, he admitted that Article 5 would not impede the partnership and would remain an essential part of NATO. He stated, “We understand that NATO collectively is responsible for the security of each and every member but we still think there is an opportunity to create right interface for what might be the future NATO.”
In regards to proposals for a joint missile defense system, Ryabkov acknowledged that it is difficult to agree on missile defense cooperation due to ongoing U.S.-Russia differences over joint threat assessment of missile and nuclear threats and other issues. The Deputy Foreign Minister expressed concern that if the U.S. developed a missile defense system it could affect the nuclear posture of Russia, arguing, “It may endanger nuclear offensive forces and devalue them somehow, it is difficult for us to agree on missile defense cooperation with out having a degree of guarantees that it can not be turned against us.” He also mentioned that President Medvedev had offered an idea of joint or common missile defense that could only be used outwards and not inwards. He stated that there is limited cooperation on these issues and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but that possibility of collaboration is there.
Ryabkov asserted that among all the interaction on international issues, the US and Russia have experienced an “exceptional period of close cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue.” The issue of Iranian sanctions came up multiple times during the discussion and Ryabkov asserted that while Russia voted for all UN sponsored sanctions against Iran, it did not believe in their effectiveness in halting the Iranian nuclear program. He reiterated a statement by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that, “Sanctions are seldom productive but they are sometimes inevitable,” adding that sanctions only add to strains in the international community. When asked whether Russia would cooperate with the toughening of unilateral sanctions against Iran, which many countries were considering, Ryabkov maintained that Russia is against unilateral sanctions outside the United Nations process. Most importantly, he acknowledged that if Russia’s partnership with the U.S. progresses, its view on sanctions could change.
Ryabkov said that Russia and Iran are engaged in a separate dialogue and that Moscow was not conducting independent negotiations aside from negotiations being conducted by the so called P5 +1, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. He added that there are reasons to be disappointed with the Iranian regime because negotiations were deadlocked. He acknowledged that the Iranians are moving closer to nuclear capability and he was concerned with their ability to comply with international law. Nevertheless, he reiterated that sanctions, especially unilateral sanctions, would not change Iran’s behavior but instead harden its current policy.
You can watch the entire event here on our YouTube page. In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus' article, "Russia's Ryabkov on U.S.-Rusisa relations: 'We can offer tangible results, and we will do more in the future,'" summarizes the Deputy Foreign Minister's comments.
For further reading see:
"START of a Pyrrihic Victory" The National Interest, 23 December 2010
"Leak Fatigue," The National Interest, 26 December 2010
"One, Two, Three, Go!" The National Interest, 18 November 2010
"The Bumpy Road between Moscow and Tbilisi," The National Interest, 3 November 2010.
"The Kremlin Begs to Differ," The National Interest, 28 October 2010.
"Russian-American Obstacles Overshadow Obama-Medvedev Meeting," U.S. News and World Report, 23 June 2010
"Is Obama Overselling His Russia Arms Control Deal?" Time, 8 April 2010.
"Giving Putin His Due," Foreign Policy, 25 March 2010.
Russia's Role in Asian Security, The Nixon Center, March 2010
Essential Partnership: The United States and Europe Confront New Energy Challenges, The Nixon Center, October 2009
Georgia Testimony (Doc) Congressional Testimony, September 2008
Russian Energy and European Security: A Transatlantic Dialogue (PDF) The Nixon Center, February 2008
Afghanistan: Endgame, 13 December 2010
Samore on New START, 18 November 2010
Bob Woodward at The Nixon Center, 8 November 2010.
Dueck vs. Heilbrunn: The Future of the GOP, 25 October 2010