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U.S.: Policy Experts Call For Renewed Relations With Russia

Leading U.S.- Russia policy experts are calling on the next U.S. presidential administration to take the necessary steps to put the bilateral relationship between Washington and Moscow back on track. The experts issued the call in a new report, the theme of which was "renewal."

Washington, 8 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Senior experts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington say that as the incoming U.S. administration formulates its foreign policy, it will find few if any other issue areas that could benefit more greatly from a "fresh look" than U.S.- Russian relations.

With new leadership in both countries, the experts say there is clearly an opportunity to build a new relationship, one they recommend be based on today's realities, rather than yesterday's expectations. In a 52-page report titled, "An Agenda for Renewal," released Thursday in Washington, the experts sought to lay out policy recommendations for the way forward.

The experts say the new U.S. administration should resist the temptation just to continue the policy status quo, or to shift to a more limited conception of Russia as merely a bundle of security problems. They also stress that U.S. policy toward Russia must address two core components -- security issues and Russia's domestic transformation.

The experts say these two halves of the recommended policy are mutually reinforcing. In other words, America's many security concerns with respect to Russia will find real resolution only to the extent that Russia achieves a healthy, well-functioning economy and a stable, deeply-rooted democracy.

Andrew Kuchins directs the Russia and Eurasia program at the Endowment, a think-tank. At the core of the policy renewal, Kuchins says, must be bold steps in the security domain, in order to break away once and for all from Cold War habits and mind-sets.

In particular, Kuchins said the U.S.- Russian nuclear relationship must be put on a new footing, one that does not "assume mutual enmity (hostility)."

A good place to start, Kuchins said, would be in undertaking unilateral cuts in the nuclear arsenal to the level of 1,000 to 1,500 warheads. He said this reduction would provide the U.S. with adequate deterrence and would be undertaken to encourage Russia to respond likewise. Kuchins and the report authors also recommend that the U.S. adhere to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, unless the missile-threat environment changes significantly.

Kuchins says the next U.S. administration also should increase spending for threat reduction and non-proliferation cooperation to the tune of $1.5 billion per year for the next five years.

"If the United States is prepared to spend tens of billions of dollars over the next 10-20 years to construct a national missile defense system (NM) to counter a threat that does not yet exist, the United States should be more than ready to spend a fraction of that to contain the most dangerous threat in existence."

The report's authors also put forth a recommendation designed to promote Russia's deeper integration into the Euro-Atlantic security community, characterizing Russia's relationship with NATO and Europe as the most "divisive and disappointing" element in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Kuchins says:

"The report recommends that NATO not accept any new members from former Soviet territory before 2005, and we are realistically talking only about the Baltic states here, of course. Unfortunately, NATO opened a Pandora's box of trouble with Russia by prematurely taking on new members before a firmer foundation had been established towards relations with Russia."

Kuchins says the report argues that there is no compelling reason to move so quickly with NATO's eastward expansion and that barring otherwise, a "cautious" approach would be best.

Turning to domestic transformation, the report says the U.S. must do more to consolidate democracy in Russia. To that end, the author's urge raising the annual democracy aid budget for Russia from $16 million to $40 million. At the same time, they call for a limit to U.S. economic assistance by encouraging Russian expertise, rather than the insertion of American consultants into the country. Thirdly, the report's recommendations aim to promote the rule of law in Russia, without blindly mirroring American laws, practices, and institutions.

Democratic development expert Michael McFaul says improvement in Russia's domestic transformation is a strategic U.S. national security interest.

"I believe there is backsliding in Russia today towards more authoritarian rule. If I thought that Russia had consolidated its democracy, as Poland has today, I would recommend that we not focus on that. But that is not the case in Russia today."

Overall, the report notes that the core security and domestic transformation recommendations will take place in "real-time" and against the backdrop of ongoing issues like Caspian oil development to Chechnya.

Senior Carnegie Associate Anatol Lieven spoke to the ongoing problem in Russia's southern periphery. Lieven says the report's authors recognize the Russian military has committed numerous abuses in Chechnya. But Lieven says it is not, in their view, in the interests of the United States or the Caucasus region that the Russian military simply withdraw from the breakaway republic.

Lieven says this would risk the return to the anarchy and Islamic extremism of 1996 to 1999. Rather, Lieven says U.S. policy should focus on two more limited agendas:

"Firstly, trying to limit the human suffering caused by the war. Secondly, we should do everything possible to prevent this war from spilling over into neighboring countries and especially, of course, Georgia."

Lieven says the U.S. should continue to put very strong pressure on Moscow not to launch any kind of military intervention in Georgia, which shares a border with Chechnya. He also said the report's authors support the adoption of a genuine "multiple pipeline" policy on Caspian oil, which would include Russia and perhaps even Iran.