Summary and Assessment
"Don't bother pushing the ambiguous Reset Button; just replace the whole operating system." That's the advice offered President Obama and President Medvedev at the 28th Annual World Russia Forum that took place 27-28 April in Washington. Since 1981 the Forum has been organized by Edward Lozansky's American University in Moscow (AUM). Of late, Discovery Institute of Seattle, Eurasia Center of Washington, the Congress of Russian Americans, and Aeroflot airlines joined this effort at people's diplomacy to improve US -Russia relations.
The Forum attracted a powerful array of speakers, such as former US Ambassadors to Russia, Thomas Pickering and William Burns; former National Security Adviser (under President Reagan) Robert McFarlane; and Russia experts professors Marshall Goldman of Harvard and Robert Legvold of Columbia University. The Russian side was represented by Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Dr. Igor Panarin of the Russian Diplomatic Academy, and Dr. Sergey Rogov, head of the Institute of USA and Canada, among others. (View the photo report).
The venue was also impressive: the first day, devoted to the strategic vision of US-Russia relations, was at Hart Senate Office Building, the second day, devoted to US-Russian cooperation in business, culture and science, was at George Washington University. The first day was capped with a reception at the Embassy, the second ended at the Russian Cultural Center.
Ambassador Kislyak set the tone by affirming that there are more things that unite than divide the two countries. He cited the common fight against global terrorism and proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as efforts to prevent terrorists from laying hands on such devices. He also praised the cooperation in the International Space Station. At the same time, he spoke of the fragility of US-Russia relations as the unwarranted, from his viewpoint, US reaction against Russia's defense of South Ossetian people against Saakashvili's attack last August has shown.
Kislyak challenged the US to start the negotiating process to extend the START treaty (due to expire on Dec 5) and urged it to follow Russia in ratifying the nuclear test ban treaty.
Marshall Goldman painted a grim picture of Russia's current predicament that seems far worse than in the US. Russian industrial production fell by 14%, GDP decreased by 12%, unemployment increased by 36%, inflation is approaching 14%, and exports fell by about 50% due to the fall of oil and gas prices. For each dollar one now gets about 33 rubles instead of 23 the last Summer. Taking no delight in the grim figures, Goldman suggested that both countries now have more incentive to work together to get themselves and the rest of the world out of the mess.
Thomas Pickering gave a good reason why Obama and Medvedev must make a break-through when they meet in Moscow in July: without US-Russia cooperation, major problems facing the interdependent and increasingly globalized world cannot be solved. Warning against delaying the prolongation of the START treaty, he urged greater American respect for Russia's concern with the "near-abroad" neighbors, going as far, "perhaps, as negotiating a collective security treaty across the board."
Responding to the idea of abolishing nuclear weapons, Pickering took a cautious approach, urging the two countries to make efforts first to prevent a collapse of the current nuclear arms control regime. He seemed amenable to the Russian idea that "de-nuclearization" of North Korea and Iran should be de-coupled from the American propensity toward "regime change."
As a gesture of good will toward Russia, said Pickering, the US should immediately rescind the Jackson-Vanik amendment that holds Russia hostage to free emigration of Russian Jews. This anachronism is especially ironic now, when relations between Russia and Israel are so good that visa-free travel between the two countries is allowed.
Some speakers were rather critical of the Russian government. David Satter of The Johns Hopkins University blamed the Putin regime for doing away with democracy in Russia, if not by rigging the presidential elections outright, then by failing to keep the electorate adequately informed via state-controlled TV-channels. He also felt that the lack of democracy makes Russia more aggressive in its foreign policy, denying, for instance, Ukraine's and Georgia's right to join NATO.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) berated the Russian government for its failure to create a rule of law and an independent judiciary, as well as for its use of energy supplies as a political tool against Europe. Still, he felt that efforts must be made to improve bi-lateral relations. Disagreeing with those who urge the revision of only US foreign policy, DeMint insisted that "both sides should use the reset button."
Since it was Senator DeMint who procured the use of Hart Senate Office Building for the Forum, one might conclude that the Forum had bi-partisan support. The audience merrily laughed when DeMint said that Lozansky did not have to let him speak as the price for use of the building. The Senator agreed, however, with the need to improve relations with Russia, 'a huge country with immense history and culture.'
The image of a reset button that has already been set if not in stone then as a plastic gift from Hillary Clinton to Sergei Lavrov dominated the Forum. The speakers were generally of three minds: (1) those who saw the US as the guilty party and urged Obama to hit the reset button; (2) those who urged Medvedev to give up on Russia's "sovereign democracy" and reset relations back to the Yeltsin years; (3) and those who felt that the leaders of both countries must hit the reset button in the spirit of mutual remorse and equanimity.
Replace the whole operating system!
There were, however, two speakers who refused to play the yo-yo game with the reset button. They called for new thinking that, once upon a time, Mikhail Gorbachev had urged, alas, in vain, upon his Cold War antagonists and himself. One such speaker was E. Wayne Merry, a seasoned diplomat, now a member of Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Another was Jim Jatras, a former consultant on Capitol Hill, now with Squire Sanders Public Advocacy.
Merry defied those who wanted to use the reset button only to turn the clock back from the disastrous Second Bush era to the presumably benign eras of Bill Clinton and Bush the First. According to Merry, the entire 20-year period, from 1988 on, was dominated by bad faith and malicious deeds. First of all, he sees the failures of his own government.
In this bi-centennial anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, Merry said, it behooves America to remember that during the crucial years of Russia's transition from Communism to a democratic free-market economy, the US failed to return the favor bestowed upon us during the Civil War, when, unlike Britain and France, Russia supported the Union against the Confederate Insurgency. (One might add that during the war for independence, Catherine the Great of Russia refused King George's request for Russian troops to quell the rebellion and proclaimed instead a policy of "benevolent neutrality.")
Chief political analyst at US Embassy in Moscow during 1990-1994, Merry was a witness to how the ideological "neo liberal" economists (also called the Chicago school and free-market fundamentalists) hijacked U.S. foreign policy and imposed on Russia the "Washington consensus" scheme of reforms. Using the Harvard Institute of International Development as a conduit to Russia, the Harvard team of Jeffrey Sachs, Andrei Shleifer and Jonathan Hay conspired then with such "reformers" as Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar to gain direct access to the Yeltsin government. This collusion degenerated into a criminal affair that is best described in Janine Wedel's pioneering book, Collision and Collusion: the Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe,  as well as in my article "Would Harvard Ever help Russia?"
The results of implementation of the "Washington consensus" are well known. The best achievements of the Soviet era, such as universal education, national health care and second-to-none science, for which the Soviet people had paid the highest price in blood, sweat and tears, were destroyed and replaced with oligarchic rule, including ubiquitous corruption and contract killings. Although President Putin later managed to curb political ambitions of such oligarchs as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the system of crony capitalism created with US assistance remains intact as the oligarchs continue to exercise their strangle hold on Russian economy.
"I think our policies had a great deal to do with creating the oligarchs," said Merry in an earlier interview with PBS.  "I know there has been tendency by the spokesmen from the IMF, from the US Treasury to claim that this was really all things Russia did to itself. But in the early post-Soviet era Washington, both through the IMF and US Treasury, played an enormous role in determining what kinds of economic policies would be created, what kind of winners and losers there would be."
As a Russia expert at the Embassy, Merry attempted to alert Washington to the disastrous consequences that the "neo liberal" economic reform policy would have on US-Russia relations. However, all objections were treated at the Embassy as "heresy that should not be allowed." Merry's dissenting reports were blocked for the fear among Embassy officials that they "would give Larry Summers [who was then Treasury Secretary] a heart attack." The reference to Treasury Secretary rather than Secretary of State speaks volumes as to who then was running the US foreign policy.
Meanwhile, "we created a virtual open shop for thievery at a national level and for capital flight in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the raping of natural resources and industries on a scale which I doubt has ever taken place in human history." Nor were we neutral observers letting Russians rob Russia. "A lot of people around the world profited enormously from the raping of the Russian economy," says Merry.
As a result, "What we had to lose in our relations with Russia were our own national interests, and obviously the way we conducted ourselves with Russia would determine whether or not Russia would be willing to cooperate with us on the world stage."
Once adopted by the US government, the "Washington consensus" had a deleterious effect not only on Russia but, via such global institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, on the rest of the world. At the World bank, for instance, the "fundamentalist" schemes of Lawrence Summers and his associates prevailed over a more pragmatic, gradual, and country-specific approach to free-market reforms, suggested by such economists as the Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, the author of Globalization and Its Discontents, and William Easterly, the author of The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.
It is hardly surprising that the same people, who were instrumental in creating the oligarchy in Russia, were also active in creating the bubble economy in the United States. As Treasury Secretary under Clinton, Summers not only patronized the Harvard clique in Moscow, but also abolished derivatives regulation in Washington, an act that many believe set the stage for and enabled the current economic meltdown. It is a supreme irony that Summers now heads the Obama White House team of economic advisers.
Merry did not fully spell out what he meant by the need to "replace the whole operational system." It is clear, however, that before meeting President Medvedev in July, President Obama has to do a lot of soul searching to undo the damage wrought on US foreign policy by the "neo conservatives" during the Bush administration but also the damage inflicted on US-Russia relations by undue influence of "neo liberal" reformers. He may want to start the replacement of the operational system by replacing Larry Summers and his team of economic advisers.
Following in the footsteps of George Kennan, Merry is respectful of Russia's unique culture. He exhibits none of the Russophobia which many of his colleagues have managed in the past to disguise as anti-Sovietism. He seems to know that many who criticize the Russian government for its authoritarian ways have the interests of the oligarchs, rather than the Russian people, close at heart. On a practical note, Merry suggested that, in reaching for a more harmonious relationship, Medvedev and Obama establish clear rules of engagement so that if one country acts unilaterally in Kosovo, e.g., it cannot expect the other to act differently elsewhere.
Northern Hemisphere Peace and Prosperity Belt
For Jim Jatras, 1991 was the year when great expectations after the fall of Communism were rudely betrayed. Instead of the end of the Cold War there was only a reversal of the roles, says Jatras. Now the United States replaced the USSR by taking upon itself the mantle of champion of ideological world domination. As a case-in-point point, Jatras analyzed the US plans for expanding NATO to Ukraine.
While professing our desire to protect Ukrainian democracy, says Jatras, our real purpose is to eliminate Russia as a competitor in this region. In fact, we do it in defiance of democratic choice of the majority of Ukrainians who do not wish to join NATO. But even if, through our media campaign or manipulation of US-supported Ukrainian NGOs, we manage to get the majority of Ukrainians to vote for joining NATO, there would be still a very large segment of Ukrainian citizens, including millions of ethnic Russians, who would be extremely unsettled by the outcome. What we are then playing with is the risk of precipitating civil strife and violence along sectarian lines, reminiscent of the current state of affairs in Iraq, except that instead of the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, there would be Orthodox Christians and Catholics, as well as the Muslim Tartars of the Crimea and the pro-Russian Rusins of Western Ukraine fighting each other.
Such approach is not only harmful to Russia and Ukraine, but is also contrary to the true interests of the United States and its European allies. What we should be doing instead, says Jatras, is promoting a collective security coalition which would reconcile the interests of all. First of all, we should take advantage of common cultural denominator for the overwhelming majority of people of both Ukraine and Russia. In addition to language similarity, Ukraine is bound to Russia historically, geographically, and economically. Moreover, the majority of Ukrainians are culturally, if not religiously, Orthodox Christians, as are the Russians. It's true that the Western part of Ukraine has strong ties to Central Europe through the prevalence of Catholicism. It is this dualism of the Ukrainian cultural background that should serve not as a bone of contention but as a bridge joining Russia to the European Union and, ultimately, the US.
If I hear Jatras correctly, neither the West nor Russia can afford to quarrel for preeminence in Ukraine. They cannot afford to quarrel, much less go to war, for several reasons. First, all these countries are experiencing demographic decline. Second, they are not as strong economically as they used to be because the largest amount of trade has long shifted to the Pacific Rim. Third, civil strife in Ukraine might inflame passions elsewhere in the world and make the clash of civilizations self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are a number of merits in this Jatras coalition plan that show new thinking in US-Russia relations. First, it would avoid the risk of splitting Ukraine along religious or ethnic lines if we do proceed with a NATO membership. Second, it would help the integration of both Ukraine's and Russia's economies with the larger and healthier economies of the West. Third, it would serve as a spring board for a wider coalition of such countries, as Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia that share common Christian heritage, as well as a long history of interaction under the Tsars and the Soviets.
As Jatras rightly stresses, the arrangement should not be projected as a religion-based coalition. Aware that a reference to common Christian heritage might provoke unnecessary antagonism, Jatras suggests it be named a Northern coalition open to all neighbors, including the culturally Muslim, but politically secular, Azerbajan in the Trans-Caucasia and all the "stans" of Central Asia.
The West, including the US, Canada, and EU, can reap huge potential benefits from such collective security arrangement. Russia, instead of being a wild card, might become not only a vital link to the largely untapped natural resources of Northern Eurasia, but also a landmass almost touching Alaska and facing South Korea and Japan. A vision of a Northern hemisphere peace-and-security belt stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok might become a reality.
While the compatibility of cultural backgrounds the US, EU, Ukraine, and Russia, may serve as the initial impetus and corner stone for the edifice of Northern hemisphere collective security system, it should not be projected as anti-Muslim nor anti-Chinese. The very process of forming such a coalition would help ameliorate and solve the long-pestering conflicts in Abkhasia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as between Russia and Japan (who are still technically at war because of the unresolved issue of four southern Kuril islands), between the two Koreas, China and Taiwan, India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine. It may also cool the internecine strife in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka, as it may dampen the efforts of new countries, as well as terrorist groups, to acquire nuclear arms.
The vision of such multi-lateral coalition aimed at securing peace, social justice and prosperity throughout the world should be the center-piece of the US-Russia presidential summit in July. The vision by itself will not solve all the problems between the two countries, but, at least it may provide a goal. Just striving jointly toward that goal would diminish their current antagonisms. By fiat, it would replace the unworkable unipolar "operational system" the US has adopted as its interface with the outside world since the Fall of the Wall.
The operational system needs to be changed for US domestic reasons too. As a presidential candidate, Obama promised, if elected, to "spread the wealth around." It was a poor campaign slogan as the media at once harped at him for harboring socialist ideas and wishing to fan class warfare flames. But as the reality of global crisis has set in, it seems clear that "spreading the wealth around" is exactly what Obama needs to do to restore the health to US economy and to prevent the threat of class warfare here and around the world.
Meeting with Medvedev in July, Obama will do well to discuss the question of whether the creation of oligarchy in Russia in the 1990s did not have an adverse effect not just on US-Russia relations, but on the ability of the US government to regulate private financial institutions here and whether it did not contribute to the severity of the current global crisis. Short of the lofty goal of making the world safe for democracy, the two presidents would do well to unite their efforts to prevent oligarchy from playing havoc in an increasingly unstable and polarized world. Both presidents must realize that the greater the disparity of income, the greater chances for the breakdown of social order in a country and in the world.
Dr. W. George Krasnow (aka Vladislav Krasnov) is president of Russia & America Goodwill Associates. Former professor of Russian Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and author of Russia Beyond Communism: A Chronicle of National Rebirth, he is an intercultural communications consultant residing in Washington. E-mail Dr. Krasnow at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Janine R. Wedel, COLLISION AND COLLUSION: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe. 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Palgrave, 2001. See also her article "The Harvard Boys Do Russia: How the Best and Brightest Helped Destroy the Russian Economy," The Nation, June 1, 1998, pp. 11-16 (cover story).
 W. George Krasnow, "Would Harvard Ever Help Russia?" in Johnson's Russia List( JRL 2006-60 10 Mar 2006, #24) http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/2006-62-24.cfm or RAGA website www.raga.org.
 E. Wayne Merry, a Frontline interview in the PBS series "Return of the Czar," http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/yeltsin/interviews/merry.html