Breathing Life into U.S. Russia Reset

A glance at recent headlines would lead one to conclude the US-Russian relationship has headed south --fast. But while Prime Minister Putin accuses Secretary Clinton of inciting protests, and President Medvedev threatens to restart the arms race, quiet diplomacy carries on between the two nations.

“This could be a move or die moment” for maintaining momentum on the U.S.-Russia “reset,” says Igor Zevelev, director of the MacArthur Foundation's Moscow office. Zevelev serves on the Sustainable Partnership with Russia Group (SuPR Group), an expert “Track Two” initiative that met last week in Washington, DC. Under the co-sponsorship of Ploughshares Fund and PIR Center (Center for Policy Studies in Russia), the SuPR group monitors the health of the strategic relationship and provides credible recommendations to government for enhancing security and stability.

The gathering, entitled Beyond Deterrence, puzzled through options for keeping security relations on track in the challenging election environments in both nations. But, it also added non-strategic issues to the mix, including cyber security and trade that can serve as bridges between the two former Cold War rivals. Russia’s imminent accession to the World Trade Organization squarely places it alongside global economic players and provides a major non-military step toward joint security. Expanding Russian markets for U.S. business adds to what many SuPR members described as “predictability” – a key ingredient to strategic stability.

High-level U.S. and Russian officials addressed the group and observed SuPR discussions over the impasse on ballistic missile defense cooperation which threatens to stall the “reset.” They included Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Terrorism Gary Samore, and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak.

On the heels of the informal SuPR group meeting, US and Russian officials met directly this week to continue discussions of missile defense. The bilateral U.S.-Russian Arms Control and International Security Working Group was led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher. While prospects for resolution of the historically thorny issue remain unclear, it is a positive sign that negotiators continue to engage.

Between them, the U.S. and Russia hold most of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile, setting the stakes of solid relations very high. Despite disruptive election politics in both countries and stalled U.S.-Russia talks on missile defense cooperation, the forces of diplomacy remain undaunted. Their task is clear – help break through the noise and deadlock for the sake of security. Push back on dangerous rhetoric and question assumptions. Keep discussion alive while politicians focus on elections.


Photo by US State Dept