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"We're very close" to new START treaty's ratification, U.S. Senator McCain said

U.S. Senator McCain discussed "Realism about Russia: Power, Interests, and Values"


December 10, 2010

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following remarks today, Friday, December 10th at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS):

“Thank you, Kurt [Volker], for another gracious introduction. As Kurt mentioned, he was kind enough to introduce me when I spoke here a year ago, and my ears have been burning ever since. I am just happy to see that Kurt is still gainfully employed here at Johns Hopkins. You run a good work-release program.

“I want to thank Jessica Einhorn and all the leadership of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies for the opportunity to return to this tremendous university. I look forward to taking your questions after I say a few words this morning, and considering that I will be heading back to a busy day of work after this, you may need campus security to drag me out of here.

“As you know, one of the final items the Senate may consider during the lame duck session is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russian Federation, or New START. I still hope we will be able to bring this up next week, and a lot of work is being done to that effect. My colleague Senator Jon Kyl is doing a tremendous job working with the administration to resolve the issues associated with nuclear modernization. I’ve been focusing my efforts on addressing the key concerns relating to missile defense. And I think we are very close.

“With so much focus now on one aspect of our Russia policy, this is a good time to pull back and reflect on this relationship more broadly. The administration has been quite clear that New START is a key component of its so-called reset policy – its effort to forge a more constructive relationship with Russia based on mutual interests and respect. It is a fine idea in principle, and I do not deny that it has borne some modest results, including New START. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical about how far this attempted reset will get us with the current Russian government, and to help illustrate my point, I would like to read an excerpt from a joint declaration issued recently by the U.S. and Russian heads of state. I quote:

‘[W]e reaffirm that the era in which the United States and Russia considered one another an enemy or strategic threat has ended…. Rather, we are dedicated to working together and with other nations to address the global challenges of the 21st century, moving the U.S.-Russia relationship from one of strategic competition to strategic partnership…. We will strive to identify areas of positive cooperation where our interests coincide … while minimizing the strain on our partnership where our interests diverge. Going forward, we intend to deepen our cooperation wherever possible, while taking further, even more far-reaching steps, to demonstrate our joint leadership in addressing new challenges to global peace and security….’

“Again, I share the sentiments and the aspirations of a statement like this. The problem is, it was issued on April 6, 2008 by George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. Four months later, Russia invaded Georgia.

“The point, my friends, is that this administration’s effort to reset U.S. relations with Russia, however well intentioned, is not new. The Clinton administration and then the Bush administration each came into office thinking that its predecessor had mishandled Russia. They each thought they would finally unlock what many assumed to be the untapped potential of U.S.-Russia relations. Each administration tried in its own way to reset this relationship. The Bush administration even tried at least twice by my count. Ultimately, each administration oversold the benefit of cooperation with Russia and then under-delivered on it. And now here we are in the midst of yet another attempt to reset the U.S.-Russia relationship.

“For two decades, the question has been asked repeatedly: How can the United States forge a constructive global partnership with Russia? It still isn’t clear. So perhaps it is time to start asking some different questions: Such as, do the United States and Russia actually share as many interests as we would hope? Is Russia really as relevant to today’s global challenges, and as capable of helping to resolve them, as our repeated, significant investments in this relationship would warrant? And perhaps most of all, how effectively and reliably can we cooperate with a Russian government whose values are so increasingly antithetical to ours?

“Now, this is not to say that Russia is forever destined to be an enemy of the United States, as some members of my own party have recently seemed to suggest. What it is to say is that Russia has not developed as we had hoped, and that perhaps the actual prospects of our relationship with Russia have too often been exaggerated. Just look at the New START treaty. It is a modest accomplishment, but it has been so overhyped that you would think it is the administration’s most important foreign policy success to date – and that its ultimate ratification would be so consequential as to tip the balance of power within the Kremlin to America’s favor.

“What we need most now is a greater sense of realism about Russia – about the recent history of our relationship, about the substantial limitations on Russian power, about the divergences in U.S. and Russian interests, and about the lack of shared values between our governments. We don’t need Wikileaks to reach these conclusions, my friends. They have been staring us in the face for a very long time.

“Realism about Russia first requires a proper understanding of recent history. Despite multiple U.S. efforts to reset our relations with Russia after the Cold War, the myth persists that America bears much of the blame for Russia’s behavior – for allegedly lecturing and hectoring Russia, treating it as a vanquished enemy, and expanding NATO over Russian objections. Facts, however, are stubborn things. In actuality, the United States has provided Russia with $9 billion in assistance since 1992 to support its political and economic modernization. At our insistence, Russia has had a seat at the table in every NATO Summit but one since 2002. And U.S. leaders have spent countless hours with their Russian counterparts trying to find common ground on many contentious issues, from Kosovo to missile defense.

“What recent administrations have been guilty of is over-personalizing their policies toward Russia. Too often, we seem to have pinned our hopes on a single Russian leader. We seem to have mistaken a chummy relationship with one man – dare I say, after looking into his eyes and getting a sense of his soul – for a transformed relationship with Russia itself. So first there was Bill and Boris. Then there was George and Vladimir. And now I worry that we are repeating this mistake yet again and setting ourselves up for another disappointment – especially if the man on whom we are wagering so much is no longer the President come 2012.

“Realism about Russia also requires a recognition that it is no longer a great power. It is a declining power, which can certainly shape events in its region, but has a far more limited ability to play a leading role in resolving global challenges.

“There are many reasons for Russia’s declining influence. Its demographic base is collapsing. Its national cohesion is threatened by a host of separatist movements and domestic insurgencies. Its ability to project real military power barely extends beyond the Eurasian landmass. Its economy is still predominantly dependent on hydrocarbons, and therefore subject to volatile expansions and contractions due to swings in energy prices. Its political system is unresponsive and predatory, and the only thing it seems to do with great efficacy is misappropriate national resources and foreign investment on behalf of a quasi-criminal ruling syndicate.

“In its annual index of perceptions of corruption, Transparency International ranked Russia 154th out of 178 countries – perceived as more corrupt than Pakistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. More and more economists and investors are arguing that Russia no longer belongs in the company of Brazil, India, and China as one of the ‘BRIC’ economies, because corruption in Russia has become so malignant that it is deterring even the most risk-tolerant foreign investment. President Medvedev himself has lamented that his anti-corruption campaign has produced ‘no results.’”

“Russia’s decline is a human tragedy, but it is also a geopolitical reality. Put simply, Russia is becoming less and less capable of being a global, great power partner with the United States. Indeed, the broader challenge we may face with Russia could be less the projection of its success than the management of its weakness.

“Realism about Russia also demands a recognition that Russia’s interests, as defined by its present government, differ from ours in some rather considerable ways. To be sure, there are areas of convergence, and I credit the administration for making some progress in these places – not just signing the New START treaty, but also gaining Russia’s agreement to pass new UN sanctions against Iran and North Korea, to stop its sale of S-300 air defense missiles to the Iranian government, to open its territory to U.S. resupply efforts for our operations in Afghanistan, and to work more closely on certain counterterrorism and intelligence sharing activities.

“That said, even these limited moves by Russia have been near-run things, and there remain serious concerns about what was given or promised to the Russians in return. Furthermore, nearly every positive step the Russian government has taken thus far could be walked back at a moment’s notice: Arms sales to Iran that were turned off can easily be turned on again, resupply corridors that were opened can be easily closed, sanctions that were passed can easily be left unenforced, and intelligence that can be shared can just as easily be withheld. And to think: This is the relatively easy stuff, the issues on which our interests converge.

“What mostly lies ahead is the harder stuff, the issues where our interests diverge. For example, whereas the United States has an interest in improving and deploying missile defenses in Europe, Foreign Minister Lavrov has called these systems ‘absolutely inadmissible’ and threatened to pull out of New START if we do so. Whereas we have an interest in beginning negotiations with Russia to reduce its stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons, which are nearly ten times larger than ours, Russia is increasingly relying on those weapons as part of its military doctrine, as recent news reports may suggest. Whereas we have an interest in an open global energy market, Russia still uses its oil and gas as political weapons. And whereas we support the independence and territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbors, Russia still treats these sovereign countries as part of its old imperial stomping grounds.

“The most glaring example of this remains Georgia. Over two years after its invasion, Russia not only continues to occupy 20 percent of Georgia’s sovereign territory, it is building military bases there, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia, and denying access to humanitarian missions – all in violation of Russia’s obligations under the ceasefire agreement negotiated by President Sarkozy. Despite the constant threat from Russia, Georgia is deepening its democracy and growing its economy. The World Bank considers Georgia the 12th best place in the world to do business; Russia is 123rd. In a major recent step, President Saakashvili even renounced the use of force to end Russia’s occupation, pledging only to defend non-occupied Georgia in the event of a Russian attack.

“Russia’s ongoing occupation of Georgia points to one final reason for realism about Russia: The fact that this government does not share our values. Now, this does not mean that we cannot or should not work with Russia where possible. The world doesn’t work that way. What it does mean, however, is that our engagement with Russia must always be checked by the recognition that this is a government that steals from, lies to, and assaults its own citizens with virtual impunity – so imagine how it will treat us.

“Today is Human Rights Day, so there is no better time to reaffirm our special obligation to speak up for justice, democratic values, and individual rights in Russia. President Medvedev speaks often, and at times eloquently, about the need for Russia to be governed by the rule of law, and to finally reckon with what he has called Russia’s ‘legal nihilism.’ And yet Russia under Medvedev’s administration seems to be just as mired in ‘legal nihilism’ as ever. Perhaps more so.

“Take the tragic cases of Russia’s last remaining independent journalists. A month ago, one Russian journalist who covered political movements and protests was beaten by attackers who broke his jaw, both his legs, and many of his fingers – a clear political message to other writers. No one has been charged for this crime. Another journalist who exposed corruption was attacked last year and left for dead, with brain damage so severe that he can no longer speak. He, too, had his fingers smashed, three of which had to be amputated, as did one of his legs. No one has been charged in this case either. Yet another journalist this year was beaten unconscious while covering a political rally, and then beaten further as he lay limp on the ground, by a gang of plain-clothes police officers. This attack was even captured on video, and not only were charges never brought against the officers, the victim was later pressured by authorities to accept blame for the attack himself. Sadly, I could go on and on like this, to say nothing of the many unsolved murders.

“Russia’s beleaguered political opposition fairs no better than its journalists. I have met a few times this year with former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who organizes peaceful political rallies to protest the lack of democracy in Russia, as is their right under the Russian constitution. But these rallies are often targeted and violently broken up by Russian authorities. And then there is the sad ongoing saga of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose company was stolen from him, and who has languished in jail for seven years. When his sentence expired recently, new charges were manufactured against him. He is not being tried by a jury, just a single judge, and the political fix has been in for a long time. He could now face up to 12 more years in prison. If ever there were a case of ‘legal nihilism’ – of an affront to the very values of equal justice that we hold dear – the case of Khodorkovsky is it.

“The same can be said about the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax attorney for an American investor who uncovered the theft by Russian officials of $230 million from the Russian treasury. Because of Magnitsky’s relentless investigation into this corruption, the Russian Interior Ministry threw him in jail to silence him. He was deprived of clean water, left in a freezing cell for days, and denied medical care. After 358 days of this abuse, Sergei Magnitsky died. He was 37. Not only has the Russian government held no one accountable, several officials connected to Magnitsky’s imprisonment and murder have actually received commendations.

“Cases like these make a mockery of the idea that Russia is governed by the rule of law, and unfortunately, they lead to one of two conclusions: Either President Medvedev tolerates these injustices, or he is incapable of stopping them.

“When we take the full measure of this Russian government, my friends, I think it calls for a more sober approach to our relationship with Russia. We need to stop overstating the successes of our cooperation. And we need to begin dealing with Russia more as the modest power it is, not the great power it once was. What that means, in part, is being more assertive in the defense of our interests and values.

“For starters, we need to resume the sale of defensive arms to Georgia. Our allies in central and eastern Europe view Georgia as a test case of whether the United States will stand by them or not. Russia views Georgia as a test case, too – of how much it can get away with in Georgia, and if there then elsewhere. It is the policy of our government to support Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO. And yet for two years, mostly out of deference to Russia, defensive arms sales have not been authorized for Georgia. This has to change. At a minimum we should provide Georgia with early warning radars and other basic capabilities to strengthen its defenses.

“Second, on the question of values, the U.S.-Russia Working Group on civil society is led, on the Russian side, by one of Putin’s closest allies and ideologists. Until this individual is replaced by a credible Russian voice on human rights, the United States should immediately cut off its participation in this exercise.

“Third, Congress should build on the legislation that Senator Ben Cardin and I introduced – which imposes sanctions and travel bans on those responsible for the murder of Sergei Magnitsky – and expand these measures to other Russian officials who are complicit in human rights violations. We should also block their families from traveling to, studying, and vacationing in America – and we should encourage our European allies to do the same. This would be a good first step in imposing some very personal costs on the most corrupt officials.

“Fourth, we need to make clear to the Russian government that, if its behavior does not continue to improve on matters of our concern, including human rights and the rule of law, it will jeopardize its chances to get what it wants most from us. I’m not opposed in principle to Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, especially since it would benefit many hardworking Russians. That said, the WTO is a rules-based organization, and those rules will not be bent or broken for Russia. And lest anyone forget the U.S. Congress will have an important say in this matter.

“Ultimately, we need a national debate about the real nature of this Russian government, about what kind of relationship is possible wit h this government, and about the place that Russia should realistically occupy in U.S. foreign policy. Russia’s WTO accession offers a chance to have that debate. Some may want to avoid it, but Congress should use its power to force that debate to happen.

“As I have said today, I believe we need greater realism about Russia, but that is not the same as pessimism, or cynicism, or demonization. I am an optimist, even about Russia, and I often find sources for hope in the most hopeless of places. Mikhail Khordokovsky has languished in prison for seven years. Next week he will almost certainly be forced to endure many more. And yet, in a final appeal to the man in whose hands his fate rests, Khordokovsky had this to say:

‘I will not be exaggerating if I say that millions of eyes throughout all of Russia and throughout the whole world are watching for the outcome of this trial. They are watching with the hope that Russia will after all become a country of freedom and of the law.... Where supporting opposition parties will cease being a cause for reprisals. Where the special services will protect the people and the law, and not the bureaucracy from the people and the law. Where human rights will no longer depend on the mood of the tsar – good or evil. Where, on the contrary, the power will truly be dependent on the citizens and the court, only on law and God. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in jail, and I do not want to die there. But if I have to I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for.’

“That there are still men and women of such spirit in Russia is cause for hope. And eventually, maybe not this year, or next year, or the year after that, but eventually, these Russians will occupy their rightful place as the leaders of their nation – for equal justice can be delayed, and human dignity can be denied, but not forever.”

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