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Common Challenges deepen U.S.-Russian ties, Gates said

Common security challenges, a deepening military-to-military relationship and the will to expand cooperation have drawn the United States and Russia together to face emerging issues of the 21st century, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Speaking at the new State Russian Naval Museum to mid-level naval officers from the Kuznetsov Naval Academy, Gates said the last time he visited St. Petersburg was as director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1992.

“The broader purpose of my 1992 visit … was to explore with my Russian counterpart, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Evgeniy Primakov, opportunities for the American and Russian intelligence services to begin to work together,” Gates said.

At the time, he said, they addressed common threats in the post-Cold-War world, including terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global organized crime, narcotics trafficking and others.

“No longer enemies,” the secretary said, “we began to look for ways in which we could cooperate and be partners.”

Gates noted that the Russian naval officers and their American counterparts “entered military institutions that were essentially shaped in response to each other.” Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, he said, U.S. and Russian defense organizations still are working to transform themselves to meet evolving threats and opportunities.

In the 21st century, the secretary said, militaries must be agile and adaptable enough to face threats that involve countering terrorism, fighting piracy and responding to natural disasters.

“They might be battling unpredictable insurgents in failing states as well as providing the defense training to help those states defend themselves,” Gates said. “They might be threats from a rogue nation or terrorists who do not attack though conventional channels or obey the laws of war or care about innocent lives, he said, such as those who recently struck at a Moscow airport.

The broadening spectrum of conflict, Gates added, means military leaders must think harder about the range of missions they will be called on to perform and how to balance capabilities.

“I have pushed all of our military services to institutionalize the asymmetric and unconventional warfare capabilities developed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. The Russian military has had to adapt to similar external threats and internal adjustments, he added.

Gates noted that he and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov have had a number of conversations commiserating on the challenges of running large, proud and tradition-bound military institutions. Both, he said, strive to “invest limited funds wisely on truly critical capabilities while doing right by our troops and their families.” These and other evolving 21st century challenges, the secretary said, have created new opportunities for cooperation.

Together, he said, the United States and Russia have coordinated and expanded operation of the northern distribution network into Afghanistan, and Russia has offered aid to the Afghan government in developing its helicopter fleet.

The United States and Russia also have worked together through negotiations and sanctions to persuade the Iranian regime to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Russia also restricted arms sales to Iran and backed the United Nations’ expanded efforts toward that nation.

Both nations also ratified the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Gates said, “a continuation and expansion of arms-control efforts we worked toward even during the darkest days of the Cold War.”

The two militaries always have learned from each other, Gates said, even in less cooperative times.

Today, the secretary said, the militaries exchange best practices and strategies for training, educating and caring for troops; defense technologies such as ways to counter homemade bombs; logistics, such as efforts along the northern distribution network; and maritime cooperation, including counterpiracy efforts.

Even so, Gates said, Russia and the United States won’t always agree. For example, he noted, “Russia still has uncertainties about the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a limited [missile defense] system that poses no challenge to the large Russian nuclear arsenal.”

But the nations have mutually committed to resolving these difficulties to develop a roadmap toward effective anti-ballistic missile collaboration, Gates said.

Collaboration may include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency in missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation, the secretary said.

Gates told the Russian officers how the U.S. military has gained valuable expertise by operating with international partners ranging “from the Balkans in the 1990s, where the U.S. military worked with Russian forces, to the international military effort in Libya today.”

Despite his work with Serdyukov, Gates said, future progress is not up to the current defense leaders alone.

“It will be up to you, the next generation of leaders,” the secretary said, “to make what you will of our efforts and decide what history you’ll be telling when it’s your turn to stand up here.”

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