Thomas Graham on Russian-American Relations
Dr. Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates, an international business consulting firm, was invited by Dr. Alexei Maslov and Dr. Olga Volosiuk to interact with students and professors in the School of Asian Studies of the Higher School of Economics on Thursday January 24th.
Dr. Graham spent fourteen year as an American diplomat, including eight years at the American Embassy in Moscow, and served for five years as the senior Russia expert on the U.S. National Security Council Staff under President George W. Bush.
The room was packed with eager MA and BA students who, after Dr. Graham introduced himself, regaled him with questions on interactions between the USA and Russia, and the USA and North-East Asia. Because Dr. Graham has extensive experience in the U.S. Government and is an active participant in the Kissinger Associates consulting firm, he is cognizant of how foreign policies are made in Washington as well as responses to them in Europe, Asia and specifically Russia, his specialty.
The following is taken from the responses of Dr. Graham to the questions with which he was peppered by his thoughtful and well-informed audience.
— How would you describe Russian-American relations in general these days?
— They are BAD, but not as bad as they were at the end of the George W. Bush administration. Then, you might remember, Vladimir Putin made a major speech castigating the United States in Munich 2007. He had been supportive of closer relations with the United States, helping in President Bush’s post-2001 campaign against terrorism. But there was no contact at high levels for six months prior to the Munich speech, which is one reason Putin delivered the speech and one it took us completely by surprise. We didn’t see it coming. Part of the reason for Putin’s shift was that in the intervening years, China had grown stronger both politically and economically, and the USA weaker, so strategically he wanted to distance Russia from us. But more, the USA had supported the Orange Revolution against RF interests in Ukraine, and that led Putin to question the value of partnership with the United States.
— What's the impact of the ‘anti Magnitsky’ or ‘Dima Yakovlev’ law on American-Russian relations? (The US passed the Magnitsky Act in December 2012, blacklisting Russian officials allegedly linked to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky at a Russian prison in 2009. In retaliation, the Duma passed a law banning Americans adoption of Russian orphans and blacklisted US citizens it deemed human rights violators who had abused adopted orphans. All Russian adoptees are Russian citizens until their 18th birthday and Russia claims that it is simply seeking to protect the rights of its smallest and most defenseless citizens).
— First, in any tit-for-tat situation, you have to ask, what and where focused are the interests of all parties in a strategicsense? All of our policies rest in the assumption that the future of the USA depends on an economically strong Russian Federation. That being said, Americans don’t understand the Dima Yakovlev law at all.
— How is it an appropriate reaction to the Magnitsky Act? How does it solve anything? Doesn’t it create more problems?
— You see, our attitude as a people is to solve problems and this law doesn’t appear to do that to us, especially after it took 3-4 years for our two countries working together to reach an agreement on how to regulate adoptions between our two countries.
However, the USA is learning these days that we must manage situations, not solve problems. We have to sort things out as they are in the present. So we have to realize that the Russian Federation doesn’t want to appear to need our help with orphans. Yes, there were a few bad situations & they are being handled in the USA through the courts, but Russia seems to be deciding that it wants to keep its orphans here & provide education for them here, not rely on US adoptive parents. If this works out well for the orphans who are the most important persons in this situation, it will be good for Russia. But Russia should be willing to reconsider if it finds that it cannot adequately care for all its orphans.
You need to understand that in every situation when I was in the government, I served my country. I can’t imagine a better way to live my life, and I’m happy I had that chance. I want to work towards what is best for America, and because of that I would rather work with Russians who want to help their country and therefore often oppose me as I do them – then we have something in common, and can work together even while we are disagreeing.
— How would you describe the development of economic cooperation between the two countries?
— We’re living in a multi-polar world now, not a bi-polar one as during the Cold War. We Americans want to work globally in a way that provides security and economic development, for us primarily, and then for Russia as well as every other country.
We do tend to get a little ‘missionary’ about advancing our type of democracy, and it’s taken us a long time to see that our way of doing things isn’t the only way – that Russia has to manage its country in a Russian way, China in a Chinese way. That includes how you do your economic development. In Russia the state is far more present in managing the economy, in America you have a much stronger private enterprise sector that wants to keep the government at a distance. This means our foreign policy makers have to recognize the differences and work with them to advance national security for both, or for all countries, and make each economy stronger.
— What's the focus of American-Russian relations in North East Asia?
— There’s a growing nationalism in both China and the United States these days, and this could lead to conflict. It reminds me of the years before World War One when each of the European nations were growing more concerned for individual national security and pushing for it. The result was the worst death toll in a war up to that time. Now these same European nations are trying to work together for mutual economic benefit. Can that work the same in North-East Asia? The countries around China are trying to contain it and the USA is supporting that containment, while at the same time advancing our interests with China itself. The risk of war is very low, but not zero, and we need to be careful not to take steps that raise the risk.
Foreign policy makers in the USA are always looking for ways to advance American security and economic strength. To do that, we need to have a good understanding of other countries, of how they operate and how they define their own national interests.
Marion Wyse, specially for HSE News Service