The View from Moscow: Q&A with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Article excerpt

Sergei Ryabkov is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. He has served the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1982 in Moscow and abroad. He has been head of the OSCE Unit of the Department of European Cooperation, minister counsellor of the Russian Embassy in the USA, and director of the Department of European Cooperation. Mr. Ryabkov was named Deputy Minister in 2008. As part of his duties, he chairs the Policy Steering Group and Arms Control and International Security Working Group under the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission set up by President's Obama and Medvedev.

The Q&A was conducted by Johan Kharabi, the Features Editor with the Journal of International Affairs.

Journal: It is widely agreed upon that Russia's relations with the United States have deteriorated in the last decade. To what factors would you attribute such a negative development?

Ryabkov: Every action taken by the government of any state is largely determined by its understanding of the country's national interests. Quite naturally, those understandings may differ, as sometimes occurs in relations between such great world powers as the United States and Russia. This is what actually happened in the final months of the previous U.S. administration.

I can cite many factors that affected the efficiency of our cooperation at that time, ranging from political and psychological nuances of the perception of world developments to systemic disagreements as regards the choice of means and tools that can and should be used to regulate international affairs and to successfully meet emerging challenges. Our achievements could have been more impressive had we learned to hear each other better and to be more appreciative of each other's logic.

It would be highly unfair, however, to talk about considerable deterioration or to describe our interaction with the United States in those years as purely negative. Our interaction never ceased, we maintained dialogue with regard to key international issues and managed to increase trade turnover and mutual investments, as well as to expand the general agenda of the relationship. We were indeed confronted with a number of outstanding issues. They need to be addressed, which we are trying to do with the new U.S. administration.

Journal: Has American foreign policy towards Russia changed direction under the Obama administration?

Ryabkov: Following the change of the U.S. administration, we got an opportunity to give new impetus to our relationship. Both sides felt the need to become more attentive to each other's concerns and priorities and to show greater willingness to find common ground. Presidents Medvedev and Obama have established good personal contacts. The tone of the dialogue at all levels has noticeably improved. The recently established Russia-U.S. Presidential Commission on Cooperation includes the heads of all principal government agencies of both countries who can now effectively work in direct contact with each other on defining and implementing the new bilateral agenda within their spheres of competence.

Of course, we realize that the issues on which we disagree will not magically disappear. We are convinced that there exist good prerequisites for forming common strategic views and tactical approaches in many areas, both bilaterally and globally; however, finding mutually acceptable solutions always requires hard and painstaking work, as well as strong joint commitment. It is only possible on the condition that we can trust each other and that each side fulfills its obligations.

As for concrete achievements in the past year, I believe that the first pages of the new chapter in our cooperation were rather successful. We have already done a lot in order to reinvigorate the dialogue, to change the political atmosphere and to make progress in various fields--from negotiations on a new START agreement and advanced interaction in Afghanistan, to expanding cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts. …