US-Russia Relations

Article excerpt

The German Marshall Fund is an indispensable organization especially for our transatlantic alliance, but increasingly for our partnerships beyond Europe as well. So thank you for the great work that you do in fostering unity of thought, unity of purpose, and unity of action. These are the elements that the United States and Europe need more than ever today. You have made an immeasurable impact in helping us to reaffirm and strengthen our nation's ties with Europe these past few years.

I have come here today to speak with you about a subject that's been on everyone's mind recently: Russia and U.S.-Russian relations.

Russia's Pattern of Intimidation

Most of us are familiar with the events of the past month. The causes of the conflict particularly the dispute between Georgia and its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are complex. They go back to the fall of the Soviet Union. And the United States and our allies have tried many times to help the parties resolve the dispute diplomatically. Indeed, it was, in part, for just that reason that I traveled to Georgia just a month before the conflict, as did German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, among others.

The conflict in Georgia, thus, has deep roots. And clearly, all sides made mistakes and miscalculations. But several key facts are clear:

On August 7th, following repeated violations of the ceasefire in South Ossetia, including the shelling of Georgian villages, the Georgian government launched a major military operation into Tskhinvali and other areas of the separatist region. Regrettably, several Russian peacekeepers were killed in the fighting.

These events were troubling. But the situation deteriorated further when Russia's leaders violated Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and launched a full scale invasion across an internationally-recognized border. Thousands of innocent civilians were displaced from their homes. Russia's leaders established a military occupation that stretched deep into Georgian territory. And they violated the ceasefire agreement that had been negotiated by French and EU President Sarkozy.

Other actions of Russia during this crisis have also been deeply disconcerting: its alarmist allegations of "genocide" by Georgian forces, its baseless statements about U.S. actions during the conflict, its attempt to dismember a sovereign country by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, its talk of having "privileged interests" in how it treats its independent neighbors, and its refusal to allow international monitors and NGOs into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite ongoing militia violence and retribution against innocent Georgians.

What is more disturbing about Russia's actions is that they fit into a worsening pattern of behavior over several years now.

I'm referring, among other things, to Russia's intimidation of its sovereign neighbors, its use of oil and gas as a political weapon, its unilateral suspension of the CFE Treaty, its threat to target peaceful nations with nuclear weapons, its arms sales to states and groups that threaten international security, and its persecution and worse of Russian journalists, and dissidents, and others.

The picture emerging from this pattern of behavior is that of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad.

Now, this behavior did not go unnoticed or unchallenged over the last several years. We have tried to address it in the context of efforts to forge a constructive relationship with Russia. But the attack on Georgia has crystallized the course that Russia's leaders are now taking and it has brought us to a critical moment for Russia and the world. A critical moment but not a deterministic one.

Russia's leaders are making some unfortunate choices. But they can still make different ones. Russia's future is in Russia's hands. …