February 25, 2009
Verbatim, as delivered
Remarks by Chairman Berman at
hearing, “From Competition to Collaboration: Strengthening the US-Russia
We’re holding this hearing – our
first full-committee hearing in the 111th Congress -- to examine one
of America’s most important – yet often neglected – bilateral relationships:
with the Russian Federation. The Cold
War is long over, and yet in recent times this relationship, that is the
relationship between the United States
and the Russian Federation,
has been quite chilly. We don’t always agree.
But Washington and Moscow face a number of common challenges
that could form the basis for a more constructive partnership.
At the Munich Security Conference,
Vice President Biden lamented the “dangerous drift in relations” between Russia and the
NATO alliance, while at the same time calling for a reassessment of areas in
which we can work together. The positive
response his remarks generated among Russian officials indicates that Moscow may also be
willing to, in the Vice President’s words, “press the reset button.”
At the heart of our relationship
with Russia lie a number of
inter-related foreign policy issues and challenges: Iran’s
nuclear program, the war in Afghanistan,
the future of NATO, peace and security in the Caucasus
and the Balkans, missile defense, and arms control. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency in
recent years to stovepipe these issues – addressing them in isolation without
establishing a clear set of priorities or integrating them into – to use
Professor Legvold’s words – “a comprehensive and
coherent foreign policy.”
One important question concerns Russia’s
perception of its vital interests, particularly its engagement with its “near
abroad.” Some of Russia’s
recent behavior toward its neighbors has been deeply troubling. Its decision to
recognize South Ossetia
and Abkhazia as independent states was a mistake that undermines regional
stability. The recent dispute with Ukraine regarding the price and
transit of gas left many Eastern Europeans without heat in the dead of winter.
And Russia’s apparent role
in persuading Kyrgyzstan to
close a vital American air base on its territory – while allowing U.S. supplies to transit Russian territory –
will complicate U.S. efforts
to conduct essential military operations in Afghanistan.
How are we to understand these
actions? Are they part of a larger pattern of behavior through which Russia is seeking to reassert its power over
former Soviet states and define itself as America’s strategic competitor?
This was the troubling conclusion that some observers reached last August when
Russian President Medvedev spoke about regions where Russia has
“privileged interests.” Or does Russia, as some others have suggested, perceive
itself as acting in self-defense against an expansionist NATO and western
Second, questions have been raised
about the linkage between Russia’s
sense of financial wellbeing and its foreign policy assertiveness. Higher oil
prices, it has been argued, have increased Russia’s
political and economic leverage and emboldened Moscow to oppose US policies it finds
like the U.S.
and most of the world, has suffered from the global financial downturn. What
opportunities, if any, has the current crisis created in terms of encouraging
greater economic engagement with Russia? And would closer commercial
ties help create the conditions for greater political cooperation down the road?
A third set of issues concerns NATO.
While some members of the Alliance have
argued that eastward enlargement will promote democracy and stability among
aspiring members, Russia
has charged that NATO is seeking to assert regional dominance and threatens
Russian security. Is
pausing or slowing the pace of enlargement likely to encourage greater
cooperation from Russia in
addressing challenges in the Balkans, Caucasus, and Iran? Should the Alliance
make greater use of the NATO-Russia Council to engage Moscow as a partner?
It’s clear that improving our bilateral
relations will require good will and serious effort by both sides. In that context, the Obama Administration and
Congress should examine what steps we should take to shift the U.S.-Russia relationship
from confrontation to collaboration.
For example, should we consider
from the so-called Jackson Vanik trade
restrictions? Should the US assist
Russian efforts to progress more quickly toward membership in the World Trade
Clearly, part of the roadmap for WTO
accession is implementation of the IPR agreement which was signed over two
years ago in November 2006. While some
progress has been made, I’m troubled by reports, for example, that has failed
to take adequate enforcement actions against plants involved in producing
pirated CDs and DVDs.
There are also numerous arms
control, security and non-proliferation issues to be addressed by our countries
in the coming year. Should the U.S.
bring into force the U.S.-Russia Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation that the
Bush Administration withdrew from Congress after the Georgia conflict, and under what
circumstances? Should the new administration continue to pursue missile defense
in the Czech Republic
and Poland as it seeks to
engage Russia in efforts to
prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran?
And finally, what’s the appropriate
role for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in our
relationship with Russia? The trends in recent years have been
troubling. Journalists and opinion leaders who are critical of the government have
suffered physical attacks and have even been murdered. Political pressure on the judiciary,
corruption in law enforcement, and harassment of some non-governmental
organizations undermine the accountability of the Russian government. There are
also disturbing reports of vicious attacks motivated by xenophobia, neo-Nazism,
or anti-Semitic tendencies. To what
extent, and in what manner, should the U.S.
continue to press Moscow
on these issues?
The U.S.-Russia relationship is
exceptionally complex. We undoubtedly
will continue to agree on some issues, and disagree on others. But it clearly is in our national interest to
promote more positive ties with Moscow if doing
so will help us achieve some of our most urgent foreign policy goals, such as
from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
I believe that Iran
should be at the top of the agenda in our bilateral discussions.
The committee is fortunate to have
three witnesses with us today who are uniquely qualified to help us answer some
of these questions. Ideally, we’ll not
only talk about what pressing the “reset” button might mean, but we’ll also
fast-forward to consider the benefits to global security that improved
U.S.-Russian relations might yield in the future.
It’s now my pleasure to turn to the
distinguished ranking member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for any opening comments she
may wish to make.