- Overall assessment
- Dialogue between Russia and the U.S. on missile defense
- Russia-US dialogue on economic issues
- Cooperation between Russia and the U.S. on Afghanistan
- Dialogue between Russia and the U.S. on Syria
- Dialogue between Russia and the U.S. on Iran
- Cooperation between Russia and the United States in the field of arms control
In April, Russia continued to argue that the politicization of Russian-American relations from its side, specifically from the beginning of this year, was in the past, and its policy towards the United States would be pragmatic, based on national interests. The main evidence of this was the speech of the elected President of Russia Vladimir Putin in the State Duma on the 11th of April, in which he described NATO as a “throwback to the Cold War”, but admitted that it sometimes played a stabilizing role in international affairs, especially in Afghanistan. “We have to be very pragmatic in defining what we benefit from, whether it is consistent with our national interests or not. Maintaining stability in Afghanistan corresponds to our national interest and we are openly talking about it: we will help you, so we will provide transit” said the Prime Minister. This was the philosophy of Russia’s policy towards the United States.
Also, the continuity of Russia’s approach toward the United States was mentioned by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 12th. According to him, in Moscow there is “a mood to ensure continuity in the relationship, the mood to continue to look for additional areas of shared interests as there are many and that where our interests coincide we should agree to move forward.” Earlier, the same thought was expressed by the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. He also outlined the agenda of Russian-US relations as “generally quite positive” and even said that this agenda should not obscure and overshadow differences between the parties, such as differences about missile defense.
The U.S. also made it clear in April that they wanted to maintain the continuity of the direction of positive relations with Russia after Putin’s return to the presidency in Russia. For example, the anti-Russian statements of the main Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who called the Russian Federation “the number one U.S. geopolitical enemy” in March) were sharply criticized by the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in late April. Speaking at the University of New York, the U.S. Vice President said that Romney demonstrated with his statement that he was “far from reality”, “looked at things through the prism of the Cold War” and “relied on the collective amnesia of Americans”.
In April most of the political and psychological pressure on the U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul ceased. In March this year he had been followed by NTV journalists and was subjected to constant criticism in the Russian media. In early April, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressed her concerns about such treatment, calling on Moscow to provide “unobstructed and complete assistance to enable his work without pressure and intimidation” both for the ambassador and other members of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia. According to the diplomat, Russia promised to investigate cases that were pointed out by McFaul at the end of March and in April his intimidation really stopped. For his part, in an interview at the beginning of April, McFaul said that he was “very sorry” and “had made a mistake” when in March he described Russia as “wild country” after NTV journalists unexpectedly appeared before his meeting with the leader of the “All-Russian Movement for Human Rights,” Lev Ponomaryov.
The visit of the Secretary of Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev to the U.S. in early April also speaks in favor of improving the political atmosphere of relations between the two countries. During his visit, Patrushev held talks with the U.S. Presidential National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, discussing such key issues of Russian-American agenda as defense, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. He also met the U.S. Minister of Internal Security, Janet Napolitano and they discussed the problem of information security and drug trafficking.
In April the United States renewed the debate about their priorities towards the Russian Federation for a new stage of relations, which will begin after Putin’s inauguration and more specifically after the U.S. presidential election in November. In an interview for “RIA Novosti” on the 3rd of April, McFaul mentioned the problem of defense and economic cooperation of the Russian Federation and the United States, including the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment. That is, the priority of both issues is largely artificial. In turn, speaking in Washington on the 24th of April at the event organized by “Eurasia” Foundation, the first U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called the problems of democracy, rule of law and human rights as a priority and the “unfinished business” of the U.S.. However, he gave an exceptionally positive assessment to the recent mass opposition protests in Russia, describing them as evidence of deep changes in Russian society from the inside and the requirements of the emerging middle class for the rule of law, government accountability to society, transparency and fighting corruption.
2. Dialogue between Russia and the U.S. on missile defense
In April, Russia’s dialogue with the U.S. on missile defense was at a standstill. The words of the Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on April 17th were evidence of a passive attitude of the parties to the lack of progress. He said that the missile defense and the Russian-American relations “are not the same thing” and that relations between the two countries “are much richer.” This significant change in the rhetoric of the Russian Federation, which had previously sought to put a missile defense as test and the cornerstone(foundation stone) of the US-Russian relations. Also, the fact that the current period is perceived in Moscow as a pause was mentioned in a statement by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made on the 19th of April. He stated that currently this issue should be discussed not so much at a political but at a military-technical level. According to him, this issue will be the topic of the conference on missile defense organized by the Defense Ministry on the 3rd – 4th of May.
However, the negotiations on missile defense in April continued. Its main elements were the meeting of Lavrov and the U.S. Secretary of State Clinton “on the grounds” of the meeting of foreign ministers of the “Big Eight” on the 12th of April in Washington, meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at the level of foreign ministers in Brussels on the 19th of April, in which a bilateral meeting between Lavrov and Clinton was also held, meeting of the NRC Chiefs of Staff on the 23rd of April, visit of Ryabkov to Washington on the 9-10th of April, and negotiations with the First Deputy Secretary of State Burns, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and U.S. Special Envoy on strategic stability and missile Ellen Tauscher, as well as a series of negotiations between Ryabkov with the U.S. ambassador in Moscow McFaul. After each of these meetings the parties were making the same type of statements: that there was no convergence in positions, but it was necessary to continue the dialogue.
Earlier this month, McFaul made a statement on missile defense which was very harsh but, apparently, necessary for the United States in view of the recent story about the promise of Barack Obama to be “more flexible” on the issue of missile defense after the elections, which caused an uproar from Republicans. Answering the question about what Obama meant by “flexibility”, he said that it meant the U.S. intention to build the system in Europe which they considered necessary “to protect their allies and ourselves from the real missile threats,” and that they “did not accept any restrictions in this area.” He also expressed the U.S. intention to implement the U.S. anti-missile system “to its full capacity” and recognized that to do this without creating a threat to strategic stability remained a “big problem,” the solution of which would take years. That statement drew criticism from Moscow. The next day Lavrov called it “arrogant” and called on McFaul to consider the interests of the host country.
One of the topics for discussion in April was again the nature and content of guarantees about not directing the planned U.S. missile defense against the Russian strategic nuclear forces. There were also no changes. In an interview to “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” on the 11th of April, Tauscher reiterated that the U.S. was prepared to provide appropriate written guarantees “in the political format” (i.e., in the form of a declaration) and would help to ensure that similar political guarantees granted by NATO. As Tauscher repeated, the U.S. would not agree to the restrictions. The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency General Patrick O’Reilly, speaking on the 17th of April in the Senate, mentioned rejection of any restrictions on the Washington policy in the sphere of defense and commitment to schedule the deployment of missile defenses in Poland and Romania. Moreover, he hinted that the U.S. has made some concessions in this area for Russia, giving up deployment a large number of missiles in Europe a few years ago.
The problem with such guarantees was discussed at the meeting of the NRC on the 19th of April, following which there was a debate on this issue between Lavrov and the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The latter repeated the position stated several months ago which is different to the U.S. position: the guarantees of non-directing were in fact give to Russia in the Founding Act of NATO-Russia from 1997, which stated that the parties did not consider each other enemies and would not use force against each other. However, he expressed the willingness to reaffirm these principles. In addition, the NATO Secretary-General again called on Moscow to establish an alliance with the two joint centers for missile defense (for information sharing and joint planning) and suggested that cooperation in these frameworks would make the Russian Federation sure that the missile defense systems were not directed against the Russian strategic nuclear forces. Lavrov called these measures “totally inadequate” and said that Russia was not so much interested in the intentions and promises of the U.S. and NATO on missile defense, but in potential. According to him, “the final stage” of the current implementation of the plans of the Obama administration would be to Russia’s detriment. ”The infrastructure and potential will be established which will create real risks to our nuclear deterrent force ” in connection with what Moscow calls for not only promises but guarantees, “together with the jointly agreed military and technical criteria, i.e. restrictions.
Also during this the NRC meeting there was the question of inviting Russia to test missile defense SM-3, scheduled for spring of this year, which Washington made in the autumn of 2011 and is considering it as a measure aimed at proving that it has no desire to undermine Russia’s potential of strategic deterrence. This invitation, as the NATO officials have indicated, is still in force. Moscow, however, still does not give a positive answer and talks about the meaninglessness of such participation in terms of getting truly valuable information about the interceptors (primarily telemetry), referring to the prohibition of the U.S. Congress to pass some secret information to Russia on missile defense. And Obama administration officials confirm that they don’t have to transmit any sensitive information to Moscow.
Finally, at the end of the meeting of the NRC Secretary General of NATO officially announced that the Russia-NATO summit in Chicago would not take place, pointing out that he didn’t see “anything dramatic.” For its part, the Russian minister expressed hope that the decisions of the NATO summit in Chicago “would not cross an opportunity” for further negotiations between Russia and the United States and NATO on missile defense.
The meeting on the NATO-Russia Council at the level of Chiefs of Staff on the 23rd of April ended similarly. As the result the head of the Russian Armed Forces, General Nikolai Makarov, said that the proposed U.S. missile defense system in Europe could “disrupt the stability and bring security threats to Russia from 2017-2018″ and that there were no compromises on this issue between Russia and the United States because “America had shunned many of the issues we tried to discuss with them.” In addition, he confirmed the intention to place the Russian missile systems “Iskander” in the Kaliningrad region “in the case of modernization” of the missile elements that the U.S. plan to deploy in Poland, to a level at which they would “to some extent, affect our nuclear potential.”
The only but important change in the position of the Russian Federation was Makarov’s recognition of the presence of a nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea. According to him, analysis held in cooperation with the U.S. proved the existence of this threat and the need for missile defense and Russia agreed with it. This was the first official recognition of necessity of deployment of missile defense in Europe as such – in the history of the Russian-US talks on this subject. Makarov continued that Russia insisted that the missile was aimed at addressing precisely these and not others threats, and that these threats were countered by Russia and the U.S. / NATO cooperation.
In the late April, Russia’s position on missile defense was once again expressed by the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. In an interview with five Russian television channels on the 26th of April, he reiterated that the parties had five to seven years to find a solution to this problem, “and that if during this time the compromise wasn’t found, then Moscow would make the” final decision “on the counter measures, including the placement of missiles. He singled out defense as the main stimulus of relations between the Russian Federation and the United States, which, according to him, in the last four years had been the best in their entire history.
In April, the issue of the hypothetical use of U.S. data from Russian radar for the creation of a missile defense system in Europe surfaced again. The presence of Washington’s interest in Russia’s “big radar” (especially in Gabala), was expressed at a hearing in the Senate by General Patrick O’Reilly. According to him, obtaining this information would increase the capacity and coverage of the U.S. missile defense system. Other reasons for U.S. interest in cooperation with Russia on missile defense are due to the geographical position of Russia and its ability to monitor missile tests in third countries. However, he made it clear that so far no agreement on this subject between Moscow and Washington had been achieved. Indeed, on the 17th of April the Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said that talking about the possible involvement of the Gabala radar station in hypothetical cooperation with the U.S. on missile defense was premature; it would only be possible to begin talks on the hypothetical cooperation with the U.S. on missile defense after receiving the guarantees of non-direction together with all the military-technical criteria. In addition, in early April this year in Baku, Lavrov held talks about the conditions of renewal of the lease of the Gabala radar station for Russia in 2025. He said that the question of unilateral use of U.S. data from this radar was out of question. According to the minister, the scheme, under which the data received at the Gabala radar station and at the new radar system in Russia would be available on “a reciprocal basis to jointly monitor the threat of missile defense” was suggested as one of the ways of cooperation between Russia and the United States on missile defense. This implies unimpeded access to the data from the American radar, and at least a joint planning of operations.
In April, the U.S. continued discussion about how the current concept of missile defense in general made sense in terms of the ability of the proposed system to effectively intercept missiles. On the 20th of April, the US Government Accountability Office submitted a report indicating serious technical gaps in the planned U.S. missile defense system, which, according to the authors, would lead to a breakdown of the current implementation schedule, “of the phase approach” and wouldn’t allow the created system to effectively cope with its problems. Technical shortcomings of both SM-3 missiles and “Aegis” radars in the system, include, according to the report, low-power and the inability to separate the missile from other objects, including parts of any knocked-down rocket. In addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report points to the intention of the Obama administration to use unreliable and untested technology properly.
3. Russia-US dialogue on economic issues
The main issue of the economic agenda of Russian-American relations in April remained the problem of the repeal of Jackson-Vanik amendment by the United States and related arguments between the Obama administration and Congress. As for the latter, a consensus had already started to take shape in March on the basis that its removal should be accompanied by the adoption of the law on “Magnitsky case”; this would involve the introduction of financial and visa sanctions from the United States against about 60 Russian officials and publication of the list. The White House denied this link, insisting that the Jackson-Vanik amendment should be repealed itself, and Washington’s concern about human rights issues in Russia is confirmed by other (already adopted) measures. Russia also opposes the replacement of the Jackson-Vanik amendment with a new anti-Russian law like the bill on the “Magnitsky case”. Following the meeting withSecretary of State Clinton on the 12th of April in Washington, Lavrov said that “the attempt to make anti-Russian Legislation out of an anti-Soviet Amendment does not suit us,” pointing out that Magnitsky case was an internal problem for Russia.
However, in April, the White House’s position on this issue changed dramatically. Convinced of the futility of trying to block the bill in Magnitsky case and at the same time to repeal Jackson-Vanik amendment, the Obama administration decided to support the bill in exchange for the fact that its formal consideration in Congress would begin only after the United States-Russia summit on the 18-19th of May in Camp David. The intention is not to mar the first meeting of the presidents V.V. Putin and Obama. Indeed, on the 24th of April the State Department spokesperson Nuland said that the Obama administration supports the bill on “Magnitsky case”. According to Nuland, although the State Department still has the opportunity to introduce sanctions against foreign officials involved in human rights abuses, the bill in Magnitsky case “gives us a lot of tools” and “makes it possible to give a clear answer to violations of human rights in Russia understood by the Russian authorities.” Simultaneously, in the office of the International Committee of the U.S. Senate it was confirmed that the considerations on the draft law in Magnitsky case, which was originally intended (with the filing by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations John Kerry) at the end of April, moved to an “indefinite period”. According to several American media sources, lobbying Congress to delay hearings on the bill was carried out personally by the senior U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and the U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough. Full consideration of the bill has remained on the agenda of the Congress. As stated at the end of April by John Kerry, he still supports the bill and will try to persuade other senators to accept it.
In late April, a number of substantive changes to the bill were announced. Firstly, the White House, which entered into active negotiations with the author of the bill, Senator Ben Cardin, has made the inclusion of provisions, complicating the procedure for including new names into the existing list. Initially it was assumed that the expansion of the list may be required by each member of Congress, but now this will be possible only with the approval of the head and deputy head of the relevant committee of the Senate and House of Representatives. Secondly, co-author of the bill from the House of Representatives Jim McGovern presented an updated version to Congress, which according to some media reports, in addition to participants in the case of Magnitsky, included other well-known figures associated with criminal proceedings in Russia.
The Russian reaction to these changes was predictably negative. As stated by the Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak on the 24th of April, the adoption of this bill would have a negative impact on Russian-American relations and “destroy our ability to work together on a number of issues”. The spokesman of Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukashevich said on the 26th of April that the U.S. attempts to link the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the adoption of the bill in Magnitsky case and, more generally, with human rights, would not go unanswered by the Russian Federation and would have the “negative impact on US-Russian relations.”
This April can be characterized by significant increase in commercial cooperation between Russia and the United States in the energy sector. On the 16th of April, the head of the Russian state company Rosneft and the American energy corporation ExxonMobil, in the presence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, signed an agreement about setting up two joint ventures, which will be engaged in work on the shelf of the Kara and Black Seas, and the purchase by Rosneft of shares in ExxonMobil’s three projects in North America. Other relevant stock and operating agreements have also been signed. This was part of the development of a strategic cooperation agreement between the two companies signed in the summer of 2011.
In accordance with the agreements, ExxonMobil’s shares in the joint venture for the development of the three sites in the Kara Sea and the Tuapse Trough in the Black Sea will be 33.3% (the proportion of Rosneft is 66.7%). In turn, Rosneft gets 30% in a number of exploration projects of ExxonMobil in the Gulf of Mexico and the fields with “hard-to-get” oil reserves in the U.S. and Canada. After the signing on the 16th of April the “curator” of this transaction, the Deputy-Prime Minister of Russia I. Sechin specified that a preliminary assessment of investment projects in the Kara Sea was 200-300 billion(dollars?) and in the Black Sea around 55 billion dollars. At the same time, the Deputy Prime Minister said “the resource base allows us to hope for a successful implementation of this project”. According to him, drilling the first exploratory wells on the Kara and Black Seas is scheduled for 2015, and production could begin in the 2018-2020 year. The total economic benefit from the cooperation of Rosneft and ExxonMobil on these projects, according to Igor Sechin, is estimated at 500 billion dollars. He also stated that the project in the Kara Sea would not be subject to export duties, property tax, and would receive a floating rate of the mineral extraction tax.
On the 18th of April the head of Rosneft Eduard Khudainatov, the head of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson, and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin held a presentation for international investors in New York. They outlined the prospects of the strategic alliance of the two companies and about the state of the Russian oil industry as a whole. It was also attended by the Deputy Minister of Energy Pavel Fedorov, Deputy Minister of Finance Sergei Shatalov and the head of United Shipbuilding Corporation Roman Trotsenko. In his speech, Igor Sechin metaphorically compared the alliance of Rosneft and ExxonMobil with a flight to the moon, and encouraged the reduction in the “excessive politicization” of the Russian-American relations. “We have been enemies for a long time, now the challenge is to become strategic partners”, – said the first Deputy Prime Minister. In general, Sechin’s speech was intended to show the great interest of the Russian leadership to attract American capital in the Russian energy sector and its intention to establish favorable economic conditions for investment and provide political impetus.
Another example of the increased cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector was the visit of the Energy Ministry delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary For Nuclear Energy Peter Lyons, to the Russian Federation which was held from the 9th to 20th of April. During their stay in Russia, the U.S. delegation visited a number of nuclear power plants and research centers of Rosatom, including Beloyarsk plant, JSC “NIIAR” Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Mining and Chemical Plant” and JSC “OKBM”. In addition, a meeting between Lyons and the Deputy General Director of Rosatom B. Pershukov took place on the 19th of April as well as a technical meeting of the Subgroup on Civil Nuclear Energy of the Energy Bilateral Presidential Commission of the Russian Federation and the United States.
However, in April, the U.S. once again made it clear that it was continuing geopolitical competition with Russia in Eurasia as a whole, and their policy was still aimed at limiting the “energy influence” of the Russian Federation to the countries of the former Soviet Union and Europe. Speaking on the 23rd of April at the University of Syracuse, the U.S. Secretary of State Clinton mentioned the need to strengthen energy diplomacy of the United States, giving the example of gas dependence on Russia in Europe, which according to her, limited the ability of Europe to cooperate with the United States in such areas. Another priority for the U.S. in the energy sphere is to reduce this dependence, according to the Secretary of State, by building a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan.
Another step that shows the emerging state of energy strategy in Eurasia, was a proposal made by Obama in late April of this year about the candidacy of the current U.S. Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar to the post of U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. Working in his current position since 2009, Ambassador Morningstar has earned a reputation as one of the principal “fighters” against the Russian energy influence in Europe and Eurasia, and was trying to torpedo the top priorities of Russia’s energy policy, lobbying instead for alternative projects like “Nabucco”. It is obvious that in this new position (if the Senate approves his nomination) Morningstar will continue this activity.
IV. Cooperation between Russia and the U.S. on Afghanistan
Afghanistan in April remained the main focus of positive cooperation between Russia and the United States, as well as demonstrating how often its apparent anti-Western rhetoric does not match with its very constructive affairs with the U.S. and West. So, speaking at the State Duma on the 11th of April, the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin noted the constructive and stabilizing role the U.S. and NATO played in Afghanistan, and reiterated Russia’s interest in ensuring that their mission in this country is successful. In general, during April the Russian government took great pains to justify its agreement with the United States and the alliance, to open the multimodal transit center for non-lethal cargo to Afghanistan in Ulyanovsk, as well as outlining a detailed explanation of what it would consist of.
In the same speech in the State Duma, Putin mentioned the issue of the feasibility of that center. According to him, no one speaks about creation of NATO bases in Ulyanovsk. Also, statements that the transit center in Ulyanovsk would not be a base of NATO were made in April by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, the Deputy Director of the Department of European Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yuri Gorlach, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin and the Head of the NATO Information Office in Moscow, Robert Pszczel. A separate message on this subject came from the Russian Foreign Ministry on the 10th of April. In addition, as it was stated by Lavrov in Bishkek on the 5th of April, in Ulyanovsk there would be no military or civilian personnel of NATO and the activities of the center would be provided by Russian customs officials and companies involved in transporting goods.
A detailed presentation on the “combined” (in the terminology of the Foreign Ministry) center in Ulyanovsk was made on the 11th of April by Gorlach. He stated there will be no separate agreement with NATO on the activities of this center, and the only condition required for this, is that it provides a political solution for the Russian leadership. The diplomat explained this by the fact that in practice all operations involving the receiving, handling and transportation of goods and further guarantees of their safety would be performed by commercial companies. Moscow, as Gorlach said, specifically insisted on the activities of the center to be of a purely private and commercial nature (perhaps to ease the talk of the “NATO base” on the Russian territory). Accordingly, he said that the revenue from the activities of the center would come into the state budget only in the form of taxes from the companies; therefore there is no need in creation of foreign infrastructure and the presence of foreign personnel in Ulyanovsk.
However, there is some confusion with the political and legal registration of the return transit from Afghanistan through the territory of the Russian Federation, the relevance of which will only increase in the next two years. Previously it was assumed that in the near future, Russia would sign an agreement with NATO on the contrary multimodal transit passing through the territory of the Russian Federation and Central Asian countries. At the same time there was an impression that the center in Ulyanovsk would play a key role in this. Now, it is claimed that the non-military part of the return transit could be run without a separate agreement. The latter, is apparently required for registration of the military component of the return transit. According to General Makarov, this issue was discussed during the meeting held of the Chiefs of General Staffs at the NATO-Russia Council on the 23rd of April. According to him, the issue of return transit of machines and NATO troops from Afghanistan through the Russian territory should be resolved in the current year “at the political level.” The role of Ulyanovsk is therefore still unclear.
In April active cooperation of Russia and the U.S. against the Afghan drugs industry continued. The head of the Federal Drug Control Service Victor Ivanov made a statement on the 19th of April that in Afghanistan at that time a large-scale Russian-American special operation to destroy several drug laboratories was held. The first operation of this kind took place in October 2010, resulting in the destruction of nearly a ton of heroin. Details of the second operation, as Ivanov said, would be made available in May of this year. In addition, during April in the United States, the national anti-drug strategy was represented. It declared a priority to strengthen cooperation with Russia to combat drug trafficking, including within the framework of the relevant bilateral working group of the Presidential Commission of the Russian Federation and the United States. The joint anti-drug raid in Afghanistan is one of the activities of the Working Group.
However, in April, there remained a problem with a certain intention of the U.S. to prolong its military presence in Afghanistan, and possibly in Central Asia, after 2014 for an indefinite term. The Deputy Secretary General of NATO Alexander Vershbow and the Director of the NATO Information Office in Moscow Pszczel said in April that some military forces of NATO could remain in Afghanistan after 2014. In turn, S. Lavrov said after a meeting of the NRC on the 19th of April, that the Russian federation had questions about these plans and “that a strange plan to continue its presence after the troops should be withdrawn”.
At the same time, the Russian minister criticized the current results of operations in Afghanistan (stating that the issue of terrorism and drug trafficking from its territory is not reduced) and U.S. and NATO policy to set the time of withdrawal from that country, which, according to Lavrov, was “artificial and not entirely correct.” He made it clear that Moscow considered that Afghanistan was not ready to provide its own security and was in favor of maintaining a military presence of the United States and NATO after 2014 in this country in full and in accordance with the mandate of the UN Security Council. Then, when the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes, these troops must be withdrawn – again, completely, without saving some bases for some uncertain prospect in the future. For its part, the NATO Secretary-General, Rasmussen said that the current timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan “was absolutely artificial” and that the schedule had been approved by the government of Afghanistan.
Certain tensions may also arise around the issue of Russia’s participation in the expanded meeting on Afghanistan, which will be held “on the grounds” of the NATO summit in Chicago on the 20-21st of May. Moscow was invited to this summit by NATO Secretary General after a meeting of the NRC on the 19th of April. As Lavrov said, the Russian Federation had doubts about the level of participation at this meeting and whether it should participate in it at all, because of ambiguity in the question of how regular Moscow’s participation in such meetings may be. According to him, Russia has been asking NATO for five or six years to invite it to the regular meetings of the participating countries and the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), but each time NATO refused. Lavrov said that Russia’s sole invitation for this meeting in Chicago meant simply the desire of the United States and NATO to “attract” the Russian Federation in Chicago under one pretext or another.
V. Dialogue between Russia and the U.S. on Syria
During this period Russia and the United States continued to strengthen real co-operation on Syria, despite the fact that the overall assessment of the situation in this country, in particular the prospects of B. Assad’s presidency, continued to vary considerably. On the eve of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Washington on the 12th of April, the U.S. Secretary of State Clinton criticized Russia for the fact that Bashar al-Assad remained in power. Speaking on the 10th of April at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, the Secretary of State said that it was the refusal of the Russian Federation “to join the U.S. in taking some positive action that allows Assad to stay in power”. She meant the use of the veto by the Russian Federation and China in the UN Security Council on the 4th of February this year. For his part, before the meeting with Hillary Clinton, Lavrov called on the United States “not to constantly impugn Russia and China” and to put more pressure on the Syrian opposition in order to get it to renounce violence.
Since the early-middle of April, Russia and the U.S. have strengthened cooperation on Syria based on the plan of the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan. It was supported by Moscow and Washington in March and confirmed in a statement of the UN Security Council on the 21st of March. Thus, from the 12th of April the ceasefire agreement between the armed wings of the opposition, called “the Free Syrian Army,” and the government troops came into force. The discussion of this and the development of further measures became the basis of the agenda of the meeting of “the Big Eight” foreign ministers on the 12th of April in Washington and the bilateral meeting between Lavrov and Clinton. At the same time, Clinton said that the ceasefire was only the first step towards resolving the conflict in Syria, and that Washington would continue insisting on the rejection of the Assad regime. She also pointed out that the U.S. would continue to communicate with the Syrian opposition and support them. Russia opposes this policy.
However, this difference did not become an obstacle to the adoption of the fully-fledged UN Security Council resolution on Syria on the 14th of April, which called on the government and the opposition to fully implement the Annan Plan and gave authorization to send a mission of UN civilian observers to the country of up to 30 people. According to the ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin, it includes a Russian representative. The document also called on the Syrian government to ensure the safety of the UN mission in the country and provide it with unimpeded freedom of movement throughout the country and access to any locations or people.
This decision was again accompanied by statements from Washington that it did not mean a waiver of the U.S. requirement for Assad to resign. Following the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on the 18th of April, Clinton once again said that Assad had to resign, and that Washington would continue to tighten unilateral sanctions against Damascus and maintain support for the opposition. The latter, according to her was intended not to supply it with “weapons, but means of communication”, thus increasing the ability of the opposition to fight government forces and also minimize its commitment to seek a compromise.
In spite of this, on the 21st of April the UN Security Council adopted a second resolution on Syria, which declared the creation of the UN Monitoring Mission in Syria (UNMMS) for an initial period of 90 days and increased the number of “the first deployed unarmed military observers” from 30 to 300 people. The adoption of this resolution was preceded by difficult diplomatic work for the reconciliation of the Russian and European draft documents. The latter, supported by the United States, originally supposed the possibility of introducing UN non-military sanctions against Syria, in the event of failure of Damascus to withdraw its troops from Syrian cities. However, Moscow opposed, and this condition was removed.
As in the previous case, after the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution the U.S. made new claims about the possibility of taking more stringent measures against official Damascus. According to the speech of the State Department spokesperson Nuland made on the 27th of April, if the current efforts of the UN didn’t lead to anything, the U.S. would urge the UN Security Council to adopt a new resolution on Syria, “according to the seventh chapter of the UN Charter.” It is noteworthy that an appeal to apply the seventh article of the Charter of the United Nations against Damascus was made by the Syrian National Council and it immediately became part of the official U.S. position. However, as stated on the 26th of April by the Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Moscow considered the possible application of the 7th Chapter of the UN Charter against Syria “counter-productive.”
Meanwhile, by the end of the period the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey had spoken in support of the Russian position on Syria at the House of Representatives of Congress. The Pentagon chief said that to accuse Russia of supporting the Assad regime against the opposition was incorrect and that Russia “supported the Annan Plan and collaborated in its implementation”. In addition, he disagreed with a number of calls from Congressmen to “punish” Moscow for arms supplies to Syria, pointing out that the contracts between it and Damascus had been signed some time ago, and therefore it was incorrect to say that Russia had made these contracts in a desire to support Assad’s fight with the opposition. This fully corresponds to the official position of Russia itself. Finally, Panetta said that Russia “could have a significant impact on Syria and Assad,” that it no longer blocked the UN Security Council resolutions against the country and was actively cooperating with the United States and other countries for their adoption; Russia thereby helped to achieve the Kofi Annan plan. Similar statements were made then by Dempsey, who called the Russian-American cooperation on Syria “a very good way to achieve a settlement of the situation.”
VI. Dialogue between Russia and the U.S. on Iran
In April, the cooperation between Russia and the U.S. on Iran intensified, especially within the framework of the renewed talks between Tehran and “six” mediators on the Iranian nuclear issue. Both sides view negotiations as an opportunity to postpone the prospect of a military strike by Israel (with the possible involvement of the United States) on Iran’s nuclear facilities to a later time or eliminate this altogether. This understanding was clearly marked by Lavrov after a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton in Washington on the 12th of April , saying that Russia and the United States placed high expectations on the negotiations of the “six” with Iran (which took place in Istanbul on the 14th of April).
However, there were noticeable differences in the approaches of Russia and the United States. It was mentioned by Clinton in her speech on the 3rd of April at the Virginia Military Institute, said that Washington didn’t require “negotiations for the sake of negotiations”, but they were interested in accelerating and achieving a certain breakthrough in the shortest possible time. It is understandable given the pressure exerted on the U.S. by Israel. Russia, as announced earlier this month by the Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, requested they should “not to rush into a discussion about the most difficult issues”. According to him, “they should start with something easier” and the problem of the future of Iran’s nuclear program is even “not a topic for the first round”. This is further evidence of Moscow’s lack of interest in the rapid resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue and the fact that it cannot be against the military scenario.
The results of the first round of negotiations between Russia and the United States held on the 14th of April were assessed positively by all participants, including Iran. According to some media reports, at this meeting Washington offered Tehran a compromise, whereby the latter receives the right to enrich uranium to a level of 5%, but it would be required to allow the IAEA to carry out constant monitoring of their operation. Tehran itself now says that it had begun enriching uranium to 20%. Although there were no official confirmations of this, both S.V. Lavrov and the Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department Mark Toner said that they had made specific proposals, which, according to the Russian minister, “were based on the principle of action for action”, and that they were waiting for a response from Tehran. Lavrov also pointed out that Iran had not rejected their offer. The two sides also agreed to hold another round of negotiations which are scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad.
Since mid-April U.S. rhetoric on the timing of resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue has become closer to Russian rhetoric – apparently in order postpone the prospects of a military strike. On the 16th of April, Toner said the U.S. didn’t expect quick success, and that he “did not think that someone would try to describe the meeting as something more than just the beginning, the first step”. In addition on the 25th of April, both Toner, and then White House spokesman Jay Carney again stressed Washington’s desire to resolve this diplomatically rather than militarily; they urged Iran to demonstrate the seriousness of its intentions to return to negotiations and to prove its renunciation of its “nuclear ambitions”. The same point of view was expressed by Ryabkov on the 17th of April when he indicated that the pause between meetings of the “six” with the IRI in Istanbul and Baghdad was “quite acceptable” and that Russia expected to perform its obligations under the IRI’s nuclear program.
However, between Russia and the U.S. there is controversy regarding the extent of possible and appropriate adoption of new sanctions against Iran, both from the UN and unilateral sanctions, either in parallel with the negotiation process or in the event of its failure. As it was mentioned by Lavrov on the 27th of April the level of sanctions against Iran in the existing UN Security Council resolutions (the last one was adopted in 2010) was “marginal”, and all the other measures only served to stifle the economic situation in the country and didn’t contribute to solving the nuclear issue.
However, simultaneously with the negotiations in April, the U.S. continued military training for a possible military strike on the IRI. At the end of the month the information about sending modern fighter-bombers of the U.S. Armed Forces F-22 “Raptor” to the region became available.
VII. Cooperation between Russia and the United States in the field of arms control
On the 5th of April, Russia and the U.S. held the first exchange of telemetric information relating to launches of ballistic missiles. It took place in Geneva during the third session of the bilateral Consultative Committee on the New START and occurred within the framework of the signed agreement on the exchange of telemetric information on launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missiles of submarines. This agreement is part of the development of the START-3. According to the Assistant of the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security J. Mannino,the State Department sent Moscow a recording of telemetric information of the test of ballistic missile Trident-II, and on the same day the U.S. embassy in Moscow received telemetry data from tests of the Russian missile.
However, in April, differences between Russia and the United States on further reductions of nuclear weapons after the START-3 emerged again. Speaking on the 18th of April in the House of Representatives, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn R. Creedon explained that there were no changes in Washington’s position and that the next round of nuclear arms reductions should include both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. In this case, however, she indicated that “the program and timing of further rounds of negotiations on arms control has not been established”. She also made it clear that the United States did not want the next round of the negotiations on nuclear arms reduction to be multilateral (as Moscow and Washington discussed several times in 2010 and 2011) but bilateral so that “even after the full implementation of the START 3 agreement, Russia and the United States would have more than 90% of the world’s nuclear power”. Apparently the problem of reduction of tactical nuclear weapons was also touched upon during the meeting of NATO-Russia Council at the foreign minister level in Brussels on the 19th of April.
However, Moscow’s position remains unchanged. As a result of this meeting, Lavrov said that it would be possible to talk about reducing U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons only after the withdrawal of the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons arsenal from Europe and the dismantling of its infrastructure. Moreover, the Russian Foreign Minister pointed out that even after the U.S. met these requirements (which is extremely unlikely), it would be possible to return to the topic of reducing tactical nuclear weapons “in the context of common strategic stability”. This means in conjunction with the direction of the U.S. defense policy, such as the deployment of weapons in space, high-precision conventional weapons, a program of “global lightning strike”, the problem of missile defense, and so on.