U.S.-Russian Relations

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Statement before the House Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
July 28, 2009

As prepared

Chairman Wexler, Congressman Gallegly, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the Administration's achievements in Moscow as a result of the summit meeting of President Obama and President Medvedev July 6-8. I would like to submit my full testimony for the record, and would like to take this opportunity to make a few brief remarks.

Let me begin by putting the results of the summit into a somewhat wider context. The Obama Administration entered office seeking to put an end to the dangerous drift in our bilateral relations with Russia. Last December, then President-elect Obama called for a “reset” in our relations with Russia. He argued that the United States and Russia have mutual interests in a number of areas– including nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, and Afghanistan for example –and argued that it should be possible to cooperate practically in these areas even as we disagreed on other issues. The results of the Moscow Summit demonstrate that the President’s instincts were correct.

In the six months since President Obama took office, the United States and Russia worked hard to achieve such a fresh start. Not only have our leaders made progress in improving the tone of our relations and helping to build goodwill between our two countries, but as the Moscow Summit demonstrates, we have succeeded in translating the rhetoric about potential collaboration into identifiable, concrete actions that are fundamental to the security and the prosperity of both our countries.

This significant progress in our relations with Russia, moreover, did not in any way come at the expense of our principles or partnerships with friends and allies. There are still many areas where the United States and Russia disagree and will continue to disagree. Nevertheless, in Moscow we demonstrated in real terms our shared desire to build a relationship based on respect, cooperation, and common interests.

First and foremost, the United States and Russia took important steps to increase nuclear security and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, beginning with the reduction of our own nuclear arsenals. The two Presidents signed a Joint Understanding for a follow-on agreement to START that commits both parties to a legally binding treaty that will reduce our nuclear warheads and delivery systems by at least one third of our current treaty limitations. They also agreed to participate in a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century, including those posed by Iran and North Korea. Wasting no time in launching this effort, an interagency team of experts is heading out to Moscow this week to begin discussions.

Second, we made concrete commitments to deepen security cooperation, including by working together to defeat violent extremists and to counter transnational threats, including those of piracy and narcotics trafficking. At the summit, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen and Russian Chief of the General Staff General Makarov agreed to work plan for resuming military-to-military cooperation in areas such as coutner-terrorism, search and rescue, and counterpiracy.

Another very tangible result of the summit was Russia’s agreement to allow the United States to transport its military personnel and equipment across Russia in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force as well as our Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. This agreement will add flexibility and further diversify our crucial supply routes, resulting in a potential savings of up to $133 million in fuel, maintenance, and other transportation costs. The significance of this contribution to our efforts to bring about peace and stability to Afghanistan, which is also of strategic benefit to Russia as well, should not be understated. It is an excellent example of how the two countries can cooperate in the pursuit of common interests, without any quid pro quos.

We also agreed to strengthen cooperation in non-strategic areas. For example, the United States and Russia took steps to build cooperation in public health, which could include strengthening work between U.S. and Russian scientific research institutions on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. And we agreed to restore the work of the Joint Commission on Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.

Finally, President Obama and President Medvedev recognized the need for a more structured foundation for advancing our cooperation in key areas across our respective inter-agencies. The Bilateral Presidential Commission – to be chaired by the two presidents and led by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov – will provide a mechanism for sustaining and expanding on the progress we achieved in Moscow, while also proving a for a in which we can work together effectively to narrow our differences.

Notwithstanding all of these positive developments, we have no illusions that our reset of relations will be easy, or that we will not continue to have differences with Russia. Nonetheless, we are confident that the United States and Russia can still work together where our interests coincide while at the same time seeking to narrow our differences in an open and mutually respectful way, be it on issues of human rights or Russia’s unlawful recognition of Georgia’s separatist regions. In this regard, the President was unequivocal in his message that the “reset” in our bilateral relationship will not come at the expense of our friends and allies. More than in words, but in actions, we have demonstrated our commitment to the territorial integrity and independence of Russia’s neighbors, including Ukraine and Georgia. President Obama made very clear in Moscow that we will continue to support their sovereignty and their right to choose their own security alliances, a message reinforced by the Vice President’s trip to those two countries just last week. The President also stressed, both privately and publicly, America’s enduring support for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

To conclude, at the Moscow Summit the United States and Russia took significant steps forward in translating the “reset” in relations into concrete achievements to benefit both our nations and our global partners. Without abandoning our principles or our friends and allies, we demonstrated that the United States and Russia can work effectively together on a broad range of issues where our interests coincide.

Mr. Chairman, Congressman Gallegly, members of the Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak before you today, and I welcome the opportunity to respond to your questions.