Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy. YES!

August 11th, 2020 - by The Center for Citizen Initiatives & Politico

America’s current mix of sanctions and diplomacy isn’t working. An open letter on how to reconsider our approach to Putin — and whoever comes next.

Sharon Tennison / Center for Citizen Initiatives

(August 10, 2020) — The article [below] supports the thinking of 103 American signatories, the top end of US Policy toward Russia over the past 30 years. I know of them and many of them know of our work. The signing of this many persons gives the document serious gravitas. Thus, we feel we must question some of the statements being asserted.

There is quite a bit in this document with which we totally agree, but there are other aspects which need to be questioned in light of today’s knowledge and facts.

Please scan the Politico article, CCI’s response, and finally the 103 signatories. A document with this many VIP signatories feels more like a Manifesto, which we believe must be addressed. . . . The CCI was co-written with Krishen Mehta (see his credentials below).

It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy

Rose Gottemoeller, Thomas Graham, Fiona Hill, Jon Huntsman Jr., Robert Legvold, and Thomas R. Pickering / Politico

The following open letter was signed by 103 foreign-policy experts, whose names and affiliations appear below.

(August 5, 2020) — US-Russia relations are at a dangerous dead end that threatens the US national interest. The risk of a military confrontation that could go nuclear is again real. We are drifting toward a fraught nuclear arms race, with our foreign-policy arsenal reduced mainly to reactions, sanctions, public shaming and congressional resolutions. The global Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting serious worldwide economic decline, rather than fostering cooperation, have only reinforced the current downward trajectory.

Meanwhile, the great challenges to peace and our well-being that demand US-Russia cooperation, including the existential threats of nuclear war and climate change, go unattended. Because the stakes are so high, both in the dangers they entail and the costs they contain, we believe that a careful, dispassionate analysis and change of our current course are imperative.

We go into this open-eyed. Russia complicates, even thwarts, our actions, especially along its extended periphery in Europe and Asia. It has seized territory in Ukraine and Georgia. It challenges our role as a global leader and the world order we helped build. It interferes in our domestic politics to exacerbate divisions and tarnish our democratic reputation. At best, our relations will remain a mix of competition and cooperation. The policy challenge will be to strike the most beneficial and safest balance between the two. To this end, we offer six broad prescriptions for US policy.

• We must first find a way to deal effectively with Russian interference in US elections and, most important, block any effort to corrupt the voting process. Hardening our electoral infrastructure, sanctioning Russians who weaponize stolen information and countering Russia’s capacity to hack our systems are all necessary measures. So is exposing Russian disinformation. We must, however, also engage Russia through negotiations out of the public glare, focused on each side’s capabilities to do great damage to the other side’s critical infrastructure.

• It makes no sense for two countries with the power to destroy each other and, in 30 minutes, to end civilization as we know it to lack fully functioning diplomatic relations. In the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, key governmental contacts were severed, consulates shuttered and embassy staff drastically reduced.

Too often, we wrongly consider diplomatic contacts as a reward for good behavior, but they are about promoting our interests and delivering tough messages. We need them as a matter of essential security to minimize the misperceptions and miscalculations that can lead to unwanted war. Restoring normal diplomatic contacts should be a top priority for the White House and supported by the Congress.

• Our strategic posture should be that which served us well during the Cold War: a balanced commitment to deterrence and détente. Thus, while maintaining our defense, we should also engage Russia in a serious and sustained strategic dialogue that addresses the deeper sources of mistrust and hostility and at the same time focuses on the large and urgent security challenges facing both countries:

◦ The imperative to restore US-Russian leadership in managing a nuclear world made more dangerous by destabilizing technologies, shifting attitudes toward the use of nuclear weapons, discarded nuclear agreements and new tension-filled nuclear relationships. That means extending the New START Treaty and swiftly moving to a next phase of arms control to strengthen nuclear stability, carefully adjusted to a world of multiple nuclear actors.

◦ The imperative to make safer and more stable the military standoff that cuts across Europe’s most unstable regions, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, working vigorously to preserve existing constraints, such as the Open Skies Treaty—now under challenge—and the Vienna Document 2011, and creating new confidence-building measures.

• The success of US-China policy will in no small measure depend on whether the state of US-Russia relations permits three-way cooperation on critical issues. Our current policies reinforce Russia’s readiness to align with the least constructive aspects of China’s US policy. Moving the needle in the opposite direction will not be easy, but should be our objective.

• On salient issues where US and Russian interests are in genuine conflict, such as Ukraine and Syria, the US should remain firm on principles shared with our allies and critical to a fair outcome. More attention, however, should be paid to the cumulative effect that measured and phased steps forward can have on the overall relationship, and in turn the opportunity an improving relationship creates for further steps forward.

• While sanctions should be a part of our Russia policy, they should be judiciously targeted and used in conjunction with other elements of national power, especially diplomacy. The steady accumulation of congressionally mandated sanctions as punishment for Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the poisoning in Salisbury, violations of the INF treaty and election meddling reduces any incentive Moscow might have to change course since it considers those sanctions permanent.

We need to restore flexibility to our sanctions regime, focusing on targeted sanctions that can be eased quickly in exchange for Russian steps that advance negotiations toward acceptable resolutions of outstanding conflicts, including a demonstrable Russian effort to cease interference in our electoral process. Doing so will require political will on the part of both the White House and the Congress.

Ultimately, the reality is that Russia, under Vladimir Putin, operates within a strategic framework deeply rooted in nationalist traditions that resonate with elites and the public alike. An eventual successor, even one more democratically inclined, will likely operate within this same framework. Premising US policy on the assumption that we can and must change that framework is misguided.

Likewise, we would be unwise to think that we have no choice but to stick with current policy. We must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be, fully utilizing our strengths but open to diplomacy. So focused, we can both cope with the challenge that Russia poses and strive to put the relationship on a more constructive path. Failure to do so carries too high a price.

A Response: CCI’s Points of View

While agreeing with some points above, there are other allegations with which we take issue, but we concentrate and comment on just a few of them.

Note that the 103 Signatories accuse Russia of “seizing territory in Ukraine and Georgia.” 

The distinguished authors of this letter know the history of Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia and know that region is much too complicated for this broad assertion of “seizing territory.”  As for Russia interfering in our 2016 US elections, NSA’s expert, William Binney, has repeatedly confirmed and explained in detail that the emails accused of changing the 2016 election came from a “leak” at the DNC Washington office, not a “hack” from Russia. There has been zero proof of Russia interfering in our 2016 elections as of yet, although most Americans still repeat these rumors as fact due to their repetition in our mainstream media.

What “stolen information and disinformation” is alluded to? We need more specificity. As for Russia and Crimea, we visited some 20 Russian cities just a year ago to investigate where Russia and Russia’s people are today. We met with numerous Crimean citizens at the time, including soldiers fighting in Eastern Ukraine. After in-depth meetings with at least a thousand (likely more) Russian citizens while in those cities, we came away with different conclusions than the signers of this statement. We wonder when they last visited Russia. 

Unfortunately, US hardline stances on many issues have been circulated worldwide, resulting in escalation of tensions not only with Russia’s top leadership, but also with Russian people across 11 time zones who have finally given up their former admiration for “all things American.”

The letter next speaks of  “Our role as a global leader and the world order we helped build.”  We question the following four points:

(a) Do we really function as a Global Leader when we continue to advance US militarism abroad, interfere with other countries that don’t agree with our ideology, and remain intent on regime change, be it Iran in 1953, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Libya, Bolivia, Venezuela, and now Iran again?

(b) We now look at our invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a “huge mistake.”  Do we have no consciousness or qualms about the havoc and destruction we caused to one of our world’s oldest civilizations and their treasured antiquities? We believe we Americans need a ‘Truth and Reconciliation” process with Iraq … one that would hopefully work against such unconscionable invasions in the future.

(c) We forget the “election interference” we conducted in Russia’s presidential elections of 1996. We played a critical role in Boris Yeltsin’s winning of that election, which was an unmitigated disaster for the new Russia and Russia’s ordinary people. Why is it so easy for us to forget our own interferences in other countries’ elections, while demanding different standards elsewhere? 

(d) Let us reflect on the sanctions we have imposed across the world. Currently we have some form of sanctions against 39 countries, thus affecting over one-third of the world’s population. Sadly, the hardest hit are always mothers, babies and small children. These sanctions are causing immense humanitarian suffering, are a violation of international law and are especially immoral at times like these when all countries face the global pandemic. How can we justify this?

While we criticize other nations such as Russia and hold them to the highest of standards in all aspects, let us also reflect on who and what we have become today in year 2020. Are we the global leader that we want others to respect?  

Thank you for considering our points of view,

Sharon Tennison, President, Center for Citizen Initiatives and Krishen Mehta.
Krishen Mehta, retired from PwC where he was a Partner, having served in the firm’s New York, London and Tokyo offices. He is currently a Senior Advisor to the Tax Justice Network and serves on the Asia Advisory Council of Human Rights Watch. Krishen has taught at a number of Universities and serves as a trustee of the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington, DC. He is one of the founding directors of Asia Initiatives. Krishen is deeply involved in activities related to reducing international tensions, diplomacy and global sustainability.

Rose Gottemoeller
Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, 2014-2016

Thomas Graham
Senior Director for Russia, National Security Council staff, 2004-07

Fiona Hill
Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, National Security Council staff, 2017-19

Jon Huntsman Jr.
Ambassador to Russia, 2017-19

Robert Legvold
Columbia University

Thomas R. Pickering
Ambassador to Russia, 1993-96


George P. Shultz
Secretary of State, 1982-89

William Perry
Secretary of Defense, 1994-97

Ernest J. Moniz
Secretary of Energy, 2013-17
Nuclear Threat Initiative

Sam Nunn
United States Senator, 1972-97
Nuclear Threat Initiative

Gary Hart
United States Senator, 1975-87

John Hamre
Deputy Secretary of Defense, 1997-2000

John McLaughlin
Deputy Director and Acting Director, CIA, 2000-04
The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
James F. Collins
Ambassador to Russia, 1998-2001
John Beyrle
Ambassador to Russia, 2008-12
Meghan O’Sullivan
Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, National Security Council staff, 2005-07
Harvard Kennedy School
Richard Burt
Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Canada, 1983-85
Global Zero
Thomas Countryman
Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, 2011-17
J. Stapleton Roy
Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, 1999-2000
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, Wilson Center
Joseph S. Nye
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, 1994-95
Harvard University
Graham Allison
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans, 1993-94
Harvard Kennedy School

Gen. (ret.) Charles Boyd
Deputy Commander-in-Chief, US European Command, 1992-95
Center for the National Interest
George Beebe
Former Director of Russia Analysis, CIA
Mark R. Beissinger
Princeton University
Richard K. Betts
Columbia University
Coit D. Blacker
Senior Director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs, National Security Council, 1995-96
Stanford University
Barry Blechman
Stimson Center
Ian Bremmer
Eurasia Group
George Breslauer
University of California at Berkeley
Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Governor of California, 1975-1983, 2011-2019
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
Larry Caldwell
Occidental College
Samuel Charap
Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, 2011-12
Peter Clement
Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs
Timothy Colton
Harvard University
Keith Darden
American University
Jill Dougherty
Georgetown University
Daniel Drezner
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Gloria Duffy
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, 1993-95
Susan Elliott
National Committee on American Foreign Policy
Robert David English
University of Southern California
Brian Finlay
Stimson Center
Rosemarie C. Forsythe
Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs, National Security Council staff, 1993-95
Nancy W. Gallagher
University of Maryland
James Goldgeier
American University
Thane Gustafson
Georgetown University
Sheila Gwaltney
US Ambassador (ret.)
Siegfried S. Hecker
Stanford University
Martin E. Hellman
Stanford University
Richard E. Hoagland
Caspian Policy Center
David J. Holloway
Stanford University
Arnold Horelick
The RAND Corporation
Edward Ifft
Deputy Director of the On-Site Inspection Agency, 1991-98
Stanford University
Robert Jervis
Columbia University
Jan H. Kalicki
Woodrow Wilson Center
Michael Kimmage
Catholic University of America
Michael Krepon
Stimson Center
George Krol
US Ambassador (ret.)
Charles Kupchan
Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, 2014-17
Georgetown University
Cliff Kupchan
Eurasia Group
Melvyn P. Leffler
University of Virginia
William Luers
US Ambassador (ret.)
Allen C. Lynch
University of Virginia
Eileen Malloy
US Ambassador (ret.)
Steven Mann
US Ambassador (ret.)
Jessica Mathews
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Richard H. Matzke
Former Board Member (Chevron, PetroChina, and Lukoil)
John J. Mearsheimer
University of Chicago
Mark Medish
Senior Director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs, National Security Council staff, 2000-01
Rajan Menon
City College of New York/City University of New York
Richard Miles
US Ambassador (ret.)
Chris Miller
The Fletcher School
Matthew H. Murray
Columbia University
Allan Mustard
US Ambassador (ret.)
Larry C. Napper
Texas A&M University
Michael Oppenheimer
New York University
Bruce Parrott
The John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Peter Pettibone
Pettibone International ADR LLC
Steven Pifer
Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, National Security Council staff, 1996-97
Stanford University
Paul R. Pillar
Georgetown University
Barry R. Posen
William Potter
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
Jon Purnell
US Ambassador (ret.)
Brad Roberts
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Defense Policy, 2009-13
Cynthia Roberts
Hunter College, City University of New York
Matthew Rojansky
The Kennan Institute
Joan Rohlfing
Nuclear Threat Initiative
Lynn Rusten
Senior Director for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, National Security Council staff, 2012-14
Nuclear Threat Initiative
Scott Sagan
Stanford University
Jeffrey Shafer
National Committee on American Foreign Policy
Dimitri Simes
Center for the National Interest
Christopher Smart
Senior Director for International Economics, Trade & Investment, National Security Council staff, 2013-15
Jack Snyder
Columbia University
J. Andrew Spindler
Financial Services Volunteer Corps
Adam N. Stulberg
Georgia Institute of Technology
Ronald Suny
University of Michigan
Daniel Treisman
Anna Vassilieva
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
Stephen M. Walt
Harvard University
Jon Wolfsthal
Senior Director for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, National Security Council staff, 2014-17
Global Zero
Kenneth Yalowitz
US Ambassador (ret.)
Stephen M. Young
US Ambassador (ret.)
Donald Zagoria
National Committee on American Foreign Policy
Peter B. Zwack
Brigadier General (ret.), The Kennan Institute
Note: All signers are acting in their personal capacity. Institutional affiliations are listed for purposes of identification only and do not imply institutional support for the content of the letter.

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