Monday, March 16, 2009

Hart: Anti-American Attitude in Russia Higher Than During the Cold War

A press conference, which I attended, to introduce A Report from
The Commission on U.S. Policy toward Russia
, provided an opportunity to pick up a few small insights on a number of topics.

Those attending the conference included Commission members: former Senator Gary Hart, former Senator Chuck Hagel, former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, Bud McFarlane, and trade negotiator Sarah Carey.

A somewhat surprising remark came from Hart, who has been doing business in Russia since the 1990's, he said the anti-American feeling in Russia was higher now than during the Cold War. He said that it reflected the views of citizens and political leaders in the Duma. He said it wasn't aimed at individual Americans, but the U.S. government.

I asked what sense the commission members had as to Russia's willingness to attempt to influence Iran on the nuclear question, since many of the Commissioner members had just returned from Russia and had met with Russian leaders, including President Medvedev. Hagel gave the longest reply and said that at all meetings that was the first question that was discussed. He said the Russians were very concerned and that they pointed out that Russia would be an easier target for Iran than the U.S., because of Russia's proximity. According to Hagel the Russians seemed to be particularly concerned about a new satellite the Iranians have launched, which apparently somehow has tracking capabilities associated with a nuclear launch.

The Russians, however, said that sanctions alone were not the answer and that dialogue was necessary.

I read the Russians "concerns" as posturing to position themselves as in line with U.S. thinking in an attempt to deescalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and to get dialogue going.

No surprise to me, there were business interests overlapping members of the commission. Hart was completely open about the fact that he has been representing U.S. companies in Russia for years. In fact, he told a story that in the 1990's he had as a client, a Fortune 500 telcom company, that had won a contract to provide telephone service to St Petersburg. After the contract was awarded, Hart said that "men in long black coats" visited the St Petersburg offices of the Telecom company and told those at office that the city was very dangerous and that they could provide protection.

In order to resolve the matter, Hart tried to make an appointment with the mayor of St. Petersburg, whom he knew. The mayor was in Moscow, so he met with the deputy mayor. He told the deputy that if these shakedowns were to go on, the telecom company would pull out and word would get back to the U.S. that a Fortune 500 company had pulled out because of shakedowns. The deputy mayor said he would see what he could do. And from that day on there were no more visits from men in "long black coats." The name of the deputy mayor: Vladimir Putin.

Sarah Carey spoke on getting Russia "more involved with the international finance and business community" and said that the upcoming April G-20 meetings for heads of state, will provide an opportunity to advance this goal. (Clearly, the G-20 meeting is going to be a launching pad for major changes to the world financial structure. Hagel also brought up the importance of solidifying the world financial structure. No one can tell what they will cook up, but the insiders are abuzz about the April meeting in London.)

Hart, perhaps his business interests help, seemed to be the most reasonable in trying to make Russia a trade partner versus an enemy. He said that Americans have a tendency to look for reasons to see Russia as an enemy and that Americans shouldn't be so anti-Russian.

When a clearly "regime change" Russian reporter asked Hart about promoting human rights and "true" democracy in Russia, Hart gave the very reasonable answer that is shouldn't be the role of the U.S. to do so and that the U.S. should look to become trade partners with the world rather than promoters of regime change.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly last year Alexandr Nevsky won a widely endorsed popular poll as "the greatest Russian". Nevsky was a medieval Prince who resisted attempts by western powers to subordinate Russia to their geo-strategic agendas. Nevsky conciliated eastern powers at the same time. The Nevsky example is surely something in the minds of many Russians, and presumably one Western leaders should be cautious of.

    But what is the Obama administration doing? Writing letters to the Russians linking the withdrawl of US missiles in Eastern Europe to Russian support of the US jihad against Iran.

    'Commentary' columnist Abe Greenwald says "Barack Obama is turning into a bizarro Don Corleone".

    Whatever the policy changes may or may not be over Iraq, there has been no sign the Obama administration is changing America's play in "the Great Eurasian game", which is still the most dangerous game in the house.