Press Call: Relations with Russia
Relations with Russia: What Next?
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
3:00 PM Eastern
Relations with Russia remain tense after Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergay Lavrov met on Sunday in an attempt to make diplomatic progress on the situation in Ukraine. Russian troops have amassed along Ukraine’s eastern border as the Obama administration and officials in Kiev raise alarm and warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that further incursion into the country will have consequences.
Join the National Security Network for a press call on Wednesday, April 2, as we explore the future of U.S.-Russia relations, the Crimea crisis and what it means for Russian expansion, how the ongoing conflict will affect current negotiations with Iran and the P5+1 countries and further attempts to curtail violence in war-torn Syria, and how changing political dynamics will affect global energy flows.
Dr. Kupchan is Whitney Shepardson senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is also professor of international affairs in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and Government Department at Georgetown University. Dr. Kupchan was director for European affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) during the first Clinton administration. Before joining the NSC, he worked in the U.S. Department of State on the policy planning staff. Prior to government service, he was an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including, No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012).
Jeremy Shapiro is a visiting fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. Prior to re-joining Brookings, he was a member of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff, where he advised the secretary of state on U.S. policy in North Africa and the Levant. He was also the senior advisor to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, providing strategic guidance on a wide variety of U.S.-European foreign policy issues. Prior to joining the State Department, Shapiro was the research director of the Center of the United States and Europe (CUSE) at the Brookings Institution and a fellow in foreign policy studies. He was also a non-resident senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and an adjunct professor in the security studies program at Georgetown University. Shapiro has also worked as a policy analyst at RAND in Washington, D.C. He served from June to July 2009, on General Stanley McChrystal’s initial assessment team that recommended a new strategy for the NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
Julie Smith is Senior Fellow and Director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security. Ms. Smith comes to CNAS while serving as a Senior Vice President at Beacon Global Strategies LLC. Prior to joining Beacon, she served as the Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States from April 2012 to June 2013. In addition to advising the Vice President on a wide range of foreign and defense policy issues, she represented him in Cabinet and Deputies level interagency meetings. During March and April of 2013, she served as the Acting National Security Advisor to the Vice President. Prior to her posting at the White House, she served as the Principal Director for European and NATO Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon. In that capacity, Ms. Smith acted as the principal staff assistant and advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs for all matters falling within the broad spectrum of NATO and European policy. Her office also managed the Department’s bilateral relationships with 31 European countries. In January 2012, she was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.
John Bradshaw, Executive Director, National Security Network
Bradshaw previously served as the Executive Director of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, the Washington Director of Physicians for Human Rights, and the coordinator of the Human Rights Leadership Coalition. He is a former Foreign Service Officer and served in Venezuela, Brazil, and Burma, as well as in the State Department’s East Asia and Human Rights bureaus.
To listen to the press call, click here.
Please note that the call starts at 00:15:23 on the audio.
JOHN BRADSHAW: Good afternoon. This is John Bradshaw, I’m the executive director of the National Security Network. We are hosting this call this afternoon. We have a very good panel for you, let me go through and describe who we have on the panel. You have their bios in front of you so I won’t go into too much detail on that. We will obviously be talking about Russia and Ukraine. First, we will have Julie Smith, who is a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and Senior Vice President at Beacon Global Strategies. She, until recently, was the Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden. Julie will talk about the transatlantic aspects of the current crisis, what needs to be done to push Russia by the EU, what we need to do to help Ukraine at this time, and what needs to be done to assure the EU and our NATO allies.
Second, we will have Jeremy Shapiro, who is a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution. Prior to that he was a member of the State Department’s planning staff. Jeremy about some of the global (inaudible) to Syria/Iran talks.
Third, we’ll have Dr. Charles Kupchan, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, also a Professor of International Affairs at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.
We will have each of those panelists talk for 5-7 minutes. We will then turn it over to the reporters on the call for questions. We plan to go until about 3:45pm, maybe a little longer if there are still questions. So if everyone can please mute their lines when they are not speaking, and when we get to the questions please give your name and the name of your outlet before you ask your questions. So with that, we will start with Julie Smith. Go ahead, Julie.
JULIE SMITH: Thanks, John. I thought I would just say a few words about the level of transatlantic cooperation in the three baskets of effort that the administration likes to talk about. They generally divide their approach to Ukraine into three baskets. One would be pushing back on Russian aggression or preventing further aggression, particularly in eastern Ukraine. The second one is supporting the new team in Kiev, the new Ukrainian interim government until elections in late May. The last one is their efforts to try and reassure skittish allies in Central and Eastern Europe. So the transatlantic partners have been working pretty closely in recent weeks, and in all three of these categories. I would give them different marks for their efforts in these three baskets.
In the first category of pushing back on the annexation of Crimea and halting further aggression into Eastern Ukraine, I mean, both sides of the Atlantic have taken off the military instrument and have focused exclusively on, I guess, what could be referred to as economic statecraft. As you know, they sanctioned various individuals in Russia. They both have separate lists and that has been their primary tool in addition to freezing assets and visa bans. In addition they’ve both agreed to not participate in the upcoming G8 meeting in Sochi, and each side has kind of added their own flavor to additional measures. For example the United States has also halted all mil-to-mil engagements with the Russians as a punitive measure. Generally we can argue about the effectiveness of this. I don’t think it’s done anything to make Putin think twice about the annexation of Crimea. I’m not entirely sure it would halt further aggression into eastern Ukraine. The administration would argue that this is in fact this their opening act; that measures are being considered and they’re looking at an array of things. I think the question for the transatlantic relationship is whether or not they are going to be able to agree on additional rounds of sanctions, and whether or not they’re going to be able to look at things like an arms embargo to Russia, or looking at the energy piece, particularly the energy relationship between Europe and Russia. So all of that remains to be decided.
In the second category of supporting the Ukrainian government I think Europe and the United States deserve higher marks. They’ve both put forward loan packages totaling about $16 billion. Estimates are that the new Ukrainian government or the interim team is going to need about $35 billion to weather the storm. The Ukrainian economy right now is kind of in a pre-default status and so there questions about whether or not they can deal with the crisis on their border with the Russian build-up of troops and simultaneously prevent the economy from collapsing and prepare for the May 25th elections, and I think it’s a pretty tall order. But I think through various high level visits promises of technical assistance, various U.S.-Ukrainian business dialogues that are planned. Europe and the United States are trying to do what they can to support this new team both financially and more symbolically as well.
The last category of reassuring our friends in Central and Eastern Europe, I think again the transatlantic partners have done a fair job. The United States was first out of the gates in supporting our friends in the Baltics. The U.S. sent six additional F-15s, the U.S. happened to be in the queue for the rotation of the Baltic air policing mission and so it was able to augment its forces and assets for that mission immediately and quite easily. On top of it the U.S. was able to send additional F-16s and 300 additional military personnel to Poland, which of course as another reassurance measure that I think was greatly appreciated. Vice President Biden was shipped off to the region fairly early in the crisis and I think that was an important symbolic visit as well. Since then, NATO met yesterday, they had a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels and SACEUR was tasked to look at a whole range of additional reassurance measures that could be undertaken by the alliance. Europe’s been a little slower to reassure its allies in Europe. We’ve had some offers come in and in recent days and it looks like the Brits will be sending some additional supports, we’ve got NATO AWACs patrolling the skies over Poland and Romania. But I think this piece is coming together fairly nicely and I think there are signs that the U.S. and Europe are considering a whole host of important measures that will reassure not just NATO members, but some of the other countries that are in the region. So that’s a very quick overview, I think, of the three categories I have mentioned. Europe and the United States have struggled the most, obviously, in that first category to come up with a list of joint punitive measures, but I think in the other two they’ve done a very good job and we’ll continue to see progress. I’ll turn it over now to Jeremy.
JEREMY SHAPIRO: Thanks Julie, I’m going to talk a little bit about the global implications of the crisis, particularly in terms of U.S.-Russian cooperation. I think the three issues that get raised the most in this context which is Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. I think to start off we should note that the U.S.-Russian relationship even since the reset has really been based on compartmentalization, which means separating out issues. The Russians in particular are extraordinarily good at compartmentalization. If you look back to the time when the U.S. put sanctions on Russia officials because of the reaction to the Sergei Magnitsky case, the so-called Magnitsky list, there was a great deal of worry within the U.S. government at the time that the Russians would respond according to the term of [inaudible] asymmetrically, which means they would respond on other issues. They didn’t; in fact, they responded by putting parallel sanctions on U.S. officials which had absolutely no impact, and I think we saw a similar thing recently when the Russians responded to U.S. sanctions on Russian officials again by sanctioning people like John Boehner and John McCain. The other point is that Russians cooperate on these issues for their own reasons. There aren’t, outside of the former Soviet Union, really divergent interests. Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, did comment the other day that the Russians might retaliate for their actions in Ukraine by putting into question the Iranian negotiations, but I don’t really think that is a credible threat. Of course he had just come out of a meeting where he had cooperated very effectively with his U.S. and European counterparts on Iran when he said that. Interestingly, it’s not the way it’s usually framed, but the U.S. is less good at compartmentalization, in part because they are so many more domestic political pressures here to respond across the range of issues. Also I think that this might be a, it might not be something the United States wants to do, because there might be some opportunities to punish Russia and to isolate Russia through these issues which we haven’t really explored. In fact I think some of these issues can be leveraged into further pressure and isolation on Russia. This comes from the idea that overall Russia very much values sitting at the big-boy table of international relations. They enjoy, and it’s part of Putin’s domestic mystique to be part of the committee that rules the world, particularly to do so in a bilateral context with the U.S. in a sort of Cold War mode, where U.S. and Russia diplomats sit together at a table in Geneva or something and determine the fate of the world. This is the sort of visual that they really enjoyed from the Syrian negotiations and it’s an important aspect of Russian efforts to convince their public, and I guess themselves, that they are still a global power. In fact when you look at it the Russians have a United Nations Security council seat which is an asset in these global issues but not much really else going for them. In fact they’re quite global in these issues.
Let me make that point individually. It is the U.S. and Europe that has what the Iranians want in the negotiations, which is the relief of sanctions. Russia, in fact, has little to offer Iran and little ability to punish them. It’s very important for the Russians to be in that negotiation in Iran. Both because it’s strongly in their interest to avoid a war, so they want to make sure the negotiations keep going and, also a little less well understood it’s very much in Russian interests to avoid a serious comprehensive deal that would set the table for a rapprochement between Iran and the West which would greatly undermine their energy interests. Were Russia to be cut out of that negotiations then they would have much less leverage to be able to control the direction of that negotiation and ensure their major interest in it, which is to make sure that it continues and doesn’t end up succeeding or failing.
On Syria, I think the U.S. was really already at the point of giving up on Russia in Syria. The Russians had shown themselves either incapable or unwilling—I think it was actually incapable but I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter—of influencing Assad through the Geneva negotiations. So in that sense there is a low cost to excluding them and it does hurt the Russians because, as I said, they very much value being seen to be at the table and having influence on U.S. policy in Syria, and they would lose that if they were excluded from those negotiations.
I think the most difficult issue for the U.S. in this context is Afghanistan. The so-called Northern Distribution Network, which is the supply route that runs through Russia to Afghanistan and still provides about 40% of the nonlethal supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is a critical supply route and especially a critical backup to the southern routes, which go through Pakistan and which have intermittent political disruption. It is very much a fear for the United States that that Northern Distribution Network could be put into play because of some of these US-Russian tensions. But we should note that this is $1 billion a year for Russia, which they very much value because it goes to very politically connected people, and it is a wasting asset as U.S. troops are removed from Afghanistan. The withdrawal mostly goes through the southern routes, only 5% of the withdrawal materiel goes through the Northern Distribution Network, and so this is a wasting asset for the Russians in terms of diplomatic leverage and will largely be gone by the end of this calendar year.
BRADSHAW: Thanks a lot, Jeremy. We’ll turn it over now to Charles Kupchan. Go ahead.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I’m going to focus on the Russia piece of this and try to shed a little light on three issues. One, offer an interpretation of how and why this crisis happened, a quick assessment of where we are now from the perspective of Moscow and its likely intentions and actions moving forward. Then I want to say a little bit about how this issue of Russian action in Crimea has played globally, not so much in the way Jeremy talked about on Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, but more in terms of the rules-based international system and how it seems to be affecting Russia’s relations with others.
As far as how this happened, my own interpretation of Putin’s decision to grab and annex Crimea is that it was a product primarily of the profound strategic blow that was dealt to him by Yanukovich’s fall and the degree to which that event was in some ways a very powerful rejection of Putin’s political program. What I mean by that is that when Yanukovich was chased out of the country as a criminal, and when you had tens of thousands of Ukrainians in the streets, they were basically saying, we don’t want to be in a Eurasian Union, we don’t want to be the junior partner to Russia, which they’ve basically been for the last several decades if not centuries, we want a future that looks more like that of Europe. And that, in many respects, was a kick in the gut of Putin, who since he’s come back to the Kremlin has attempted to craft a political narrative about Eurasianness, about Slavic unity, about a religious/cultural zone reconstituting Russia’s place in the world. And that doesn’t happen without Ukraine. It leaves a Eurasian Union consisting of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. And so I think in many respects Putin lashed out in anger. He grabbed Crimea as a consolation prize for the broader Ukraine that had rejected his political platform, and he was in some respects using the action of annexation of the Crimea to compensate for this setback, and, as he has said repeatedly, as part of a broader pushback against what he sees as the West’s infringement on Russia’s legitimate interests and Russia’s honor, from NATO expansion to Libya to a whole host of other issues that have left him feeling as if he was dealt with without respect.
Where are we now? Based on the assessment that I just offered, I am relatively confident that he has what he wants, and that is the Crimean Peninsula. And Ukraine as a whole but in particular Crimea looms large in the nationalist conception of Russia that he has been attempting to articulate. The links go back to the 10th century, when both Ukrainians and Russians trace their founding to Vladimir the Great, to his embrace of Orthodoxy and to what is called Kievan Rus, which is a medieval federation that was eventually based in Kiev. And so this part of Ukraine has enormous salience and resonance to Putin and his brand of Russian nationalism. So my guess is that he will probably not go further. And I think that not only has he gotten what he wanted, but also the response from the international community, from the West in particular, has been harsher than he expected. I’m guessing he thought that the reaction would be similar to what happened when he went into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where effectively the Bush administration, after some period of months, had turned a blind eye. This has been a much harsher reaction, despite some of the caveats that Julie appropriately offered.
And the other thing is that I think even if Putin is a toughie, is demonstrating a level of aggression that appears to be new or perhaps underestimated, I don’t think that he is so reckless as to trigger a civil war in Ukraine, to mire Russian troops in eastern Ukraine and to saddle Russia with what could turn into a very, very complicated situation. Crimea was much easier, predominately Russian, very pro-Russian, effectively cut off from the rest of Ukraine, and in that respect much easier for Putin to get what he wants. A lot will depend, obviously on what happens in Ukraine itself, and in that respect, even though we’re focused on the confrontation with Russia, at least as important is the capacity and tenor of the government that takes shape after the elections in Ukraine, their ability to pursue political and economic reform and, most importantly, their ability to pursue a vision of Ukraine’s future that is not either/or, that is to say, not attached to Russia, not entirely hook, line and sinker in the West. Ukraine has to find a balancing act, and that’s simply because its identity, its national sense of self, is too complicated to allow it to head uniquely to the West, and I think it’s important for Ukraine to pursue a course that is not going to provoke Russia into taking further action.
Finally, a quick word on what this means for Russia’s standing in the broader international community. The seizure of Crimea is not a first-order security crisis from the perspective of the United States, and that’s why I think the Obama administration has tried to find the middle ground between doing nothing and doing so much that it triggers the remilitarization of the European landscape. And I’m generally comfortable with where the U.S. and its European partners have ended up. I think they’ve made it clear that this is a very serious violation of international rules, I think they’ve made it clear that Russia will suffer and pay costs for this, and I think that from the perspective of Russia’s standing with the BRICs countries, with the broader international community, it has taken a hit. China abstained in the UN Security Council. I think what’s happened makes China very uncomfortable, not just because of issue of sovereignty and self-determination, but also in conversations with Chinese friends I’ve heard that the Chinese leadership is to some extent vulnerable. People are saying, “Where’s our Putin? If Putin can make a land grab, why can’t the Chinese leadership?” And in that sense it has exposed them. And in the General Assembly, only 11 countries voted against the resolution, stood with Russia; 100 for the resolution, 58 abstentions. And even countries like India that have supported what Russia’s done and called its interest there legitimate, I think they are in many respects stuck in a no-man’s land. They don’t want to support Russian action, they don’t want to throw their lot in with the West But on the whole there has not been a broad support for Russian action in the international community, and I think coming back to something that Jeremy said toward the end of his remarks, this is a net loss for Russia. It’s a short-term gain, but I think in the big picture suspension from the G8, isolation in the General Assembly, a loss of prestige and status among emerging powers—this is not something that I think in the long run is going to do Putin a lot of good.
BRADSHAW: Thanks very much, Charlie, and Jeremy and Julia as well. We will now open the floor to reporters for questions.
HOWARD LAFRANCHE (Christian Science Monitor): I’d like to ask Julie, what impact do you see this having on, what will now be in June, the G7 meeting? How will that be different, and will be Ukraine be taken up there? And for Charlie, what you were saying about China, I’m wondering, after speaking with some Japanese diplomats, if China might be, even though they abstained the Security Council, looking at this (either from the focus on Ukraine, or because Putin did this) and tempted to do [something similar].
SMITH: I think the main point in announcing the G7 meeting in June was largely to highlight Charlie’s point about the increase in isolation the Russians will face given what just happened. I agree entirely with what Charlie said; in the long term, Russia loses and will continue to lose. This will play out more and more to their disadvantage over time, and so it was important that they get that meeting on the calendar. In terms of substance, there’s always plenty to talk about. I assume that a lot of it will focus on Ukraine; I can’t imagine any of our concerns drifting away in just six to eight weeks, or even beyond then. This will continue to be the beating heart for these high level discussions for many months to come. On top of that, they can return to much of the original agenda, and stay focused on the usual aspects of G7 discussions, whether dealing with ongoing financial crisis issues, and a whole array of topics. I think, from what we saw that transpired in their side meeting at The Hague, the countries that were meeting around the table were very interested in talking about next steps in isolating the Russians and how to continue sending this signal that they will be isolated in these large international forums.
KUPCHAN: Howard, on the Japan issue, you’re very much on point in that the Japanese have responded to what’s happened by saying “holy moly,” the Russians took this chunk of territory away from Ukraine, put it in their pocket, and no one has really been able to convince them to give it back. So they’re thinking “what does this mean for Senkaku? What does this mean for the whole host of disputed territories in the coastal waters between China and Japan?” I think, obviously, they are right to raise that question, I think the issue is very different in that part of the world, in part because the United States has treaty-based commitments to many of its partners in East Asia, and in that respect, as the Obama administration has said, were there to be an attack on Japanese territory, the United States would have its back. But there’s no question that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans are watching carefully this situation in Crimea, but I do think the two circumstances are quite different. And that when it comes to NATO allies, when it comes to Japan, when it comes to South Korea, it’s a very different kettle of fish because of the interests at stake, and the legal nature of the treaty commitments.
BRADSHAW: Thanks, Charlie. Next question please.
STEVE COLLINS (AFP): Just wondering if you can look at the crisis in the broader sense of what it means for Obama’s foreign policy as a whole. There have been accusations from various critics that he’s been a weak leader in some senses. I think it’s fair to say that he’s struggled in some ways to assert US power on the global stage in some circumstances. Does this black-and-white crisis, East-West crisis give him a chance to re-establish his bona-fide as a leader, and do you think he’s taking that opportunity right now?
SMITH: Well, I think, in terms of exerting leadership, I do think the administration on this one has shown a considerable amount of leadership, particularly in pushing the Europeans to step up and focus on this. We saw, in the first few days after the Russians had moved into Crimea, the president coming out on that Friday, immediately talking about costs and consequences, what those costs and consequences would actually look like, and then spending the entire weekend on the phone trying to persuade the Europeans to join us. You’ll remember, we had a pretty public debate with the Europeans on whether we should even be looking at sanctions in those first few days, we had the Germans, the Brits and the Dutch, in particular, out front, very publicly stating that they questioned the utility of using that tool in our toolkit. But I think the President did lean in. He had a number of engagements, again over the phone, but then in person with his travel to Europe. He pushed the Europeans to have a joint Trans-Atlantic approach. He was determined to, and succeeded in, being seen as a leader, particularly in the reassurance piece as well; the U.S. was the first to offer reassurance. All that said, I would note that there seems to be, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic, some sense that this will kind of redefine Obama’s foreign policy objectives for the next couple of years in his second term. Folks would be wrong to assume that this would somehow slide the rebalancing off the table, that it will diminish Secretary Kerry’s efforts on Middle East peace, and continuing to focus on things like Iran and Syria. This is a priority for the United States; I would not put it in the Top 5 list. I would not say that this is a crisis that keeps Americans awake at night; we’re obviously deeply concerned about what this says about Russia’s next move, their wider plans for the region. But I think it would be wrong to assume that this is going to completely result in some sort of recalibration of U.S. foreign policy.
KUPCHAN: I would just add, because I agree with how Julie portrayed the nature and gravity of the crisis, that Obama handled himself well because the easiest thing to have done would have been to scream and shout, and talk about the re-division of Europe, and that I think would have been a mistake. Therefore, I am pretty comfortable with the way he was firm, played a leadership role in organizing a coalition, but he didn’t sabre-rattle. He didn’t use a lot of bluster, even though he was getting pressure to do so, from members of Congress and from the press.
The one counterpoint I’d make to what Julie said, is that I don’t think we want to minimize the gravity of this. You know, World War II, the Cold War, World War I, these things don’t start with the invasion of a major country. They start with an assassination, or breaking out of the Versailles Treaty, or the occupation of the Rhineland, nobody does anything, and then all of the sudden, world war has broken out. I don’t want to, in any way, suggest that we are at the beginning of that kind of slippery slope, but I do think that it’s precisely because of the concern about that, that Obama has been justified in sending aircraft to the Baltics, talking about beefing up NATO’s eastern frontier. I don’t think it’s going to dominate the rest of his presidency, but I think that kind of talk is fully warranted.
SHAPIRO: Just to chime in, I would agree with both of my colleagues, even to the extent to which they disagreed with each other. To get to your broader question about Obama’s leadership and the perception thereof, there are several different audiences to that and I think Charlie and Julie were primarily addressing the foreign audiences when they were talking about it, and how is our leadership seen with allies and partners and punitive enemies. As they said, for those audiences, they are looking for responsible leadership, so it’s possible to over-react as well as under-react. I think the administration has calibrated it fairly well for those audiences. There’s another audience, which we are part of, this sort of Washington-parlor game about how strong you are, and its sort of concept of leadership through machismo, which is very popular in Washington. I think it has affected the domestic view of the president’s leadership, but the president has been very resistant to it. One of the reasons he’s been very resistant to adapting his policy to that Washington game of foreign policy machismo is because he doesn’t see it really having much effect on the population and on public opinion. I think you’ve seen throughout this that part of his measured approach is jumping around Washington and having some sense of where the domestic population is on these types of issues, and they seem to want this type of measured approach that he is delivering.
BRADSHAW: Thanks for all of those insightful comments. Thank you Charlie and Jeremy and Julie, you’ve said everything very succinctly, and we’ll wrap up the call here. Thank you to all the reporters and panelists for the incredibly insightful call today. Thanks everybody.