- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Elbe Group Facilitates U.S.-Russia Communication, Security

Summer 2013

As U.S. and Soviet forces converged in Germany in the final days of WWII, both armies met at the River Elbe near Torgau. That meeting of comrades, united in the face of common threats, is the inspiration for the Belfer Center’s “Elbe Group.”

The purpose of the Elbe Group is to maintain an open and continuous channel of communication on sensitive issues of U.S.-Russian relations. In late March, the Elbe Group met in Jerusalem for its eighth meeting since its founding in 2010. The Elbe Group is an unprecedented gathering of three- and four-star veterans from the intelligence and military services: FSB, GRU, CIA, DIA, Ministry of Defense and Department of Defense. During the Jerusalem meeting, the Elbe Group focused attention on nuclear terrorism, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.

U.S. and Russian participants agreed that in the majority of cases (Syria and Iran for example), the two countries actually share broad strategic goals but differ on the tactics for achieving the goals. The Group does not consider existing differences to be an insurmountable obstacle to continued cooperation between the two countries.

As an example, General Anatoliy Kulikov has noted that Russia largely supports U.S. goals in Afghanistan and provides invaluable assistance by facilitating transport of Coalition supplies and troops through the so-called Northern Supply Route. In a speech by Elbe members at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany, Kulikov said that America must not repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union in transitioning control to the Afghans. During the Jerusalem meeting, he underscored his proposal for the U.S. and Russia to convene a working group of regional partners to assist in the post 2014 transition. According to Kulikov, his proposal is being considered in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for tabling with U.S. counterparts.

The Elbe Group has high level visibility in both the U.S. and Russian governments. President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev, and Foreign Minister Lavrov have all been personally briefed on the group by senior Russian member Anatoliy Kulikov, former Minister of Interior. U.S. members likewise send feedback directly to the highest levels in Department of State, DIA, CIA and Defense Department.

For more information about the group’s work and products, visit the Elbe Group webpage on the Belfer Center website.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ryan, Kevin. Elbe Group Facilitates U.S.-Russia Communication, Security.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2013).