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

U.S.-Russia Relations: Differences and a Point of Agreement

| Spring 2018

Lieutenant General (ret) Douglas Lute, former U.S. NATO Ambassador and a Belfer Center Senior Fellow, and Brigadier General (ret) Kevin Ryan, Belfer Center Associate and founder of the U.S.-Russia Elbe Group, traveled to Moscow in late fall to participate in a conference on U.S.-Russia Relations hosted by the Club of Military Leaders at the Russian General Staff Academy. The conference participants discussed the state of relations between the two countries and explored ways forward.

The Moscow conference, “Russia-USA: Prospects for Mutual Relations: Enemies, Partners, or Allies,” included about 100 retired three- and four-star generals and about 50 active duty colonels and officer-professors from the academy who are studying for a year before becoming the Russian military’s future flag officers. Lute and Ryan, whose presentations were part of the 2017 Elbe Group exchanges, were the only U.S. participants and the only foreign attendees. The host, General Anatoliy Kulikov, former Minister of Internal Affairs and the senior Russian member of the Elbe Group, gave introductory and closing remarks.

Speakers at the conference included former Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov; Deputy Commander of the Russian General Staff Academy General Sergei Chvarkov; former MoD Director of International Relations General Leonid Ivashov; and Director of Social-Political Research Institute at the Academy of Sciences Gennady Osipov, in addition to Kulikov, Lute, and Ryan.

“One cannot overstate the depth to which the different understandings about the events of the past 27 years have created different interpretations of how the U.S. and Russia got to their current relationship,” Ryan said in his report on the conference. “While the American speakers recalled a relationship which began with partnership and after Crimea eroded into a break in relations, the Russian speakers largely presented a history in which the U.S. had continuously meddled in Russian affairs and sought to prevent any return of Russia as a world power.

The Russian speakers’ views were largely in synch with those expressed by President Putin: The West—U.S. and NATO in particular—has taken advantage of Russia in its weakened state since the Cold War and sought to keep Russia from returning to the status of a “world power.” The U.S. has sought to destabilize Russia like it sought to destabilize other countries through color revolutions and promotion of “so-called” democracies. The latest example of this effort are the economic sanctions levied against Russia. Former Foreign Minister Ivanov called them “economic warfare.”

In their presentations, Ryan and Lute rebutted what they saw as the Russians’ misinterpretation of facts and discussed events of the past 27 years, which differed from Russian themes of subjugation and betrayal by the West. Lute emphasized examples in which the U.S. and Russia cooperated on security threats like Bosnia, terrorism, nuclear security, and even Kosovo after an initial testy period.

One point on which both U.S. and Russian speakers agreed is the necessity for mechanisms of military to military contact to reduce the risk of an accidental war. This, they agreed, would allow political leaders to more quickly and more reliably determine the facts of any surge in military activity or circumstances of any accidental clash between forces operating in close proximity.

Ryan and Lute met with new U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. before the conference and with new Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison, afterward. During discussions with Hutchison and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, they also emphasized the need for direct military-to-military contact between the U.S. and Russia to avoid an accident escalating into unwanted war.

Based on a report by Kevin Ryan.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

“U.S.-Russia Relations: Differences and a Point of Agreement.” Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).