10/29/96
TEXT: DEPUTY SECRETARY TALBOTT SPEECH ON RUSSIA 10/29
(Speech at 50th anniversary of Harriman Institute) (4840)

Following is the text of his speech, "America and Russia in a Changing World," as prepared for delivery.

(Begin text)

Thank you, Dick (Holbrooke), for that introduction, and thank you, too, Pamela (Harriman). I owe you both a lot, including some memorable adventures. In 1990, when I was still a journalist, Pamela included me as the expedition scribe on a trip she and Bob Legvold made to Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi. It was one of the last looks Iimg got at Ukraine and Georgia before those republics of the USSR became new independent states. During that same period Dick and I traveled to Tallinn on the Baltic and to Vladivostok on the Pacific. For the nearly 20 years I've known him, right up until about half an hour ago, Dick has helped me grapple with the issues I'll be addressing in these remarks, and quite a few others besides.

I'd also like to say a personal word about the Institute and the people who have made it a national, and international, treasure. I count Marshall Shulman and Bob Legvold among my wiser and more generous mentors. Twenty-two years ago, when the politburo of the Khrushchev project at Time Incorporated was looking for a permanent home for Nikita Sergeyevich's tapes and transcripts, it was a no-brainer that they should reside here at Columbia, under Marshall's and Bob's custodianship.

Quite a few of my colleagues at the State Department studied here, including Toby Gati, the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, who is with us this afternoon, and Andrew Weiss of our Policy Planning staff. My friend and your fellow New Yorker, Madeleine Albright, received a certificate in Russian studies from the Institute in 1968. I also see several people who served previous Presidents with great distinction -- and who were kind to me in my own career: George Kennan, Cy Vance and Jack Matlock. They represent not just great knowledge of Russia but great civility of discourse about Russia.

Averell Harriman was a paragon of that quality himself, and a great champion of bipartisanship in foreign policy -- an ingredient in our national life that I hope will be in even greater evidence after next Tuesday, whatever the outcome.

There is another key aspect of the Harriman legacy that goes to the heart of the subject I would like to speak about this afternoon. In 1971, a quarter of a century ago, Averell Harriman wrote a volume of reminiscences called America and Russia in a Changing World. With Pam's permission, I've expropriated that title for these remarks. In the introduction to that book, Arthur Schlesinger, who is also with us this afternoon, described the Governor as an idealist without illusions.

That is a distinctly American expression of praise. It captures not only something essential about Averell Harriman's own statesmanship, but also something essential about America's role in the world: namely, a quality of hard-headed idealism; a conviction that America is at its best when it defines its interests overseas in terms of those values and ideals that have nourished us here at home. From the moment we became a new independent state 220 years ago, we have believed that the principles of governance codified in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are global in their appeal and global in their relevance. It follows that we should want for other countries what we want for ourselves. That is, we want them to be democratic, secure, stable, prosperous, and integrated into a growing community of other states that are similarly constituted and similarly oriented.

We want that for our own sake as well as for theirs. Why? Because such states are more likely to be reliable partners for American diplomacy and trade, and less likely to threaten American interests.

That is a general premise of American engagement in the world. Now let me apply it to Russia.

Fifty years ago, when the Russian Institute opened its doors on West 117th street, Joseph Stalin was drawing the Iron Curtain across Europe. Twenty-five years ago, in 1971, when Governor Harriman wrote America and Russia in a Changing World, the Soviet Union had settled into its ice age. Not even as recently as a decade ago would many of us have imagined that we, or even our children, would live to see the Soviet Union abandon Marxism-Leninism and dissolve peacefully into 15 separate countries.

Perhaps even more extraordinary, Russia, Ukraine and the other new independent states have set about reconstituting themselves on the basis of ideas that are essentially -- or at least potentially -- compatible with those that have undergirded our own system of government and our own preference for the international system as well.

Let me put it this way, by going back to the title that I've plagiarized from the Governor: "America and Russia in a changing world." The biggest change in the world in the quarter century since he wrote his book is the change that Russia has chosen for itself. If sustained, that transformation will make it possible in the 21st century for America and Russia to work together to keep changing the world for the better.

Now, the 21st century is just around the corner. It begins in exactly three years, two months, two days and seven hours. It will take Russia a lot longer than that to complete its renaissance. A safe working assumption is that it will take a generation or more, partly for what are precisely generational reasons. The consummation of the process now underway in Russia will require the passing from the scene of those who learned too well the Soviet way of doing things, or of not doing them. It will require the passing of those who are embittered about what they feel Russia lost between 1989 and 1991 -- namely: a defining ideology; a political and economic system that had been in place for over seventy years; a quarter of the territory and half the population of the state of which Russia was the center, and an alliance in which the Soviet Union was the first among non-equals. That generation must give way to a new one imbued with an understanding of what Russia has gained in these last few years; in a single word, freedom; and in an additional phrase, the chance for Russia, thanks to the vast potential of its land and its people, to be both a contributor to, and a beneficiary of an increasingly interdependent global economy.

Meanwhile, as its transformation continues, Russia will face any number of alternative futures, some of which are as ugly and dangerous as its past.

But a realistic recognition of how far Russia has to go, of how long it will take, and of how badly it could stray should not obscure another recognition: how far Russia has come in an extraordinarily short period of time -- in what is essentially the right direction. To validate that basically positive, though interim, verdict, let me touch on three areas: politics, economics, and relations with the other former republics of the USSR.

First, politics -- which means, above all, democratization. That process is happening continually, and it's happening all over the country. The people of Russia -- the supposedly apathetic and authoritarian masses -- have shown that they value having the decisive voice in choosing their leadership.

Part and parcel of democratization is decentralization. Political power is devolving downward from the Kremlin and outward from Moscow. Granted, this dynamic means that across the expanse of Russia, there will be a lot of unevenness and anomalies -- or what Marxists used to call contradictions. Some parts of the country will thrive as oases of economic and political liberalization, while others will remain, for a while at least, bastions of reaction. But overall, the devolution of power has already made government in Russia more accountable to average citizens; it has engendered greater pluralism and more competition of ideas.

Those welcome signs are also evident in the pages of newspapers and on television screens. It is a measure of how far Russia has come that its media was taken to task earlier this year for not granting enough free air time and balanced coverage to the Communist candidate in an openly contested presidential election. The partisanship of the press during the campaign was blatant but hardly surprising: many journalists, editors and broadcasters feared that a Communist victory would have led to a crackdown on the free press. And immediately after the election, many in the media resumed their vigorous criticism of the government.

As for Communism itself, the unreconstructed, militantly retrograde brand associated with Viktor Anpilov is a spent force. The more amorphous, adaptive Communist Party of the Russian Federation probably achieved its high-water mark with Gennady Zyuganov's strong showing in the first round of the election in June. Zyuganov and his comrades seem to realize that Brezhnevism, to say nothing of Stalinism, is no longer a viable model for the Russian state. They have found it difficult to broaden their appeal beyond a graying base of pensioners and senior citizens. All of which is to say, there has been much to applaud in the drama of Russian politics over the past couple of years -- including the very fact that so much of the action has taken place center stage, under the spotlight, with the curtain drawn.

But there is still plenty of suspense about what will happen in the next act, and the one after that. While Russia has abandoned autocracy and embraced the idea of democracy along with many of its forms, it could not possibly change overnight a political culture rooted in earlier decades and centuries. It will take time; it will take patience and persistence on their part -- and on ours.

What we should hope for in Russia is what Russian democrats and reformers themselves are trying, sometimes against the odds and against stiff opposition, to bring about: a system of checks and balances, an enhanced, protected role for the legislature and the judiciary, full respect for the law, and full rights for all citizens and all ethnic minorities.

By the same token, we should oppose what Russian democrats and reformers oppose. For the past two years, that has meant, first and foremost, the brutalization of Chechnya. We should associate ourselves with those many Russians who are determined to make sure that that tragedy turns out to be a grotesque aberration, from which the center must learn the right lessons about dealing with the regions.

Let me turn now to the Russian economy. Again, the glass is at least half full. The rudiments of retail commerce, market mechanisms and a financial infrastructure are now in place. Political monopoly of economic resources is a thing of the past. The largest transfer of assets in history has put nearly 70 percent of Russia's gross domestic product into the private sector. Perhaps most important, Russia appears to be well on its way to slaying the beast of hyperinflation, which is a true killer of reform and a lethal threat to the viability of the state itself.

But in the Russian economy, as in the arena of politics, there is a struggle underway -- not just between the old and the new, but between competing versions of the new, some laudable and healthy, others disagreeable and destructive. This struggle is bound to be waged with particular ferocity over privatization. Russian reformers as well as outside experts are concerned that if there are too few rules of the game, there will be too many losers. It is a warning sign when citizens regard "market" as a dirty word, and when another word, "mafia," is more common in modern Russian than in either Italian or American English.

Crime and corruption -- all too common not just in transitional societies but in developed ones as well -- threaten to discredit and even doom reform. They pose that threat because they undermine the Russian people's confidence in government and in democracy itself and they could serve as a pretext for the reimposition of stultifying state controls. In fact, the best remedy for corruption is actually less intervention by the state in the economy -- but more commitment by the state to the protection of property rights and the enforcement of the law.

I would like to single out one other economic woe because it is impeding our ability to support Russian reform. Russia urgently needs a prompt and massive overhaul of its tax-collection system. The Russian government's failure to collect revenues has jeopardized its eligibility for further lending from the International Monetary Fund. It has scared off badly needed foreign investment and stimulated the flight of Russian capital abroad, which is another impediment to growth.

The good news in all this is that key officials in the Russian leadership are acutely aware of these problems. Also, they have established solid personal and institutional channels to the major governments and institutions of the West. Our own government has been particularly receptive and supportive. The U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technical Cooperation, which meets twice a year under the co-chairmanship of Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, has become an extraordinarily effective vehicle for working through tough economic issues to the benefit of both countries.

The third area I would like to examine is Russia's relations with its neighbors. This is far and away the most salient issue of Russian foreign policy, both for Russia itself and for the rest of the world. Many of those who make up the Russian body politic feel the loss of empire like a phantom pain in a lost limb. Twenty-five million ethnic Russians now live outside the borders of Russia proper, in what are now separate countries. They rightfully want to be full citizens of tolerant, inclusive democracies, Any grievances they have, legitimate or otherwise, play into the hands of ultranationalists back in Russia.

So far, however, to its credit, Russia has kept irredentist impulses largely in check. Not too long after the breakup of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin made an historic decision: he affirmed the old interrepublic borders as the new international ones. He has, at several key points, repudiated the bellicose claims of his noisier opponents. Just last week he disavowed an incendiary Duma resolution on the sensitive issues of Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet.

In short, we should be alert to warning signs, but we should also listen to the dogs that are not barking in the former USSR today. Just imagine how different, and how catastrophic, it would have been if post-Soviet Russia had behaved like post-Yugoslav Serbia and Croatia, using force to change borders along ethnic lines. Imagine, in other words, the recent horror of the Balkans replayed in Eurasia, across eleven times zones, with 30,000 nuclear weapons in the volatile and violent mix.

To be sure, there are still plenty of questions -- and, among Russia's neighbors, plenty of anxieties -- about how Moscow will handle its relations with the other members of the CIS. Whether that grouping of states survives and prospers will depend in large measure on whether it evolves in a way that vindicates the name -- that is, whether it evolves into a genuine commonwealth of genuinely independent states. If not -- if its largest member tries to make "commonwealth" into a euphemism for infringement on the independence of the others -- then the CIS will deserve to join that other set of initials, USSR, on the ash heap of history.

President Clinton framed the issue succinctly two and a half years ago. During his first visit to Moscow as President, in a televised town meeting, he put to the Russian people -- and to the Russian leadership -- a fundamental question: "How will you define your role as a great power?" he asked. "Will you define it in yesterday's terms, or tomorrow's?" Russia, he said, has "a chance to show that a great power can promote patriotism without expansionism; that a great power can promote national pride without national prejudice... I believe the measure of your greatness in the future will be whether Russia, the big neighbor, can be the good neighbor."

So here, in summary, is a progress report on Russia five years after the tricolor replaced the hammer-and-sickle over the Kremlin: since that time, Russia has made a number of fundamental, difficult, courageous and -- both from its own standpoint and from ours -- correct choices. But in each of the three areas I've mentioned -- politics, economics and foreign policy -- the redefinition of Russian statehood is a work in progress; the Russians still have tough choices ahead of them.

Now a word about American policy toward Russia. President Clinton believes that we, too, face some major choices -- ones that will have an important influence on how Russia deals with its dilemmas and difficulties, its opportunities and temptations.

One choice facing us is whether to keep investing in Russian reform -- and thus to invest in our own long-term security. Here we have a major problem with Congress, which is undernourishing our foreign policy in general and starving our assistance programs for the new independent states. Our support for the emerging democracies of Eurasia has declined by 75% since 1994. Our support for Russian reform has fallen by 94%. When the 105th Congress assembles in January, it should, as Secretary Christopher said in a speech at West Point last Friday, face up to the implications of the funding cuts of the 104th.

The other continuing task we face -- the other choice we must make correctly every time it comes up -- is to keep using our leadership position in various regional and international organizations to make sure that their doors remain open to Russia and to the other new independent states, as long as they keep moving in the direction of reform and responsible international conduct.

In the last several years, Russia has joined organizations as diverse as the Council of Europe, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Partnership for Peace. It recently became a founding member of the successor to COCOM, which seeks to regulate international trade in armaments and sensitive technologies. The Group of Seven Major Industrial Democracies has brought Russia into a new political body, known simply as "The Eight." And we are working with Russia to help it qualify for admission to the World Trade Organization.

We must continue to encourage -- and when we can, to sponsor -- Russian admission to, participation in, or at least association with as many of these bodies as possible. We must do that because together they make up the larger community of democracies of which we want to see Russia as a full member.

Let me, in this regard, say a few words about one international body much on everyone's mind these days: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO has always been, is now, and will remain a mutual defense pact. But it is much more than that -- and again, it always has been. During the Cold War, even as it was attending to its principal job of deterring the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, NATO promoted the consolidation of civilian-led democracy in Spain, and it helped keep the peace between Greece and Turkey. As it adapts its mission and expands its membership to meet new challenges and opportunities, NATO will be a positive factor in the promotion of democracy and regional peace. The very prospect of admission to NATO for a number of Central European states has already induced them to accelerate their internal reforms and improve relations with their neighbors. Russia, which has come to grief twice in this century because of instability in Central Europe, has a security interest in these favorable trends.

Now, obviously, the Russians are a long way from seeing NATO enlargement in this benign light. Our ability to manage, and ultimately resolve, our disagreement over this issue is going to be an important test of the U.S.-Russian relationship. Last week, President Clinton set as a deadline for the admission of the first new members the 50th anniversary of the Alliance in 1999. That timetable is fixed in our minds. But it gives us time to work out, in parallel with the process of enlargement, the terms of a cooperative and mutually reassuring relationship between NATO and the Russian Federation. Secretary Christopher has been working on this issue very hard, including during his talks with Foreign Minister Primakov here in New York six weeks ago. There's no subject to which I've devoted more of my own energies.

We're convinced that a modus vivendi between NATO and Russia is not just desirable -- it is doable. But it will take political will on both sides, and it will require that both sides get past the stereotypes of the Cold War. On our side, some self-described "realists" see the Russia of today as the Soviet Union of 15 years ago, only slimmed down and wearing a pseudo-democratic disguise. They disparage Russian democracy as an engine of expansion, fueled by deep-seated neo-imperialist urges.

The notion that predatory behavior is somehow encoded in Russian genes grossly misrepresents both Russian and Soviet history. It deserves an F-minus from any member of this faculty. In fact, one of your former colleagues, Steve Sestanovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, effectively debunks the concept of genetic expansionism in the current issue of The National Interest -- drawing, I'm sure, on the wisdom he absorbed here 24 years ago. But it was Ian Buruma who offered the definitive rebuttal in his book The Wages of Guilt. He was writing about two other great nations -- Germany and Japan -- whose peoples not so long ago were feared, even hated, as inherently militaristic. "There are," said Buruma, "no dangerous peoples; there are only dangerous situations, which are the result, not of laws of nature or history, or of national character, but of political arrangements."

Applying Buruma's observation to the topic at hand, I would suggest that what American policy toward Russia must do is come up with the right political arrangements. That means ... and here I'm echoing the principle that Iimg identified at the outset as animating American foreign policy as a whole ... that means we should weave relationships and devise incentives that will encourage Russia to evolve as a democratic, secure, stable, prosperous state, at peace with its neighbors and integrated into a community of like-minded nations.

But to do that, one challenge America faces, quite frankly, is to overcome Russian suspicions, Russian conspiracy theories, and Russian old-think. More to the point, I'd say that is a challenge the Russians themselves face; they must overcome their lingering Cold War stereotypes about us. Many of them have made clear that they believe America's real strategy -- indeed, this Administration's real strategy -- is actually to weaken Russia, even to divide it. It does not much reassure them to hear us say we want to see Russia fulfill its "greatness." In their ears, that word has a mushy, disingenuous, even deceitful ring. It sounds as though we're talking about the cultural genius of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky -- not about the brawnier brilliance of Kutuzov and Zhukov.

This jaundiced view from Moscow of our intentions is the mirror-image of the prejudice -- fashionable among some circles in the United States -- that Russia is a stunted USSR just itching to return to its former size and its former obnoxious ways. We had plenty of experience with such mirror-imaging during the Cold War, and we should beware a repetition now. It would be particularly unhelpful if worst-case assumptions on the part of the Russian foreign-policy elite were to drive Russian government policy.

Let me be a bit more specific about my concern here. If the Russians overindulge their misplaced suspicions that we want to keep them down, then words like partnership and cooperation, translated into Russian, will become synonyms for appeasement, subservience, humiliation at the hands of the West. The result then could be that we will indeed cooperate less, and compete more, on precisely those issues where it is in our common interest to cooperate more and compete less: arms control, environmental degradation, terrorism, regional conflict, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This unwelcome prospect raises another, related concern. Russian policymakers -- especially those still inclined to see their country's relationship with the United States as intrinsically a rivalry -- may fall into the trap of defining what is in their national interest as pretty much anything that annoys, or causes problems for, us. If that reflex for scoring points against us in a zero-sum game becomes a kind of default feature in the software of Russian policy, it will only generate mistrust on our side. Suspicions of each other's motives could prove self-justifying, and pessimistic prophecies about the future of the relationship may be self-fulfilling.

Again, we saw enough of this kind of vicious cycle during the Cold War to have no excuse for allowing it to recur. It would be bad for everyone, but -- without doubt -- it would be particularly bad for the Russians themselves. They would risk repeating at least some of the mistakes that made nine-tenths of the 20th century such a disaster for them. Those mistakes included defining their security at the expense of everyone else's and misdefining security itself as the expensive and wasteful capacity to destroy and intimidate. Russia's human and natural resources -- not simply its military might -- are what will make Russia truly secure and influential in the next century.

The Russian people and leadership must believe that. They must also believe that we believe it, and that our belief in that essentially supportive proposition about their future motivates our policy toward them today. As with the more specific issues facing us, we have a lot of work to do with the Russians.

But as with those other difficult subjects, we have some time. We also have the right ideas to guide us -- and the right people, present company emphatically included, to make sure we develop those ideas and put them into practice. So despite the difficulties ahead, there's every reason for confidence that we're up to the challenges of the post-Cold War era just as we were able to deal with those of the Cold War itself, not least because the Harriman Institute -- and its alumni -- will be with us for the next 50 years to help us get it right.

Thank you very much.

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