Dear Mr. Putin,
Your hosting of the G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg marks a signature moment in your tenure as President of Russia and Russia 's return as a respected world power. Congratulations! The Russian economic recovery during your leadership has been remarkable. Unfortunately, however, as Russia has begun its recovery, the climate around the US-Russian relationship has become darker, especially in Washington where I live now after recently spending 2.5 years in Moscow . Since I share some of your concern about the wrong direction in US-Russian relations, allow me to submit some recommendations as you prepare to meet with George Bush and your other G-8 colleagues.
Constantly complaining about U.S. so-called double standards is tiresome and makes Russia look weak and insecure. Double standards exist in all country's foreign policy, including your own, as we try to balance ideals and interests and often interests that conflict with one another. I would also recommend that you and your colleagues refrain from the argument that the West and the United States prefer Russia weak as it was in the 1990s and is uncomfortable with rising Russian power of today. There is no question that it is in the interests of the USA that Russia be a strong and prosperous country. The question comes in with how the power is exercised and to what end. If Russian power vis-à-vis its neighbors is exercised in an overbearing and bullying manner that obstructs their sovereignty, as US power was often used in Latin America and elsewhere, we will have problems.
We also seem to have a dialogue of the deaf on the value of democracy. The United States does not promote democracy around the world simply as a means to advance US hegemony as many Russians cynically believe. We promote democracy because we believe it is the most effective means of governance that will most likely make countries and its citizens more prosperous and advance national rather than more narrowly corporate or individual interests. Endemic corruption, as you have rightly noted in your state of the union address, is a serious obstacle to Russia 's sustainable long-term economic growth. The best tools governments have to combat corruption are an effective legal system, free and open media, and a legislature independent of executive power and corporate interests. We really do believe that developing these institutions will result in a stronger Russia that is more capable as an independent actor in world affairs. Or to put it in the framework of sovereign democracy , more democracy will likely make Russia truly more sovereign.
But let me change the subject since this sounds like lecturing on my part. There is a genuine public relations problem in Washington and Moscow around our mutual relationship, and I think that it is in the interests of you and Mr. Bush to exercise presidential leadership to accentuate the positive aspects and the importance of our ties for our mutual interests. Living in Moscow and watching a lot of Russian TV for the past several years, I was struck by the anti-American tone of reporting. Certainly, in my personal view, there are many things that the US does which are deserving of criticism, such as undertaking war in Iraq which I believe was a big mistake. But watching Russian TV and especially news broadcasts increasingly reminded me of Soviet TV which was consistently anti-American during the Cold War.
First, let's be frank and acknowledge that Russian national TV is controlled for the most part by the Russian government, and more particularly the interests of the Kremlin. What I do not understand is if you genuinely want to strengthen the US-Russian partnership, as I think you do, why consistently portray the United States in your most important media in such a negative and tendentious light? For example, last summer the Sino-Russian military exercises were the number one news story on TV for several nights running. Why do we never see anything on Russian TV promoting US-Russian military and security cooperation? Is military cooperation with China really more important for Moscow than cooperation with the United States ? I doubt it, yet that is the message one receives watching Russian TV.
Finally, I am struck upon returning to Washington with the heightened negativity towards Russia . You do have a public relations problem in this town that will require a lot more than hiring world class public relations firms to fix. It is true that there are many Russophobes and old cold warriors in Washington , but the main problems stem from Russian policies. For example, I know that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was no saint, but the absurd Kangaroo court process that found him guilty only feeds the worst stereotypes of Russia . Heavy-handed behavior with your neighbors also poisons the atmosphere here. The result is that you have few friends in Congress, and that will be a real problem for your WTO accession which will require Congressional approval of your PNTR status. You also must understand that a dubious political transition in your 2008 presidential elections will put Mr. Bush and his successor in a far more complicated position in trying to promote a constructive relationship with Russia . Your actions and those of your government are far more decisive factors shaping the US perception of Russia than any real or imagined anti-Russia lobby.
I remain a strong proponent of the importance of our two countries for advancing our mutual and global interests, and I hope that you and Mr. Bush will be able to change the direction of the relationship in a more positive direction.
Andrew C. Kuchins
Director and Senior Associate, Russian and Eurasian Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace