Six Ideas to Improve the U.S.-Russia Relationship

David J. Kramer of the German Marshall Fund has published a scathing op/ed in the Washington Post blaming U.S. officials of complicity in Russia’s repression of protesters.  Kramer has a laundry list of suggestions for Washington to create incentives to encourage positive change in the Russian political environment.

For starters, the administration should repudiate its policy of publicly rejecting linkage. Instead, officials should state that a deteriorating internal situation in Russia will affect the bilateral relationship and affect Russian elites’ ability to pursue their interests in the West. Using clear language, they should condemn human rights abuses.

Second, the U.S. government should refuse to help Russian leaders with economic modernization in the absence of any political liberalization. Doing so simply plays into their agenda and runs the risk that we will be seen as complicit in the elites’ phony, top-down drive for modernization.

Third, McFaul, a longtime democracy advocate, should terminate his CivilSociety Working Group, of which Vladislav Surkov, first deputy head ofthe presidential administration and the architect of Russian’s”sovereign democracy” concept, is co-chair. This group should never havebeen launched with Surkov’s involvement.

Fourth, U.S. support for Russian membership in the World TradeOrganization should be suspended unless Russia abides by the rules ofthe organizations in which it is already a member, such as theOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Group of Eightand the Council of Europe. Having Russia join the WTO and defy itsrules, too, would make a mockery of all these organizations and will nothelp Russian reforms.

Fifth, the administration should consider denying visas to Russianofficials who authorize or engage in human rights abuses. Sen. BenCardin (D-Md.) proposed this after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in jail last yearafter being deprived of medical care. Washington should look intoapplying this approach to other cases, including the farcical trialof the oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partnerPlaton Lebedev. Depriving Russian officials the opportunity to visitAmerica, educate their children here and hide their money in U.S. bankaccounts would get their attention in a hurry.

Sixth, U.S. officials should have serious discussions with Europeancounterparts to encourage them to pursue similar approaches. Somegovernments want to ignore rights abuses while they promote engagementand business strategies with Russia, but any potential impact will begreater if this is a joint U.S.-European initiative. In Britain, theidea of a visa ban has already been raised in some circles.