Last week, Congress launched the bipartisan Congressional Russia
Caucus, which is chaired by Congressmen Tom Price (R-GA) and Dennis
J. Kucinich (D-OH). The creation of the caucus could not be
timelier, as the Obama Administration seems to have made unrequited
concessions to Russia in missile defense, strategic arms talks, and
the sale of Russian arms to Iran and Venezuela. Meanwhile, the U.S.
said little regarding its violation of Ukrainian and Georgian
This paper provides a policy agenda for the U.S.-Russia
Congressional Caucus that will best serve the U.S.'s vital national
interests while cultivating this important relationship.
Arms Control and Missile Defense:
Congress should cast a critical eye on the executive branch's
Russian agenda. Since January, the Administration has prioritized
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) follow-on negotiations,
which it is rushing to complete before the treaty expires in
December. This deadline, as well as the ratification of the
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by Congress, may be a
key stepping stone to achieving President Obama's unrealistic goal
of a world without nuclear weapons.
In its quest to push forward the post-START treaty and secure
Moscow's help on Iran, the Administration dropped plans for missile
defense in Eastern Europe, despite the U.S. Air Force's assessment
that Iran could have an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
capable of reaching the U.S. by 2015.
Both President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
pocketed the concessions, smiled, and demanded new ones. While
making the U.S. look weak, America's decision also upset the Czechs
and the Poles, who worry that this concession will tacitly
acknowledge Russia's authority in what its president called the
"sphere of privileged interests."
Russia is currently in violation of existing arms control and
non-proliferation promises. According to the Strategic Posture
Commission, a congressional panel, Russia is "no longer in
compliance with Presidential Nuclear Initiatives commitments."
Specifically, it violated the current START treaty by testing its
SS-27 ICBM with multiple warheads. Additionally, Russia may be
violating non-proliferation obligations vis-à-vis Iran.
Recently, the highly suspicious disappearance of the Arctic
Sea freighter only increased concerns that Russia is failing to
meet its non-proliferation promises. Sources in Moscow and leaks
from Israeli press intimated that the ship was loaded with S-300
air defense missiles for Iran. In response, Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu "secretly" visited Russia, apparently to discuss
these illicit arms supplies and Iran.
The Iran-Venezuela Gambit
Whether President Obama's gambit to secure Moscow's help on Iran
will succeed is highly uncertain. While the Iranian agenda is
clearly separate from that of Russia, the Kremlin views Iran as a
geopolitical wedge against the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf
region and the Middle East.
Russia's commercial interests in Iran span from billions in arms
sales and transfer of nuclear and space technology to lucrative oil
and gas contracts for state-controlled Russian companies.
Therefore, Russian support for Iran's nuclear program and arms
sales are not only lucrative but reflect a geopolitical agenda that
is at least 20 years old. While Medvedev did not completely rule
out sanctions, Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov all
but rejected the imposition of stronger sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recently
announced that his nation will purchase dozens of Russian tanks,
helicopters, and other arms for over $2 billion, signaling growing
military and strategic ties between the two countries. This
anti-American and anti-democratic alliance bodes ill for both the
U.S. and the Western Hemisphere.
Mounting Pressure on Georgia and
In addition to these issues, there are broader geopolitical
concerns with Obama's foreign policy toward Russia and Eurasia. In
late July, Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine and Georgia.
The mere fact that he ventured there two weeks after
President Obama's visit to Moscow indicates that the White House
has downgraded its relationship with these two countries.
Biden correctly rejected Russia's claims to a 19th-century-style
sphere of influence, but he fell short in addressing national
security concerns for both states. This is an ominous development.
In the run up to Ukrainian presidential elections in January 2010,
the Kremlin has been ratcheting up the pressure on Kyiv. Moscow is
building up military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and
encouraging separatism in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.
Russian interference may seriously destabilize Eastern Ukraine and
attempt to detach the Crimea.
Despite the fall in energy demand across Europe, Russia is
racing to secure its natural gas market share and bypass Ukraine,
the principal transit country. It is building Nord Stream and South
Stream pipeline systems. Europe may diminish its dependence on
Russian gas by boosting an alternative pipeline, Nabucco, but in
order to do so, it requires U.S. political support for Turkey,
Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan to cooperate on this
Revision of European Security
The recent "trial balloons" floated by Obama's geopolitical
guru, Zbigniew Brzezinski, are disconcerting. In the Fall 2009
issue of Foreign Affairs, Brzezinski called for a treaty
between NATO and the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty
Organization as well as a joint NATO-Shanghai Cooperation
These steps would be tantamount to of the recognition of Russian
hegemony. The Administration has already signaled that it will
listen to Russian ideas about reshaping European security
architecture. Such proposals should give Congress pause as Russia
is obstructing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) and is seeking to drive a wedge between NATO
Trade and Economics
Yet U.S.-Russian relations are not hopeless. Economic ties
between the two nations will expand if Russia promotes the rule of
law and fights corruption. The Administration is likely to ask
Congress to consider abrogating the long-promised Jackson-Vanick
Amendment, which demanded free emigration of Soviet Jews, something
accomplished long ago.
The lifting of Jackson-Vanick is necessary for Russia to receive
Permanent Normal Trade Relations status. U.S.-Russian relations
will improve if Russian society become becomes more open,
transparent, and democratic.
What the Caucus Should Do
The caucus should not allow the Obama Administration to forgo
core American foreign policy values and objectives with regard to
Russia. Specifically, the U.S.-Russia Caucus should:
- Call to postpone the START follow-on treaty signature until the
Department of Defense's Nuclear Posture Review is finished in
December 2009 so that the U.S. nuclear requirements are clarified.
The caucus should also refuse to fund reductions in the U.S.
Strategic Nuclear Forces under the START follow-on treaty with
Russia in fiscal year (FY) 2010 unless the President certifies to
Congress that the treaty provides for sufficient mechanisms to
verify compliance and does not place limitations on the U.S.
ballistic missile defense systems, space capabilities, or advanced
conventional weapons (Prompt Global Strike) and that adequate funds
are requested for FY 2011 for nuclear modernization and increased
reliability, safety, and security of the U.S. nuclear force.
Congress should hold hearings that examine potential U.S.
concessions to Russia in any START follow-on treaty, Russian
non-compliance with existing arms-control commitments, and other
important compliance issues with regard to existing commitments
before the Administration signs a new treaty.
- Express support for missile defense in Poland and the Czech
Republic both to protect against the Iranian threat and to bolster
the relationship with U.S. NATO allies.
- Support targeted sanctions against Russian companies that sell
destabilizing weapons to Iran and Venezuela. Congress should demand
Moscow's cooperation on robust sanctions against Iran--including
curbing gasoline imports and the cessation of all military supplies
and technologies--unless Tehran agrees to accept full International
Atomic Energy Agency supervision of its nuclear program. Senior
Administration officials and experts should be invited to testify
on this subject.
- Uphold the rights of post-Soviet states to sovereignty and
territorial integrity. This includes Georgia's future reintegration
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as autonomous republics and Ukraine's
territorial integrity and sovereignty, including the Crimea.
Congress should initiate hearing on these important issues and
issue a Sense of Congress resolution on Russian violation of
Georgian and Ukrainian sovereignty.
- Encourage the Obama Administration to work with European
governments and companies to implement Nabucco, the gas pipeline
connecting the Caspian reserves to Europe.
- Call on the Administration to expeditiously appoint a U.S.
Ambassador to OSCE. An ambassador will help resist Russia's plans
for watering down OSCE's commitment to free and fair elections and
undercutting election observation procedures, including undermining
the Office of Democracy and Human Rights in Warsaw. The U.S. should
bolster the 2010 OSCE chairman, Kazakhstan, in its efforts to
resist Russian pressure to undermine OSCE's commitment to
- Promote democracy, good governance, transparency, and the rule
of law. In dealing with Russian counterparts, Congress should
emphasize strengthening the rule of law and improvement of property
rights and conduct hearings on these subjects.
A Democracy Deficit
Members of Congress should remember that their Russian
counterparts suffer from a democracy deficit. Yet U.S.-Russian
relations are too important to be left exclusively to President
Obama and the arms-control enthusiasts. The Congressional
U.S.-Russia Caucus should guard American interests while promoting
an agenda that encourages security, freedom, democracy, and
economic cooperation with Russia.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow
in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security
at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for International Studies at The
Heritage Foundation. The author wants to thank Owen B. Graham,
Research Assistant at the Davis Center, for help with this