On Thursday, November 8, Andrei Illarionov, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute discussed U.S.-Russian relations at an event organized by IWP’s Center for Culture and Security. Mr Illarionov has previously served as chief economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He covered three main topics: the historical context of U.S.-Russian relations, how flexible President Obama has been towards Russia in his first term, and how flexible he will be in his second term.
Mr. Illarionov explained that many argue that the most effective U.S. policies towards Russia took place during the eight years under Ronald Reagan. Mr. Illarionov said that subsequent administrations failed to improve relations with Russia. He noted that both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush put a large amount of time, effort, and attention into improving bilateral relations with Russia by creating new special bodies to conduct foreign relations with the country. Almost all of these measures ended in failure, and there is much frustration and disappointment within Russia towards the U.S.
As Obama entered office in 2009, he wanted to change the way the U.S. and Russia conducted relations. He said that this “reset policy,” where the nations find areas of agreement, and brush aside disagreements, has never before been attempted in history. Mr. Illarionov said the Obama administration’s reset policy has not led Russia to become more democratic, and Russia has actually increased restrictions on its people’s freedoms. Relations between Russia and the West have turned for the worse as Russia has become increasingly more anti-American. Mr. Illarionov argued that the current Russian administration actually has had more of an aggressive anti-American standpoint than Soviet Union in the past.
Mr. Illarionov went on to discuss the inadequacies of the “reset policy.” In September 2012, USAID was asked to pack its bags and leave Russia. USAID had been providing financing to health NGOs, as well as serving as a check on the electoral process. Mr. Illarionov also described the pressure put on Congress by Russia not to accept the Magnitsky Act, which would prevent Russian officials involved in the death Russian lawyer of Sergei Magnitsky to receive U.S. passports or be involved in U.S. financial institutions. He further detailed what he characterized as Russia’s obstructionist policies with regards to U.N. policy in Syria, which have not allowed any U.N. action in the fractioned state. Finally, he touched on the Russo-Georgian War that occurred in August of 2008. He argued that this was an act of aggression by Russia, and was not instigated by the Georgian President. Mr. Illarionov also noted that U.S. rarely officially comments on the actions of the Russian government.
Mr. Illarionov concluded by stating that the reset policy pursued by the Obama administration has been ineffective. He recognizes that looking into the future, the share of the world that is politically free is substantially decreasing. It remains to be seen which types of countries will dominate world politics and economies.
-Collin Ryan Figley