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Remarks by James Baker, III, former U.S. Secretary of State, given at the Kennan Institute's 25th Anniversary Dinner, October 4, 1999.

OCTOBER 4, 1999

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Good evening. It is a great pleasure for me to be here with so many old friends to celebrate the Kennan Institute's 25th anniversary.

I have had a long relationship with the Woodrow Wilson Center, having served as a member of its board from 1977 to 1998. In fact, I think I may be the longest serving member of that Board in its history and the only person to have served in each of the various capacities in which one can serve -- statutory, as Secretary of State, and Secretary of the Treasury, governmental appointed by the President -- Chief of Staff and private citizen appointed by the President. So you can see why I am very biased where the Center is concerned. Through all those years, I have been impressed by the high quality of work produced by the Center's scholars and programs. The Center is one of the pre-eminent institutions for fruitful discussion and analysis of major world issues. And this is an especially exciting time for it as it begins its second year in its new home in the Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Under the direction of Board Chairman Joe Cari and Director Lee Hamilton, the Center is building new programs, attracting prominent scholars, and disseminating its reports to a wider public audience than at anytime in its history. Its future has never looked brighter.

The Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies is the Center's oldest program, and is one of the premier fora for Russian studies in the world. Since its creation in 1974, the Institute has promoted fresh thinking about Russia and U.S.-Russian relations by bridging the worlds of academia and policymaking. The Institute has strengthened our understanding of Russian history, politics, and culture. It plays a critical role in keeping ties between our countries strong.

The Kennan Institute's work in deepening our understanding of Russia was invaluable during the Cold War, during the rapid changes of Gorbachev's perestroika, and during the final days of the Soviet Union. It remains invaluable today as it helps us understand the changes taking place in Russia as Russia adjusts to post-Communist rule.

I served as the last Secretary of State of the Cold War period and witnessed the end of that war and the implosion of the Soviet Union. It was a period of dramatic and far-reaching change. The world as many of us had known it our entire adult lives changed profoundly. Our strategy of containment had worked: the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its internal contradictions. Ten years ago, few observers considered the end of Soviet rule an imminent prospect. But to those who looked at Soviet rule in the context of Russian history, the downfall of the Soviet system at that time was not as great a surprise.

Years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, former Wilson Center Director Charles Blitzer asked Ambassador George Kennan why both the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies and Harvard University's then-named Russian Research Center featured Russia in their titles rather than the Soviet Union. Ambassador Kennan smiled and replied, "Because there will not always be a Soviet Union, but Russia will always be there."

That statement captures the essence of the Kennan Institute, which Ambassador Kennan co-founded at the Wilson Center with James Billington, now our Librarian of Congress, and historian S. Frederick Starr. Behind the trends and events in Russia that capture headlines and demand our immediate attention, there will always be in the background more than a millennium's worth of history to take into account. And a failure to understand Russia's history will result in a failure to understand Russia.

For 25 years, the Kennan Institute has been studying events in Russia within their broader historical, political and cultural context. The Institute's fellows range from historians and sociologists to journalists and government officials. The Institute promotes interaction between scholars and policymakers, to their mutual benefit.

The Institute has an outstanding record of sponsoring young scholars that have gone on to be leaders, both in academia and in public life. Several former guest scholars became major Russian political figures during the 1990s. Many other former fellows have become State Department officials and leading scholars in universities across the United States. In a recent interview, George Kennan stated that the Institute's role in bringing young scholars to Washington to make contacts with their peers and senior colleagues "...was possibly the greatest contribution that we were able to make on a national scale."

You may not know that the Kennan Institute is named after an ancestor of Ambassador Kennan, George Kennan "the Elder." The elder Kennan was a twenty-year old telegraph engineer in 1865 when he joined the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition that sought to establish telegraph service between the United States and Russia across the Bering Strait and Siberia. A couple of years into the expedition's work in Siberia, a transatlantic cable was successfully laid, and Kennan's expedition was out of business.

The elder Kennan went on to turn this business failure into personal success. He became America's foremost expert on Siberia and the exile policies of the tsarist government. Kennan also used his reputation as a leading scholar to become an important figure in the foreign policy debates of his day.

Ambassador Kennan continued and built upon his ancestor's example of scholarship in the public service. Ambassador Kennan's contribution to our country was recognized in 1989 when President George Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The citation that accompanies Ambassador Kennan's medal begins with these words: "Career diplomat,historian and educator, George Kennan has helped shape American foreign policy since 1933."

Our country would be very well-served if all of our foreign policymakers approached issues with the thoughtfulness and long-term perspective of Ambassador George Kennan. Especially in our relationship with Russia, it is important to keep our eyes trained on the challenges and opportunities which lie before us. We need greater foresight, and less partisanship.

Or, to use Russian phrasing, we need to ask, "What is to be done?" rather than "Who is to blame?"

One of the most acrimonious foreign policy debates in America today is the debate over "who lost Russia." Particularly since the major setbacks to Russia's reform efforts last year, observers of Russia have argued fiercely over who is to blame for Russia's continued difficulty in adapting to capitalism and democracy.

-- Some in the West charge that the U.S. lost Russia, first by failing to seize on the historic opportunity presented by the collapse of the Soviet Union, then by supporting individual Russian leaders rather than democratic institutions and ideals.

-- Some in Russia argue that the reformers, supported by the West, lost Russia, by enacting reforms that turned dozens into millionaires and millions into paupers living below the poverty level.

-- Some on both sides claim that Russia was nobody's to lose in the first place. According to this view, Russians themselves are to blame for their current condition, or their plight is seen as an inevitable legacy of their Communist past.

Conflicting perceptions drive this debate -- perceptions of what should have happened and what should have been done. These perceptions cloud, rather than shed light on, the real problems of Russia's current situation and future.

Americans are frequently frustrated by what is happening in Russia today. We are upset by the misuse of loans from international organizations and stories of massive money-laundering. We are exasperated by Russian opposition to US foreign policy initiatives, whether in Kosovo or Iraq. We are disturbed by the rise of anti-American sentiment in Russia. Most of all, we are disappointed that the tremendous efforts and resources we devoted to trying to help Russia join the world community as a stable, prosperous democracy have not yet come to fruition.

Russians today are suspicious of America -- suspicious of our power, and suspicious of our intentions. They resent the fact that we did not provide the kind of aid we extended to Germany and Japan after the end of World War II. Worse, they feel that we have exploited the collapse of the Soviet Union in order to extend our hegemonic influence. Russians accuse us of pushing for reforms that have resulted in an unprecedented economic depression in their country. They believe that even now we are holding back their development in order to keep them in the role of a raw material producer and a market for Western goods. They were enraged by the expansion of NATO, and by our intervention in Kosovo. Our efforts to search for a way to protect ourselves from missile attack by other nations are perceived by Russians as a threat directed at them.

There are some elements of truth in all of these different perceptions, just as there is evidence to support the opposing sides in the debate over "Who Lost Russia?" But let's step back from these perceptions and arguments, and consider where we go from here. What is the broader context of U.S.-Russian relations today, and what are the challenges that lay ahead?

We are emerging from both the euphoria of the end of the Soviet era and the raw tensions of the Kosovo crisis. While there is little danger of a return to cold war confrontation, the tremendous reserve of good will between the United States and Russia has nearly evaporated after years of troubled reform and differences over foreign policy. Both sides will need to make sustained efforts on many fronts in order to improve relations once again.

The next few years will present great opportunities and challenges in U.S.-Russian relations. We are at another crossroads in history, at least as important as the end of the Soviet era. While the Cold War is over, the terms of our continuing relationship are not yet set.

In coming years, the relationship between the U.S. and Russia will probably undergo significant changes. Those future changes need to be thought about today.

-- In the year 2000, Russia will have a new parliament and for the first time in its history should see a constitutional, democratic transfer of power to a new President-- In the year 2001, the United States will have a new administration in place -- our first administration of the new millennium.

-- In the next century, both nations may regard each other in a new light -- without enmity, with more realistic expectations, and with our national interests firmly in mind.

Both countries must work hard to lay a positive groundwork for relations in the next century. We can only achieve a stronger relationship if our discourse and policies are based not on the heated debate of the moment, but on careful consideration of the broader importance of the relationship.

Here, obviously our relationship with Russia is important for many reasons. Russia's large nuclear arsenal and other advanced military technology could pose a major threat to us if it gets into the wrong hands, Russia's economy, though struggling today, has great potential. Russia has influence in areas of strategic importance to us, such as Central Asia and the Middle East. Russian organized crime networks stretch throughout the world and constitute a major problem to be reckoned with.

So, Given Russia's importance, it clearly follows that engagement with Russia is the only sensible approach to dealing with the problems she faces and the strains in our relationship. A peaceful, democratic and prosperous Russia is strongly in our national interest. And so we should continue to work with Russia to help it reach this goal.

Yet we must have realistic expectations of Russia. We must not expect her to become a thriving market democracy that functions just like ours. We must recognize that Russia will develop on her own terms and in her own way. We must understand that major reforms may not be implemented for years, and that reform may not take place exactly as we would like.

We should also recognize that our involvement with Russia will not immediately produce great results. There will be further setbacks along the way. But we must be patient and persistent, and seek to build bridges where possible.

We should voice our objections with Russia when appropriate, but we should seek always to turn our objections into a constructive dialogue.

The challenges facing Russia are immense, from security issues to economic reform to political strife. These problems are all exacerbated by the fact that Russia does not have an adequately functioning system of laws. Our efforts to help Russia meet her challenges can only have a modest impact on a country that vast and complex. But that impact in itself is well worth our time and resources.

Ten years from now, the debate over "who lost Russia" may be ancient history. By then, U.S.-Russian relations may be stronger than ever, and Russia may be solidly on the road to prosperity and integration with the West. But such a positive outcome will take a lot of effort on many people's parts. Rather than continuing to bemoan the negative events and developments of recent years, it behooves us all to resolve to help make that potential positive outcome a reality. This Center and its Kennan Institute I know can be counted upon to be leaders in that effort.

Thank you.

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The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more