- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got it exactly right when she recently described the U.S.-Russian connection as “a big, complicated relationship.”

Americans’ recent disappointments should not obscure the fact that the relationship is in transition. We have seen heightened rhetoric and missteps by both sides in recent months. The result is a “cold peace,” as Rep. Alcee Hastings, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, recently told the World Russian Forum. But if we keep our perspective — a potentially difficult challenge as presidential campaigns get under way in both countries — the bond can grow better still by building on what is right instead of obsessing over what is wrong.

As seen through American eyes, Russia is falling short on the promise of democracy. But, for the people of Russia, the degree of openness and opportunity they enjoy today is without precedent. As a Russian by birth and an American by choice, my heart is pulled toward both views. I shared the euphoria of both countries when the Soviet flag came down nearly 16 years ago, and I understand why some have been disheartened over perceived setbacks since then.But I know that both countries have reaped significant fruits from Russia’s evolution in the post-Soviet era. And I am convinced that greater benefits lie ahead if Americans can replace the rose-colored glasses of 1991 with the clear lenses of reality and build on the elements that bind the two countries together.

2007 marks the bicentennial of diplomatic relations between the two countries — a tie cemented when future president John Quincy Adams arrived in St. Petersburg to present his credentials to the czar’s Imperial Court. Through wars, hot and cold, and even frightening moments of nuclear brinksmanship, diplomacy has been a consistent and positive force. Even during this period of “cold peace,” U.S. government agencies continue to work closely with the Russians on nuclear proliferation issues, counterterrorism, narcotics and money laundering. A recent State Department report cited U.S.-Russian cooperation against terrorism as “one of the pillars of the bilateral relationship.”

Commercial ties are older still, dating to 18th-century fur trading between Russians and Americans in the Pacific Northwest. The economic connections have grown exponentially in the past decade-and-a-half as a reborn Russia embraced the power of the marketplace after seven decades of communist failure.

Consider:

• Foreign investment in Russia, including $11 billion by American companies, nearly doubled in 2006 to $28.4 billion.

• U.S. exports to Russia climbed by 20 percent last year to $4.7 billion. Russian exports to the United States totaled $19 billion in 2006, a 30 percent increase from the year before.

• American business of every sort — from candy to cars — now operate in Russia. Among the pioneering companies: Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Boeing, Proctor & Gamble, Ford, and General Motors. Some business alliances even extend to outer space.

• American businesses in Russia are making money at an astonishing pace. Two-thirds of U.S. companies in Russia are meeting current sales targets and 97 percent expect continued sales growth during the next three years.

Profits by themselves do not guarantee good relations. As important is the ability of commerce to promote friendship, spread ideas, including democracy, and advance openness in society.

Historians, former government officials and students of culture generally agree that commercial ties helped push communism out of Eastern Europe in the 1990s by introducing American concepts of competition and freedom. Today, surveys show that by a margin of 75 percent to 47 percent, Russians employed by U.S. businesses have a more favorable view of the United States than those who work for Russian firms. It appears that as Russians get to know America better they feel better about it.

Does Russia’s 16-year-old democracy match America’s? Of course not — and how could it given that the United States has been at it for more than 400 years since the first colonists set foot in the New World? Have there been occasional setbacks or missteps? Of course. Like any teenager, a 16-year-old democracy will get some things wrong. But, as someone who lived and suffered under a communist dictatorship and who spends these days a good portion of the year in Russia, I assure you that this country is far freer than at any time in its history. I see freedoms today that were unthinkable in Soviet times: freedom to travel, start a business, join a political party of your choice and practice one’s faith.

In 2008, both countries will choose new presidents. Candidates in each nation will be tempted to prove “toughness” by focusing on disappointments and division in U.S.-Russian relations. But the candidates with the clearest vision will see that deeper ties and closer engagement is the best way to strengthen democracy and common prosperity for the benefit of both Russians and Americans.

Edward D. Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.

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