- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What Russia needs

The U.S. ambassador in Moscow knows the risks of giving advice to a resurgent Russia, grown rich from an oil and gas bonanza and surly at America’s global influence.

Nevertheless, Ambassador William J. Burnsoffered his New Year’s assessment in a recent article in the Moscow Times, in which he dismissed the conventional debate over the role of Vladimir Putin after he leaves the presidency and focused on Russia’s weak economic and political institutions.

The past year marked the 200th anniversary of U.S.-Russia diplomatic ties, but the bilateral relationship suffered as Mr. Putin publicly challenged the United States for a greater role on the world stage.

Mr. Burns said the end of the anniversary year “is a natural moment to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.”

“That is not exactly an easy thing to do these days,” he said. “In our broader relationship, mutual frustration often obscures mutual interests.”

Mr. Burns noted that both foreign and domestic analysts view Russia’s future through the prism of the politics of personality, especially concerning Mr. Putin assuming the office of prime minister with his United Russia party firmly in control of the Russian parliament.

The ambassador argued that the more important questions are not who will lead Russia but “what will shape Russia’s future and the future of our economic relationship for many years to come.”

“What is the country going to do with its hard-won stability? What is it going to do with the moment of energy-driven opportunity that lies before it?” Mr. Burns asked.

He urged Russia to adopt the economic reforms necessary for admission to the World Trade Organization.

“The faster Moscow enters the World Trade Organization and other key institutions on the same terms that apply to everyone else, the faster its industries will become more competitive and the faster its economy will diversify,” Mr. Burns said.

He urged Russia to invest more in “its physical, human and institutional infrastructure.” Roads, airports, seaports, power generators all need modernization, and education and health care systems need more money, he said. Mr. Burns warned that restrictions on the press and the lack of an independent judiciary will hurt Russia’s economic prospects.

“Without the rule of law … and without stable and predictable regulatory and investment regimes, it’s impossible over the long term to attract capital and know-how or to ensure a healthy economy,” he said.

New Year’s in Japan

J. Thomas Schieffer is no career diplomat, but he knows how to practice public diplomacy. Since becoming U.S. ambassador to Japan more than two years ago, he has posted annual greetings on the Fourth of July and New Year’s on the Web site http://tokyo.usembassy.gov.

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