- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

There is hardly a politician in Washington who has stayed away from attacking Russia lately. I believe that this surge in public rhetoric, a new barrage of anti-Russian charges regarding, in particular, the state of Russia’s democracy and its alleged use of energy resources for political ends, can only invite mutual irritation. Perhaps, such bullhorn or microphone diplomacy has a right to exist. But when it becomes so loud that it can wake up the deaf, one starts to wonder what purpose it serves. In any event, such a talkfest can hardly facilitate Russian-American joint work on burning international issues, including, for instance, Iran.

I would also like to point out that, given the nature of our bilateral relations when the public sentiment and the mindset of the think-tank establishment are so heated, actions designed to hurt each other would only seem an easy and “logical” option. Making things rough for Russia has nowadays become in vogue, all the more that stereotypes and habits dating back to the Soviet times have all but disappeared.

Where would this mass infatuation with criticism lead? It would lead to such a state of affairs where our relations could suffer serious damage, in deed and not in name. One should realize that, eventually, both sides would have to repair our relationship, bring the situation back on an even keel and get out of the woods. By and large, mutual partnership meets valid interests of both Moscow and Washington. Moreover, such a partnership is essential for the rest of the world, since the settlement of a number of urgent problems depends on a functional link between Russia and the United States.

I want to reiterate that scolding and wrangling with each other is easier than doing something positive. By the way, my government is showing restraint by not responding with tit-for-tat statements. In any case, it does not occur to anyone in Moscow to send messengers to some exotic places close to U.S. borders to lecture America. If you carefully read President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly, you will see a clear picture of Russia’s priorities and interests. But what you will fail to find in that address is a fretted reaction under the influence of momentary temptations to the statements made by some U.S. policy-makers.

There is another point I want to raise. While publicly criticizing Russia, U.S. officials always throw in that the existing confidential channels of communication, including those at the highest level, allow to address any concerns and disagreements in an open and candid manner. These channels should not only be mentioned in public statements but put to a more active practical use to alleviate misunderstandings and to convey one’s views on the most contentious matters.

Those familiar with Russian literature know the catch phrase about the petty officer’s widow who whipped herself. Perhaps, one should not allow a situation when loud grievances over Russia’s behavior reach such a point when the validity of Washington’s Russia policy itself is questioned. Criticism and open debate are certainly necessary, but what is not helpful is creating an atmosphere where disapproval of certain actions by the other side obscures the entire horizon, interferes with realpolitik and disrupts day-to-day business.

Russia is gradually gaining a firm foothold, and tomorrow it will even get stronger. Some might like it, others might not. However, I do not see any reason for indiscriminate exasperation and total criticism along the lines that during the “good 1990s” there used to be democracy in Russia and now it is gone. Instead, why don’t we focus on areas where we could really work together?

Yuri V. Ushakov is ambassador of the Russian Federation.

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