John R. Beyrle, former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and Russia, spoke to an audience of about75 students, faculty and community members about preparing for a Russian government without President Vladimir Putin’s leadership as part of Ford's Policy Talk series at Weill Hall Wednesday afternoon.
Beyrle served as ambassador to Bulgaria from 2005 to 2008 and Russia from 2008 to 2012. He previously served two tours at the U.S. embassy in Russia and worked as a counselor at the U.S. embassy in the Czech Republic. Beylre received a Presidential Meritorious Service Award during the George W. Bush administration and a Presidential Distinguished Service Award during the Obama administration.
Putin has served as the Russian president from 2000 to 2008 and 2012 to present. From 2008 to 2011, he served as prime minister, because the Russian constitution does not allow a president to serve more than two consecutive terms. Putin has generated controversy within the international community over the handling of 2012 Moscow protests, Crimean crisis, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election among other things. Russian presidential elections are scheduled for March 18, and Putin will be running for another term.
John Ciorciari, associate professor of public policy, introduced Beyrle to the audience, saying he felt Beyrle’s experience would be worthwhile in teaching Public Policy students about international relations.
“I really think ambassador Beyrle epitomizes the value of (learned) experience diplomats and (pretty) much the types of skills and knowledge that we hope people get here at the Ford School,” Ciorciari said.
Beyrle began by emphasizing the importance of learning about Russian politics and the ways it is integrated with American and global politics.
“It is important to try to understand what Russia is up to,” Beyrle said. “As hard as that can be, it is vitally important to this country and to the world because Russia really matters.”
Beyrle also described a joke he’s heard Russians make when election seasons near.
“What’s the difference between elections in the United States and elections in Russia?” Beyrle said. “The answer is in the United States everybody knows what the rules of elections are but nobody knows who’s going to win. In Russia, it’s just the opposite. Everyone knows who will win the election, but nobody knows exactly how it’s going to happen.”
News sources have claimed previous Russian elections have been shown to be rigged in favor of Putin. According to CNBC, opposition groups say this upcoming election has to potential to be rigged as well.
Beyrle then went on to explain factors that could weaken Putin’s reign on the country. One factor was through the current Russian constitution, which has the potential to limits the number of presidential terms Putin can serve.
Beyrle said he thinks Putin will be re-elected, but said that this term would be his last due to the structure of the Russian Constitution.
Beyrle explained Russian-American relations are at the worst he has seen throughout his career, despite working with Russians during the Cold War.
“U.S.-Russia relations are as bad as I can remember seeing them in my lifetime,” Beyrle said. “I’ve been doing U.S.-Russia relations for a long time and I can really go back to ’83, the worst period of the Cold War that I remember and say in anyways it’s worse now.”
In a question and answer segment, Beyrle said he thinks it will be a long time before Crimea is returned to Ukraine, believing Putin may claim the annexation as his lasting achievement.
“Russia is certainly not going to turn over Crimea any time soon,” Beyrle said. “This is Putin’s legacy. When Putin passes away, the first paragraph of his obituary will say that he is the man that, among other things, got Crimea back for Russia.”
Public Policy junior Tom Aiello said he found the event worthwhile and especially compelling when he learned the U.S. sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea did not play out the way the U.S. intended.
“It was interesting to me that the U.S. efforts to punish Russia for their invasion of Crimea and Ukraine and trying to get them to behave actually backfired and led to even more U.S.-Russia animosity,” Aiello said. “It makes me think about how the U.S. should react moving forward.”