United States Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle spoke at the University’s Alumni Center yesterday to advocate attempts by the U.S. government to bolster relations between the two countries.
A roughly 120-person audience, filled every available seat in the Founders Room, as the ambassador discussed the “reset” — a term coined by President Barack Obama’s administration to describe strategic efforts to improve relations between Russia and the United States.
In his speech, Beyrle explained that strengthening relations between the two countries would be vital for the United States in upcoming years, because both countries hold strong political positions in the international community.
“A productive, constructive relationship between the United States and Russia is essential for the national interests of the United States,” Beyrle said.
Beyrle cited Russia’s nuclear power, the country’s seat on the United Nations Security Council and its role as a top energy supplier as reasons for the United States to work towards stronger relations between the two countries.
“Russia has and will continue to have a very large role in how energy is produced and how it is distributed in the world,” Beyrle said. “These geopolitics will be pivotal to how stable a world we will live in the 21st Century.”
The ambassador also addressed ways the two countries could work together to combat world issues like nuclear terrorism, conflicts in the Middle East and international crime.
“A promising area in the U.S.-Russia partnership in the 21st century is law enforcement on a global scale, fighting organized crime, cybercrime, piracy, counter narcotics, human trafficking and other forms of lawlessness over international borders,” he said.
He added that the FBI and the Russia Federal Security Service have already begun collaborating to specifically fight international cybercrime.
Though Beyrle admitted that many U.S. presidents have made similar promises to improve U.S. relations with Russia with little success, he said the Obama administration is taking a different approach.
At a July 2009 summit, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to form a bilateral commission, which would focus on an exchange of ideas between the two countries.
“It was agreed there would be about 16 working groups under this presidential commission, focusing not only on nuclear security or health, but also issues like space, cultural exchanges, sports and a whole range of issues to build a structure of interaction below the level of presidents,” Beyrle said.
He said though presidents of the U.S. and Russia have had good relationships in the past, it is vital to take steps to unite the constituents of the respective nations.
The ambassador said Russia experienced great change in the last few years, edging closer to democracy and to a healthier relationship with America. He said Russian citizens are traveling across national borders more than ever and have uncensored Internet access, despite previous restrictions.
“Russia has never been more open to the outside world, and the Russian people have never been more free to express their opinions,” Beyrle said.
But he said the state of human rights in Russia remains a problem and added that organized political activity and television broadcasts are still closely controlled.
In his closing remarks, the ambassador said the United States has a responsibility to help Russia reach its democratic potential.
“Our national interest demands that we maintain a productive, constructive relationship with this country to ensure that her transition to a prosperous democracy — the democracy that my Russian friends in Moscow tell me that they deserve after all they’ve been through in the last 20 years — happens sooner rather than later,” he said.
Joanna Steele, a graduate student in the School of Information, said she felt encouraged by the ambassador’s speech.
“I attended a talk at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 2006 and was very disappointed by the attitude of the embassy at that time,” Steele said. “After hearing the ambassador today, I’m hopeful.”