Lunch with the Russian ambassador

Russia remains optimistic but deeply cautious over the future of relations with the U.S.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently joked that the thing he will miss least about the âÄúlost yearsâÄù was being lectured by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice . The presidency of George W. Bush saw one of the lowest points in U.S.-Russian relations since the depths of the Cold War. The previous government was especially provocative of Russia, not to entirely blame the United States. Buoyed by expensive energy prices that fuelled a credit-driven economic boom, Russia was once again feeling powerful and able to challenge the global status quo. This newfound influence led to geopolitical posturing revealing the two rivalsâÄô remaining Cold War reflexes. Yet, this remains a curiosity to the younger generations of the two countries. Enough time has passed since the end of the Cold War that Russian youth have taken fancy to the lifestyle of the West. Any college freshman in the United States is the first to never have lived alongside the Soviet Union. So it is dubious, with the past still looming, that the administration of President Barack Obama, stock full of President Bill Clinton-era foreign policy hands, would be able to push the reset button with Russia. On Tuesday, the Minnesota International Center hosted a luncheon featuring the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak . The heavy corporate sponsorship and focus on Minnesota business dealings with Russia made, if measured by income, this correspondent a distinct minority. Unsurprisingly for an official in a public forum, he made no earth-shattering observations. Questions from the audience were general soft balls. It was really a sanguine, diplomatic affair, with the usual formalities (though the salmon was quite good). Through his well-lived face and subtly accented English, Ambassador KislyakâÄôs words were optimistic. Yet, his tone wavered from pragmatic to deeply cautious. He lamented that despite pledges from the current and preceding three administrations, Congress had not repealed the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a legal anachronism from the Cold War that prohibits privileged trading partner status for Russia. On this point, logic is on RussiaâÄôs side; David Hume believed that principles of just conduct between nations do not come from divine providence but develop over time as people recognize mutual commercial interest. There seems no better way to bring the United States and Russia closer. He also stressed that nuclear proliferation is an area that commands U.S.-Russian cooperation. Few could disagree. But relations cannot be restricted to purely military affairs. This is where diplomacy gets sticky. In his remarks, the ambassador believed that the core interests shared by the United States and Russia âÄî those related to security âÄî have been insulated from geopolitical spats. Outside those is where problems arise. Russia desires a stable, predictable set of relations. But foreign policy cannot have priorities. With such complex global interconnectedness, interests between states can easily diverge spontaneously. Overall, Russia is warm to the new administration. Many difficult political and cultural obstacles sit in the way of normalizing relations, some of which may never be resolved. The ambassador believes that since their recent meeting in London, the wisdom of the two presidentsâÄô will focus on the positive, while, of course, recognizing that there will be some differences. If only. St. JamesâÄô Street welcomes comments at [email protected]