Richardson On Russia

15 months ago, I interviewed New Mexico governor Bill Richardson during the early days of his Presidential campaign. (He actually didn't officially 'declare' his candidacy until two weeks later.) I never ended up using the interview, but during the recent Russia-Georgia flare-up I recalled asking Richardson specifically about US-Russia relations. (I studied Soviet politics at Tufts, which is also Richardson's alma mater.) Note that a month ago in Tbilisi Condi Rice publicly called for fast-tracking of Georgia entry into NATO. Here's the exchange, from May 7, 2007.


Bernstein: We don’t hear very much discussion about the relationship between America and Russia, as a central area of importance. I’m wondering what your thinking is about how we improve that relationship, to get their help both in securing their own former republics’ nuclear materials, and with the Iran problem -- and whether you think that NATO admitting more Warsaw Pact nations is something that America should support?

Richardson: Well I agree with you, the US-Russia relationship is essential. But we’ve got to accept that there are areas of strategic competitiveness, and we have some differences. But we need to work together, especially in the following areas -- and we are not doing them. One, is securing Russian nuclear materials that are still out there. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the last thing you want is nuclear material, uranium or plutonium, to be found in terrorist hands. And there is still a lot of that, and we need to increase our cooperative program. Number two, we need to find ways with Russia to reduce each others’ nuclear arsenal. We haven’t had arms-control talks in a long period of time. The major nuclear powers have to lead, at a time when problems of nuclear proliferation, lack of verification systems, North Korea, countries acquiring more nuclear weapons -- what is needed is a new nuclear inspection and new non-proliferation treaty, comprehensive test-ban treaty, and it should be led by the US and Russia. Number three, we’ve got to find ways to properly channel Russia’s vast energy resources, at least as a supplier to Europe, to Japan, to the West, and we have to do that in a positive way. And I’m for advocating less [dependence] on foreign oil, but if we maintain this dependence at least it should be from friendly states, like Mexico, Canada, and possibly Russia. I think we need to speak out strongly on Chechnya and human rights violations, press freedoms that Russia doesn’t have, on ways that we can bring Russia into more democratic compliance. There was great hope when Putin came in, that he would move in the direction of press freedoms and economic freedoms -- sometimes it seems like he’s running Russia as what he used to be, the former head of the KGB. Now, on the other side, we’ve got to explain to Russia, why is it that we’re expanding NATO around their perimeters, and we don’t allow Russia in? I mean, of course they’re going to get sensitive about that. A lot of it is dialog. A lot of it is building personal trust between presidents. A lot of it is diplomacy, saying to Russia: “Look, you’ve got to help us on Iran. You don’t want Iran with a nuclear weapon, that’s not in your interest.” And finding ways to do it. Instead, we’re poking Russia in these other areas, without explaining to them what we can do for them and what they can do for us. It’s the building of personal relationships. Clinton used to have this with Yeltsin. Reagan used to have this with Gorbachev. And that helped have a relationship of mutual respect, while [allowing] enormous competitiveness. That’s what I would do with Russia.


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