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Former ambassador: US shouldn’t give up on Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian Defense Ministry top officials and representatives of the Russian Defense Industry, at Bocharov Ruchei residence. (Klimentyev Mikhail/TASS /ZUMA Press/TNS)
February 23, 2018

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia told an audience of 120 people at the University of Michigan on Wednesday that the United States needs to stay engaged with Russia even though the bilateral relations — the worst since the Cold War — are not going to improve anytime soon.

“The Kremlin’s control of the Russian society is neither monolithic nor absolute,” said John R. Beyrle, a retired career diplomat who was the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2008 to 2012.

“Don’t give in to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but don’t give up on Russia. … What’s required is a better understanding of how complex Russia is. … It’s important that we talk to the Russian people and explain to them what’s going on around them. They don’t have the power now, but they may have it in the future. And keeping the communication lines open is probably the most important thing we can do.”

Mr. Beyrle spoke as he delivered a 90-minute lecture at the university’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Titled, “Russia 2018: Preparing for the Post-Putin Era,” the lecture also featured an overview of the ups and downs in U.S.-Russian relations and the political and economic developments in Russia over the past 20 years.

U.S.-Russian relations aren’t likely to improve as long as Mr. Putin — with his anti-U.S. policies — remains in power, he said.

That is all but guaranteed, because Mr. Putin controls the outcome of the March 2018 presidential election, which gives him another six years as president, his last constitutionally allowed term. Mr. Beyrle said that even then Mr. Putin — should his health allow — may find a way to remain in charge by assuming supra-presidential powers.

Mr. Beyrle went on to say that the United States can’t be expected to achieve a breakthrough in its relations with Russia as long as Congress and the White House “remain divided on Russia.”

That, he said, makes it critically important that contacts between the two countries’ top military brass — including the so-called ‘deconfliction’ mechanism in Syria — continue so that the chances of an accidental launch of a war between the two countries are minimized.

Additionally, the United States should maintain its contact with Russia in the business, scientific, educational, and cultural spheres, he said, adding that he does not advocate trying to affect a regime change in Russia, which could make the matters worse.

Mara Paltry of Ann Arbor, a retired physical therapists whose parents came to the United States from Latvia, said she agreed with Mr. Beyrle in that a continued engagement with Russia is a must.

“I felt the lecture was very interesting and informative,” she said just after the lecture ended, adding that the United States should continue its contacts with Russia in the fields the lecturer has outlined.

Said her friend Gerry Lapidus, 77, who also was at the lecture. “Although, I think it will be hard to achieve.”

Mr. Lapidus, a retired product manager from Ann Arbor, said he follows the U.S.-Russian relations partly because his parents came to the United States from Russia,

“I am an ethnic Ukrainian and this is interesting stuff for me, Oleh Kozachul, 36, a visiting University of Michigan scholar from Ukraine, who also attended the lecture, said.

He added that what interested him the most is what the ambassador had to say “about about the future, what happens after Putin.”

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© 2018 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.