Washington — The United States and Russia disagree on some aspects of their bilateral relations, but there are many areas where the countries can and do cooperate, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia told the Heritage Foundation September 4.
The relationship has been marked by ups and downs, Evelyn N. Farkas said, and that is normal. The idea, she added, is to work through these disagreements.
“We will continue to work with Russia to find mutually acceptable solutions,” Farkas said in her prepared remarks. “We’ve been managing a significant disagreement with the Russians over Syria.”
Still, Farkas said, American officials want to bolster defense cooperation. The United States wants to work on counterproliferation issues with Iran, North Korea, and on counterterrorism and counternarcotics in regions adjacent to Russia.
“Our level of interaction with Russia has increased substantially with the establishment of the Defense Relations Working Group in September 2010,” she said. “The working group is intended to create mechanisms for discussion and exchange at the policy level between defense professionals on a range of issues, including defense reform and modernization, missile defense cooperation, defense technology cooperation, and global and regional security issues of mutual interest.”
Increased cooperation on Afghanistan tops the U.S. wish list, Farkas said. “Working to bring improved stability to Afghanistan is clearly in U.S. and Russian interests, and Russia continues to be supportive by expanding the Northern Distribution Network and allowing for diversification in the types of cargo that can pass through its territory,” she explained. “The U.S. and Russia continue working together to disrupt al-Qaida’s and other terrorist groups’ operational networks and undermine their access to financial resources.”
Continued cooperation to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa also is a U.S. goal, Farkas said.
Even in areas of disagreement there must be conversations, Farkas said. Both Russia and the United States agree that the civil war in Syria should end, she noted, but Russia supports the regime of Bashar Assad. “Both of our countries have been adamant that we remain committed to working with each other to bring the parties together to negotiate a political settlement,” she said.
Russia continues to express concern that U.S. and NATO missile defenses could pose a threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent, Farkas said, and Russian leaders also question whether Iran really poses a threat.
“We continue to assure Russia that our missile defense efforts are not directed against Russia, nor do they pose a threat to its strategic nuclear deterrent,” she said. “And we continue to make the case that the transparency and cooperation we are offering are the best way for Russia to gain the confidence it seeks that our missile defenses do not threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.”
Continuing talks on nuclear arms reductions also is important, Farkas said. “We have made clear our willingness to discuss the full range of strategic stability issues of concern to both our countries, and we will continue to seek opportunities to make progress on this agenda,” she added.
Farkas echoed a statement President Obama made yesterday in Stockholm on U.S.-Russian relations, citing areas in which U.S. and Russian interests overlap.
The president pointed to progress the two nations have made in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, in Russia joining the World Trade Organization and in close cooperation on counterterrorism issues. Russia has also provided logistical support to U.S. and NATO forces based in Afghanistan.
Still, the president acknowledged, relations have cooled recently over Syria and over Russia granting asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. “But I have not written off the idea that the United States and Russia are going to continue to have common interests even as we have some very profound differences on some other issues,” Obama said. “And where our interests overlap, we should pursue common action. Where we’ve got differences, we should be candid about them — try to manage those differences, but not sugarcoat them.”
A biography of Evelyn N. Farkas can be found on the Department of Defense website.