Constructive dialogue between unwilling partners

12:17 15.01.2021 • Yuri Shafranik , President of the World Politics and Resources Foundation, Doctor of Economics

Many people are familiar with the notion, which says that "As socialism is built, the class struggle intensifies." Indeed, just as the Bolsheviks were moving towards their goal, and the country’s economic structure, the people’s customs and habits and social institutions were falling behind, the class struggle inevitably intensified, which allowed Josef Stalin ("the father of all nations") to find an ideological justification for unleashing the bloody purges.

When powerful tectonic, political and economic shifts in the life of a country happen quickly, people usually call this a revolution. The predecessor of such changes taking place today was the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftershocks, which, although fragmentary and of a different nature, are still felt today.

Over the past decade, China has gradually emerged as a global superpower, and in certain areas has left the United States behind, and in its political, economic and territorial rivalry with anyone, it will only get stronger.

Europe, and Russia is interested in a strong Europe, is looking for collective political and economic certainty, as evidenced by Britain’s exit from the EU, the EU countries’ rejection of a common constitution and their disagreement on many issues. All this meaning that the formation of a united Europe is far from over. And yet, this process has been going on ever since the emergence of the Roman Empire, the plans for the creation of a German nation and the expansionist claims made by the German Kaiser and Nazi Germany.

Over the past few decades, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa has been going from bad to worse, and all this has been going on amid the continuing global process where the information space is shrinking and making travel faster, and people’s consciousness is changing under the influence of the Internet.  In these conditions, after dramatic trials and leaning on its millennium-old history, Russia, drawing upon its millennium-old history, finally realized its new essence and ability to decide its own future.

The fundamental changes in the world order that I mentioned before, have a clear confrontational nature. This is evidenced by Washington’s renunciation of its international obligations, not only those related to disarmament, but even its formal commitments to allies.

Against this backcloth, the role of people's diplomacy is growing, preventing dramatic events from degenerating into full-blown tragedies, and regional conflicts – into interregional massacres. All this makes it imperative for us to create as many platforms of live communication between states as possible, from cultural, scientific and technological exchanges to unofficial events by interested social groups and analysts.

And countries, regardless of their assessment of the degree of the existing confrontation, need to tell their people about the importance of horizontal ties within society. However, in many countries any non-governmental dialogues are now looked upon as being unpatriotic, and their participants branded as “unreliable.” And this despite the fact that the peoples of many countries have been drawn closer together by their shared concern for environmental protection, global climate and about  the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which have increasingly been spreading over the past 20 years, a pandemic and the growing threat of cyber terrorism.

There have been significant changes also in the global economy and energy sector with the diktat of hydrocarbon producers making way for the “dictatorship” of their consumers, and a realization of the fact that there are much more energy resources available on the planet than experts thought.  When there is a dramatic change in priorities happening within a short span of time, we can talk about revolutionary changes taking place in the global energy sector.

Obviously, the need to ease the tensions caused by the abovementioned factors requires a qualitatively new kind of international cooperation, even what I described in 2015 as “forced cooperation,” and here I want to underscore the extremely important role of public diplomacy - an informal discussion of problems, contributing to the formation of conscious official cooperation.

And here we see a parallel process of establishing interstate relations.

The history of public diplomacy hardly knows a phenomenon more significant than the "Dartmouth Dialogue." The 60th anniversary of this nongovernmental Russian-American movement proves that its foundations and activity were and remain unique. What makes the “Dartmouth Dialogue” so special is that in its role of an informal channel of contact between the Soviet (then Russian) and US socio-political elites, it often served as an important source of information affecting the decisions made by the leaders of our two countries.

This is by no means surprising, however, since the authority of the "Dialogue" is determined not only by the nature of the problems it tackles,  but also by the unique makeup of its participants, who are not brought together by their professional, social, confessional, scientific or other interests, and are distinguished only by their vast experience in serving their countries. These are ex-Cabinet ministers, who at various times served in presidential administrations, high-ranking diplomats, prominent military, political and economic experts, scientists, medical doctors, filmmakers and journalists. Throughout the past 60 years they have contributed and  continue to contribute heavily to ending conflicts that undermine bilateral relations and efforts to ensure the stability in the regions where Russia and the United States are present.

Naturally enough, every stage of our development requires an adequate response by members of this humanitarian project, thus necessitating the involvement of outstanding personalities. Back in the Soviet period, a veritable constellation of truly historical figures like Norman Cousins, David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger on the American side, and Georgy Arbatov and Yevgeny Primakov on ours, participated in the Dartmouth movement. It was Primakov and Kissinger - the founding members of the Wise Men’s Club at the UN, who came on board in September 2014 to reactivate the “Dartmouth Dialogue." Looking back at the six years that have elapsed since then, we have to bear in mind increased tensions between Russia and the United States happening against the backdrop of radical changes that have been taking place in the world. In recent years, many countries have started to realize that US "patronage" and "protection" of their interests is just a way for Washington to change the world order so that it would benefit  America and no one else. Even Washington’s allies, be it NATO or the recently created International Alliance for Religious Freedom, which brings together 27 countries, perfectly realize this now.

During the past six years, the “Dialogue” has been working in conditions of unprecedentedly tense relations between Russia and the United States. I think that, compared to the current crisis in US-Russia relations, even the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the Soviet Union and the United States demonstrated a more rational and effective interaction through diplomatic and other channels as well as emergency consultations held by the two countries’ officials. Even though the confrontation we had back then posed a bigger threat, it was still more predictable, compared to what we have now.

I still believe that we have passed the peak of the crisis, when Moscow and Washington had to achieve interaction in Syria, halting (much to the surprise of the US and Western Europe) the process of destabilization and regime change in the Middle East, known as the "Arab Spring."

The countries of the region had slipped into a maelstrom of chaos and loss of sovereignty just as the ISIS terrorist organization (banned in Russia) was aggressively spreading, both politically and militarily, across the region, turning big chunks of Syrian and Iraqi territory into an outpost for strengthening the outlines of the new Islamist state under its dictatorship – something that had not happened since the region was "redrawn" by the Sykes-Pico agreement of 1916.

I believe that this historical phenomenon has yet to be comprehended in terms of the danger of it happening again. However, the problem is not so much the people who embraced the jihadist ideology, as the sponsors of the transformation of one terrorist organization into a military-political regional mega-force within new geographical boundaries.

Moscow’s decisive and surprise military involvement in the Syrian conflict (at the request of that country’s legitimate government) in the fall of 2015, to check the spread of international terrorism close to Russia’s southern borders, caused a new crisis in US-Russia relations after the Crimean events of 2014. And Washington’s traditional pushback, which ignored Russia’s urgent need to combat Islamic radicalism in Syria and Iraq, led to a new round of confrontation, with politicians, military and other experts around the world publicly “playing out” various scenarios that included a limited use of weapons of mass destruction during the initial stage of the war between the US and the Russian Federation.

At the same time, the US side scrapped all previously existing political, diplomatic and other channels of negotiation with Russia, and rolled up military-political and economic consultations, forcing the two countries’ military commanders on the ground in Syria to act on their own to prevent tragic scenarios of military confrontation.

Therefore, for almost 18 months the "Dartmouth Dialogue" remained the only "live channel" of  consultations between the two countries on issues of strategic stability, including such fundamental problems as weapons of mass destruction, the future of the  ABM treaties and of START-3.

Amid a crisis of confidence and mutual suspicion between Moscow and Washington in 2016 and 2017, the recommendations made by the “Dartmouth Dialogue” helped establish limited but still working interaction between the two countries in Syria and throughout the Middle East.

The “Dialogue”’ significance as the only non-governmental channel of communication, and its contribution to resolving differences in our  bilateral relations have been repeatedly emphasized by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolay  Patrushev, US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Russia’s envoy to the United States Anatoly Antonov, and many others.

The events of the past few years have shown the growing role played by society almost everywhere, with the authorities getting to appreciate its work, and the people’s assessment of the governments’ effort in countering the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly being reckoned with.

This is why “Dartmouth” seeks to work closely with the relevant authorities, with special attention paid to medicine, culture and other humanitarian activities. Their cultural, religious and medical sections have been particularly active of late.

The medical section, led by the world-acclaimed heart surgeon Leo Bokeria, the only foreign member of the American Heart Association in the entire history of the United States, and director of the Bakulev National Medical Research Center for Cardiovascular Surgery, and US professor John Hardman have contributed very heavily to the movement’s work.

The “Dartmouth Dialogue” also takes credit for bringing onboard the family of the famous conductor and violinist of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Viktor Fedotov, who, amid the Cuban Missile crisis found himself on a two-week tour in New York at the invitation of President John Kennedy and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Fedotov did not cut short his tour and, at the height of the crisis, had the presidential couple attending two of the concerts he gave there.

At one of the movement’s Russian sessions, Viktor Fedotov's son, Maxim Fedotov, now also a world-renowned conductor and violinist, played for its participants. He is the only musician around who, in recognition of his talent, was allowed by the Italian keepers of Antonio Stradivari’s violins to play the instruments crafted by the famous luthier: in a concert held during a 2006 international competition in St. Petersburg, Maxim Fedotov alternately played two Stradivari violins.

In the summer of 2017, at the height of the crisis between our countries, Maxim Fedotov played to an American audience the very same violin concerto that his father had once played to John Kennedy and his wife in New York. I don’t know if the 1962 concert actually influenced the decisions made by John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev during the “Caribbean phase” of our relations, but the American listeners in Moscow, including the former US Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders, were delighted with Maxim's speech and expressed their gratitude to us for providing a "favorable backdrop" that helped smooth out our differences when discussing sticky issues.

In January 2020, the two countries signed their first ever agreement on cooperation between their leading religious organizations, which is now being implemented, providing, among other things, for a set of joint activities by Christian and Muslim communities to offer theological education to our young people as a means of effectively countering Islamist radicalism and attempts to involve believers in the terrorist activities of ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other radical groups banned both in Russia and the United States.

Sooner or later, the acute internal political crisis, currently unfolding in the United States, will be over and the country will embark on a policy based mainly on its interests, and not on the globalization of its own values, which Politico journal describes, quoting leading American politicians, not as "a desire for democracy and freedom," but as a movement "in the Euro- Atlantic direction."

In the early 1990s, amid the euphoria from democratic transformations and the transition to a market economy, the Russian elite looked at the United States as a model of modern economy and prosperity to follow. That elation inspired exaggerated expectations about across-the-board development of Russian-American relations.

The principles of the "Washington Consensus" were unconditionally taken as the basis for radical reforms and outlined the course of our interaction. The Gore-Chernomyrdin Intergovernmental Commission was created. As its active participant, I can confirm that it did a great job by giving a political boost to and creating a legal basis for economic cooperation and implementation of a slew of major joint projects. The Commission helped many big US companies to start working in Russia and make a significant contribution to the creation of a market economy, and technologically rev up many of our industrial sectors, including oil and gas.

One of the outcomes of the Russian-US summit of June 2001, was an idea to establish an energy dialogue between the Russian Federation and the United States with an eye to promoting commercial cooperation in the energy sector by increasing interaction between the two countries’ companies in the field of exploration, production, processing, transportation and marketing of energy resources, as well as in implementing joint projects, including in third countries.

In that same year, the White Paper "US-Russia Partnership: New Times, New Opportunities" was published, outlining the position of the US Congress on energy cooperation with Russia. The document stated that the United States should prioritize closer energy cooperation with Russia because this would help America avoid the risks of uncertainty in energy supplies and unnecessary dependence.

Much was done then. Suffice it to mention such major projects as Sakhalin-1, Sakhalin-2, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium or the start of a joint development of the Arctic shelf. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Baker Hughes, Halliburton and other US companies had all but moved their main operations to Russia.

However, the technological progress and new technological breakthroughs achieved in the US in 2008-2015 turned the situation all around, with cooperation with Russia, including in the energy sector, making way for intense competition, and in terms of geopolitics – eventually for confrontation.

At the same time, at the close of the 20th century, some people in the United States believed that the Soviet breakup and the subsequent economic crisis in Russia were solely the result of the United States’ and NATO’s victory in the Cold War, and therefore, should no longer have any influence not only on world politics, but on regional development as well. They concluded that now that the world had become unipolar, the United States was the only guarantor of international security and had every right to meddle in the internal affairs of any country, including militarily.

However, having left behind 15 years of failures, we now know just where Russia stands in the changed world, and that it needs to protect its interests.

And it's not just the events of 2014, namely the conflict over Crimea and Ukraine. It was clear that since around 2012, the processes I spoke about had forced the United States to act more selfishly and more aggressively  towards Russia.

Today, we see the demand for the Dartmouth movement and its responses to the present-day challenges acquiring a new quality. Here I also rely on my own experience, of someone who has an impressive track record of working in industry and politics, and has always believed in global integration, all the more so now that the world has grown smaller information-wise and in terms of high-speed travel, increased tensions and new technological challenges.

By the way, one of the problems the Soviet Union had was its failure to fully integrate itself into the economic and cultural processes going on in the world. If you shut yourself out of the outside world, as is now the case with the relations between Russia and the United States, this is fraught with a disaster greater in scale than the world wars of the 20th century. In a compressed world, any acute problem can have consequences compared to which even ecological disasters may look insignificant. Therefore, when our relations started going downhill, I agreed to participate in the “Dartmouth Dialogue” as a co-chairman from the Russian side. Without acting on behalf of either our president or the American one, I try to figure out what really is going on and offer options for cooperation, including "forced cooperation."

Right now, we are facing a dilemma: either to try to stabilize our relations and start working in concert, or have a new round of tension. It largely depends on the United States just how wide the "window" of our mutual opportunities will be opened.

There is an urgent need for us to think about getting broad sections of our societies interacting more closely and sending out signals of political support for such cooperation in various fields. I have already said that at the height of its global power, the United States decided to build the world for itself. Essentially, this is a pretty natural state egoism. In the case of our country, the example of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which economically supported many other republics of the Soviet Union and some socialist countries, proves that building something “for oneself," does no good. Apparently, America’s bold eagle should not keep other countries under its wing. Moreover, relying on military power alone never wins you more allies but, on the contrary, breeds enemies.

The goal of the “Dartmouth Dialogue” is to increase the number of partners, as well as expand and strengthen partnerships. When things get rough, it remains a platform for resuming a constructive dialogue between our two countries. We realize that our relations have “hit the depths” and that it would be naive to expect any speedy improvement here. But we mustn't give up. It looks like we need to move forward in "small steps," aligning our positions and finding areas where our shared interests will allow us to quickly leave behind massive burden of accumulated problems and mistrust.

We need to move forward, and it is no coincidence that in December 2019, the participants in the Dialogue appealed to the Russian and US governments underscoring the need to extend the START-3 Arms Reduction Treaty. One example of the aspirations of the “Dartmouth Dialogue” is the recent emergency conference where the co-chairs and members of the Russian-American nongovernmental group discussed the joint Russian-US strategy for battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

One can hardly expect any improvement in our relations now that anti-Russian sanctions have acquired the force of law in the United States and will remain in place for quite some time, virtually forever, given the people who are now in power in the United States.

That being said, we also see things, which we believe can help our countries expand the scope of their interaction, better understand each other and have more trust in each other’s intentions.

As I already mentioned before, “Dartmouth” is not merely a platform for bilateral dialogue or one of the numerous public forums. It is doing more than just “probing” the other side’s mood.

Over the past three years, the “negotiators” have managed to work out a raft of joint and as it later turned out, effective proposals on a number of hot-button issues of bilateral relations. This attests to the new quality of “Dartmouth,” which boils down to the fact that we have no wish to engage in fruitless political discussions. The recommendations that we have made to the top officials and department heads of our two countries have proved that our governments are able not only to listen to arguments, but also to work together on many pressing issues. If we could do this, then state institutions can do this too.

Strange as it may seem, despite the rapid development of information technology, people now need this even more than they did before. Regrettably, the obvious bias of many media outlets, including of the so-called independent ones, often provides a distorted picture of the opponent, which, in turn, negatively impacts the process of political decision-making.  And the point is not so much to convince as to make you understand. It is my firm conviction that the role assigned to the “Dartmouth Dialogue” is to provide the “accurate picture” of things through an honest, non-public and open conversation between representatives of the elites as well as professionals, who do not necessarily hold official posts.

It is imperative for us not only to maintain this format of communication. The participants should also make sure that the results of our discussions are heard, because this is exactly what people expect from the “Dialogue” and its responses to modern-day challenges.

I think that by the 60th anniversary of the “Dartmouth Dialogues,” our two countries will have something to say about its historical and creative contribution to preserving peace not only between our peoples, but also on a global scale. Therefore, the "Dartmouth Dialogue" has undoubtedly earned the right to be characterized as a creative movement.

I would like to emphasize once again that the harder it is to find solutions at a high state level in this dramatic period, the greater the need for public diplomacy, involving wide sections of our societies and creating the basis for making decisions of a non-confrontational nature.