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September 21, 09

NEWS / U.S.-Russian Military-to-Military Links Set to Expand

Cooperation seen rising, mutual understanding deepening between forces

By Carlos Aranaga
Staff Writer

Washington — Military-to-military programs between the United States and Russia, suspended after the August 2008 conflict in Georgia, have resumed as part of a plan that will include nearly 20 exchanges and operational events before the end of 2009, say U.S. defense officials.

The intensified bilateral work comes as NATO works to achieve closer cooperation with Russia. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on September 18 called for a “new beginning” in NATO-Russia relations focusing on reinforcing practical cooperation, rejuvenating the NATO-Russia Council and conducting a joint review of new security challenges.

In hearings by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and Armed Services Committee July 28–30, U.S. administration officials briefed the two legislative oversight bodies on plans for cooperation following the July 6–8 Moscow summit between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Celeste Wallander, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee July 28 of planned activities, including orientations for Russian cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York; an exercise simulating a hijacked aircraft in national and international airspace; the visit of faculty from Russia’s Combined Arms Academy to the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and a naval war game on piracy to be conducted by the Kuznetsov Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval War College.

The U.S. European Command and Russian Defense Ministry will also boost joint efforts in 2010.

These activities, Wallander said, stem from a new cooperative framework signed at the summit by Russian Chief of General Staff General Nikolai Makarov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. The framework changes the nature of the relationship, Wallander said, and is based on principles of pragmatism, parity, reciprocity, balance and synchronization with NATO.

Wallander said the framework “establishes conditions that will raise military cooperation to a new qualitative level and deepen mutual understanding between our respective armed forces.”

Vice Admiral James Winnefeld, director for strategic plans and policy on the U.S. Joint Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee July 30 that discussions between Mullen and Makarov at the summit, and during Mullen’s June visit to Russia, aimed at rejuvenating the military channel of communication with frank exchanges on issues ranging from U.S.–Russian military cooperation to regional challenges, piracy and missile defense.

“Positive relations between our militaries form a sound building block for good relations between our countries,” Winnefeld said, calling such contacts a “critical security relationship to manage well, especially in light of the destructive capacity of both our nuclear arsenals.” He stressed the need for such a relationship during times of crisis, recalling how at several pivotal points during the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, “the only constructive contact between our governments was the military-to-military channel.”

Winnefeld told the congressional representatives that Makarov and Mullen will lead a military-to-military working group — part of a U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission — to see that cooperative military efforts stay on track and move in the strategic direction mandated by Obama and Medvedev at the summit.

The presidents’ bilateral commission includes working groups on a wide spectrum of possible joint efforts, including arms control and international security, business and economic development, science and technology, space cooperation and cultural exchange. Chairing the commission will be U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

Winnefeld, who will chair Joint Staff talks with his Russian counterpart, believes Russia and the United States share areas of both common interest and concern. “Militaries of the size and capabilities possessed by our two nations should remain engaged in constructive communications and dialogue not only to foster understanding and avoid unforeseen consequences, but to promote positive cooperation and enhance regional and global peace and stability,” Winnefeld said.

“By finding areas of cooperation we can alleviate or at least mitigate our areas of difference. Only through constant and routine interaction will positive change be cultivated,” Winnefeld said.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow also appeared before the Armed Services Committee. Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2001 to 2005, said the July summit and the presidents’ meeting in London may mark “a significant turning point in U.S.-Russia relations.” Still, he said, “the administration is under no illusion that this will be easy.”

Nonetheless, Vershbow said, “we do believe that improved relations between the U.S. and Russia, which had started on a downward trend long before hitting a nadir due to the August 2008 conflict in Georgia, can help us meet the range of 21st century challenges we face today.”

Vershbow was optimistic on progress in the Russia-U.S. “reset.” “It is certainly encouraging to see improvement in the tone of our dialogue, and we are building on this positive momentum to collaborate in areas where our national interests coincide, such as nonproliferation, arms control and promoting security and stability in Afghanistan, among other issues,” Vershbow said.


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